SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Bill Haskins, chair of South Orange's Environmental Commission, gave its annual report to the Board of Trustees at the board's Dec. 9 meeting and presented the 2020 budget request. 

Haskins said the highlights of 2019 were getting grants and partnering with Seton Hall University to do a leafy inventory. “We’re going to try to count all the public trees in South Orange, hopefully soon. It’s a very challenging thing but Seton Hall has stepped up with student volunteers to help us count the trees and Seton Hall University is also purchasing tree plotter software that they are letting us use.” The use of the software is a $3,000 value, he noted.

Haskins performs his duties in a volunteer capacity. The Green Team and Environmental Commission won four grants in the last year, he said, including one to deal with invasive fauna, “to address the red sliders [turtles] that are in the duck pond, and shouldn’t be.” Another will support planting and maintaining trees – “to focus on the southern end of Flood’s Hill.” They have just received the approval, and the funding will happen in 2020, he said.

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Another 2019 achievement: “We have attained Sustainable Jersey recertification this year, which is a big paperwork task but important because it enables us to apply for their grants.”

River Day 2019 in May was “a little less clean up, a little more tree planting” due to the rainy weather that day, he said, and a drier River Day for 2020 is hoped for.

Haskins said the 2020 goals for the group are the challenges they faced in 2019. “We’re good at getting grants and we’re excited when we get these grants," he said. Next year, "We need to focus on strong finishes and reporting for the grants we’re awarded.”

Concerning the tree inventory, Haskins would like to have 50 percent counted by the end of the year. To this end, he would like to see a summer hire through the Department of Public Works to do some tree inventory during those months.

A third goal is a thorough update to the 2009 National Resource Inventory. Some of their volunteers will help conduct the update. The last goal is to improve communication with the community on projects and events. “Sometimes the general public doesn’t know as much as they should” about the projects the commission works on.

For the 2020 budget, he noted that some of the grant income is from grants awarded in 2019 which will carry through to 2020. He said they are currently working on applying for another Sustainable Jersey grant “in the neighborhood of $4,000. We’re hopeful to get that as well.” The group does not see much income from donations, he said, as they don’t seek them out, but they did receive some sponsorships for River Day this year.

“All labor is volunteer,” he said, but they will need supplies to maintain the projects they originally got grants for to work on in the town.

Read More: A peek at River Day 2019