SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Over the past few years, the South Orange Environmental Commission has been working to get an inventory of all the trees in town. Although there was a collection of tree data conducted in the 1980s, the information — which was written on paper — was lost in an unexpected flood. The current project has access to a software that was developed just over three years ago. 

Walter Clarke, the Board of Trustees liaison for the South Orange Public Works and Infrastructure Commission and the Environmental Commission, is pushing for a budgetary increase for local environmental matters. He hopes that the tree inventory will help quantify his request for an increase in funding. “In my perspective, trees are infrastructure,” Clarke said. “Most people recognize the aesthetic benefits of trees, but don’t realize that their purpose goes far beyond that.” 

In addition to trees’ aesthetic value, they also have significant benefits for the environment. Trees work to reduce air pollution by ridding the air of pollutants and absorbing CO2, while in turn replenishing clean oxygen back into the air for people to breathe. Trees are also instrumental in mitigating temperatures; in the summer, they provide shade and when placed properly, lessen the need for air conditioning indoors. In the winter, they provide windbreak. Many species use trees as habitats, so they also contribute to the diverse wildlife of the town.

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As of right now, the inventory collection is almost three-quarters of the way done. It is projected to be finished by the end of this summer, taking into account that it must be done while the trees still have their leaves. 

Bill Haskin, chair of the South Orange Environmental Commission, notes that planting more trees will be a long-term investment, but says it will be worth it. “Many of the benefits of caring for trees are for generations to follow, but the sense of caring and community around the stewardship of nature starts immediately,” he said. “Lots of trees have been lost since the 80s from things like storms and natural lifespans, and if we don’t know how many we lost, trees will continue to die and eventually there will be none left.”

After all data is collected, it will be issued to both the Department of Public Works and the Environmental Commission. The Department of Public Works will use the information to increase the efficiency of their maintenance and upkeep in town. The data will provide general information such as the number and species of all the trees in town, so that they can keep track of their health and overall lifespans. The Environmental Commission will use the results to ensure that tree diversity is maintained in the Village.

While the town was originally working with a class of Seton Hall students who were studying relevant environmental material, the recent outbreak of coronavirus meant that the project had to be conducted differently. Instead of a group of students, a sole intern named Will Fayne now does most of the inventory himself. 

Although he is out alone for the most part, Fayne says he loves his job. “The best part is definitely being out with nature, seeing all the cool trees and wildlife,” he said. “Also, knowing that it’s also extremely important for the town. We need to make sure that we have a diverse group of trees and if we don’t do the inventory, there probably wouldn’t be anything left in five to ten years from now.”