NJDEP awards Urban and Community Forestry grants to Rahway, Summit

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RAHWAY, NJ / SUMMIT, NJ — The Department of Environmental Protection is awarding 38 grants, totaling $1.3 million, to promote the stewardship of urban and community trees and forests throughout New Jersey, NJDEP Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette announced March 21. The grants support Gov. Phil Murphy’s environmental justice initiatives in vulnerable neighborhoods, with 75 percent of the funds awarded to municipalities with at least one overburdened community.

“Urban trees and forests are vitally important for the many benefits they provide to clean our air and water, and to provide cool shade from increasingly warm temperatures,” LaTourette said. “Trees are also part of our daily lives. They uplift people, beautify neighborhoods, stand witness to important moments and improve communities.”

Funding for the 2021 grants comes from the “Treasure Our Trees” state license plate sales and the New Jersey Forest Service No Net Loss Compensatory Reforestation Program.

“Advancing tree equity in New Jersey’s overburdened communities gives us the opportunity to address the three pillars of thriving communities: social, environmental and economic vitality,” NJDEP Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Justice and Equity Olivia Glenn said. “From greenhouse gases to urban heat island effect, lack of tree canopy can compromise social, environmental and economic quality of life for some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents.”

Resilience planning grants help communities assess their current urban forest and provide critical data about the forest’s structure and composition. This data may then be used to better inform forest management decisions to maximize ecological benefits and create a sustainable urban forest.

Reforestation and tree planting grants ensure the growth and establishment of trees and forests that best suit communities’ needs and goals. Municipalities receiving 2021 grants in this category use funding to increase their urban canopy, increase the ecological services of their urban and community forest, and provide a cooler place to live.

“Urban and Community Forestry grants are important for bringing trees to communities that are lacking in urban tree canopy, and equally important for ensuring that the existing urban trees and forests are maintained for the future,” said John Cecil, director of the Division of Parks and Forestry.

Resiliency grants totaling $925,374 were awarded to municipalities throughout the state; in Union County, Rahway was awarded $42,375 and Summit was awarded $50,000. Reforestation and tree planting grants totaling $382,624 were also awarded to some municipalities.

“Summit is extremely thankful to the NJDEP for awarding our municipality this grant,” city spokesperson Amy Cairns told Union County LocalSource on April 4. “We will use the $50K to complete a citywide public tree inventory. It will allow our municipality to maintain an active assessment of the condition of street and public property trees in Summit, including significant historic and landmark trees. By regularly evaluating our shade tree assets and liabilities, we will be able to set long-term goals to manage and improve the health of trees and correct any existing deficiencies. Inventory data will also be used to inform future decisions about tree plantings.”

Rahway is planning to use the NJDEP funding for a similar initiative.

“In regards to the NJDEP grant, the city of Rahway will be using the funds to have its Department of Public Works assist with a Citywide Street Tree Inventory and Evaluation,” city spokesperson Lauren Ferrigno told LocalSource on April 5. “The purpose of this inventory and evaluation is to make sound, long-term planning decisions and facilitate cost-effective management.

“The tree inventory will accurately record the number, location, size, species, condition and maintenance needs of every street tree in Rahway,” she continued. “During this process the city will also be able to determine available ‘vacant’ planting sites, record growing conditions of each tree … (and) identify needs for pruning, removal, planting and pest management.”

According to Ferrigno, this process will allow for city officials to move forward with the formation of a Shade Tree Committee, which will exercise control over the regulation, planting, care and control of the trees and shrubbery located along the streets, public places and parks of Rahway. Other factors of the tree inventory will allow for the Shade Tree Committee to determine what types of trees can be planted in specific areas to ensure proper pruning can take place and that there are no barriers with overhead utility lines based on the heights of the trees.

“With proper care, trees in community and urban settings can be healthy and live long lives,” state forester John Sacco said. “The New Jersey Urban and Community Forestry program provides the financial and technical assistance communities need to properly manage and care for urban and community trees and forests.”

Currently, 250 municipalities and counties across New Jersey have management plans for trees and forests approved by the New Jersey Forest Service, 150 of which are fully accredited with the Urban and Community Forestry Program.

Awarding stewardship grants in two categories since 2000, the New Jersey Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program provides financial assistance for projects on municipal or county property for resilience planning initiatives, and for reforestation and tree planting initiatives. The grant program is competitive.

According to Cairns, Summit competed for the grant because Summit leaders know how important it is to protect the city’s trees and ready the ground for new trees.

“For the past 66 consecutive years, Summit has been designated a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation,” Cairns said. “We are proud of this distinction and believe that trees enhance the natural beauty of our community. All Summit property owners benefit from the reduced air pollution and soil erosion, protection of water quality, shade, and privacy that trees provide.”

Rahway Mayor Raymond Giacobbe is enthusiastic about the city’s tree inventory and evaluation.

“Rahway has an extensive population of shade trees, and they provide us with many environmental and health benefits, but only when carefully planned for and maintained,” Giacobbe told LocalSource. “Our Department of Public Works is in the process of conducting an extensive tree inventory, accounting for the size, species, and condition of every tree on public property.”

Photos Courtesy of Amy Cairns/Summit and Lauren Ferrigno/Rahway