FOPOS Gets Green Acres Grant To Tackle Invasive Species
To many people, preserving open space is about preventing developers from turning fields and forests into housing developments. But maintaining the natural environment is also about keeping invasive species at bay.
With a $50,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Stewardship Program, the Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS) will be doing just that on 18 acres of the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve. This forest restoration effort, which will take two years, is designed to remove abundant invasive species and recreate natural plant communities.
The grant will be matched by a $35,000 gift to FOPOS from the George M. and Estelle H. Sands Foundation, as well as $6,000 of summer intern labor from the municipality and funds from FOPOS itself. This is the first year for the grants.
“Many people know what an invasive species is,” said Wendy Mager, FOPOS president. “But the more time you spend with environmentalists, the more you realize that they really are a big threat to the intrinsic value of the land that we’ve preserved. I don’t call them invasive for nothing.”
Some 2,400 trees and 5,000 herbaceous plants will be planted as part of the project, including wildflowers on the trail that borders the west side of Mountain Lake. Target native tree species for planting include sugar maple, pawpaw, yellow and black birch, hickory, and blight-resistant American chestnut. About half of the area will be fenced to protect the new trees from deer.
FOPOS holds the conservation easements on the 75-acre Mountain Lakes preserve, which was donated by Betty Wold Johnson in the late 1980s in memory of her son, Willard Trotter Case Johnson, when the tract was planned for development with 25 houses. The restoration effort will focus on an 18-acre section of relatively young forest west of the lake.
“Invasive species can really take over and then the land has much less value in terms of habitat,” Ms. Mager said. “They aren’t of interest to our native bugs, birds, and animals. They don’t know what they are, so they don’t eat them, which is one reason why they multiply so well.”
Ms. Mager has learned more about the issue since the municipality had Mike Van Clef of the New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team examine the town’s parks and passive open space areas. “He prepared a report commenting on which of our parks were of relatively high environmental quality in terms of having the most native species which were not so strong,” she said. “Mountain Lakes Preserve was in the not-so-strong category, and that was troubling. We wanted to do something about it.”
Around the same time, Ms. Mager met Mark Brownlee, from a company called ArcheWild, and toured one of the properties on which he was working. “I asked Mark to give some of his expert input in terms of Mountain Lakes Preserve, and I got some advice on what would be the most responsible and effective methods to employ,” she said. “We put that into the grant request, and I like to think that had some influence in our getting it.”
Preliminary steps required by Green Acres are expected to take at least three months, but FOPOS hopes to get started with a collection of seed from native plants as well as surveys of the project area. The collected seeds will be used to create a new native gene bank and cultured in a native plant nursery for future planting. Local volunteers may be used in various stages of the project, including planting the trees, flowers, and other native plants.
“We hope that we can make this a model,” Ms. Mager said. “By publicizing what we did, what worked well, what didn’t work so well — we could help not just other organizations, but other places in the Princeton area, or even within Mountain Lakes Preserve.”