As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, The Sourland Conservancy in Hopewell Township has had to put a stop to holding large tree plantings on public lands.

Officials are asking nearby residents to help restore the forest even while in quarantine in order to combat the devastating effects of an invasive beetle.

The Sourland Conservancy is dedicated to protecting, promoting and preserving the Sourland Mountain Region, which 90 square miles of contiguous forest in Mercer County.

Because large public land plantings are not possible now, the conservancy is putting together $10 tree seedling kits to help private landowners reforest the Sourlands region. Part of the kit is a 5-foot deer fence that is put around the seedling to protect it from the hungry animals.

One third of the land in the region is privately owned. Carolyn Klaube, Sourland Conservancy stewardship program coordinator, said by planting native trees, these landowners will make a positive difference in their ecosystem.

Native tree seedlings include shadbush, which are flowery trees that produce edible berries and are beneficial to the ecosystem. Another popular species is tulip poplar, a huge tree that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

There is also the persimmon, which produces fruit that can be eaten by people, birds, foxes and bears.

Red oak and oak trees are ideal for caterpillars, moths and butterflies.

They also offer red oak, which is the New Jersey state tree.

Other tree species being offered include red bud, which is a 30-foot tree that is considered threatened and produces purple flowers in the spring.

Sweet Bay Magnolia is another flowery tree.

Besides replenishing the forest, Klaube said The Ash Crisis Team developed the idea of the tree seedling kit as way to raise awareness to a pest that's killing trees. The emerald ash borer is an invasive beetle that first arrived in Michigan in 2002. It lays its eggs on the bark of an ash tree. As the eggs hatch, the larvae eats the tree's nutrient-rich cambium layer.

Klaube said between 20 and 70 percent of the canopy in the Sourland region is filled with ash tree, so the emerald ash borer is on track to devastate the forest. There are approximately a million ash trees in the Sourland Mountain Forest. The New Jersey Forest Service estimates that in a few years these trees will all die.

So the Ash Crisis Team and the tree kits are part of this initiative to reforest the Sourland Mountain before all these big trees come down. Klaube said once these ash trees are infected, there is nothing that can be down to save them.

Klaube said if someone has an ash tree on their property and it's not infected, it can be treated with a pesticide. While individual trees can be saved, it's nearly impossible to use pesticide on trees that cover 70% of the land.

Tree seedlings can be purchased at A private landowner will be assigned a day and a time to pick up the tree kits. Klaube suggests people come alone with nobody else in the vehicle, mainly because the 5-foot  deer fencing takes up a lot of room.

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