West Orange, New Jersey Challenge Bob Leverett
May 28, 2009


    On Tuesday, Monica and I visited a forested site on the property of Seton Hall Prep School in West Orange, NJ. The property was once owned by the Civil War General George McClellan and later governor of New Jersey. My former partner Bruce Kershner visited the location several years ago, which was going to be developed by the school. Bruce wrote a report of his findings dated November 10, 2002. Athletic fields were (and still are) planned for sections of the property that Bruce identified as old growth.
    Citizen activists of the Green West Orange Group have fought Seton Hall on the development and do expect to compromise on some areas - but not the old growth. Altogether about 16 acres of forest are involved that have a scattering of old white and black oaks, a couple of tuliptrees, and at least 3 impressive sweetgums. 
     Basically, I was asked to come down and pick up where Bruce left off. They hoped I would confirm Bruce's observations. I agreed to visit the site and independently judge its worthiness as an old growth forest and provide expert witness testimony in July if needed.
    I should point out that the citizen activists are a pleasure to work with, especially Kavin Malanga, a lawyer. But I saw right away that the site, itself, presents some real challenges. There is no question that the site has a scattering of trees in the 200-year and older age class. Some may be 250 years old. Bruce considered two areas to be bonafide old growth. In fact, he was very enthusiastic about the site and expressed his enthusiasm to me in our phone conservations. We talked about the site and his involvement several times on the phone.
    An immedite problem is that most ecologists experienced with old growth forest research, who might visit the site, would likely have serious reservations about calling it old growth. There are lots of invasives, several old apple trees, and the forms of many of the oldest trees are open grown. The history of the two sub-sites that Bruce identified as old growth is no doubt complicated, but the trees he identified as old are in fact quite old.
     Seton Hall's arborist did a complete inventory of the trees with approximate diameters and heights measured through ENTS techniques. Somebody working for Seton Hall must have read our website.
      The problem I have now is the substantiation of the classification 'old growth' for the two areas of the property that were identified as such. More specifically, the challenge is one of interpretation and resolving how the term was applied to the Seton Hall property and can be applied in the future. As we have often seen, the term old growth rears its controversial head from time to time, and in this case, I will need to thoroughly discuss the concept in my report and show how it applies to the Seton Hall property.
      It is important to recognize that Bruce was trying to promote the importance of preserving remnant patches of old forest holding on in urban areas. He agreed with me that in terms of how we described them, they needed some qualification. At one point, I suggested the term urban old growth and he agreed in principle. I would be most appreciative if my fellow and lady Ents would help me think through this situation. In my next email, I'll propose several types of old growth definitions and ask for your evaluations and comments. I'd like to treat the West Orange project as a participatory one for ENTS.  

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