“To be able to look at these forests and see that this is a direct result from climate change is frightening,” says Kristin Meistrell, a Stewardship Project director for the New Jersey Audubon Society, which focuses on environmental awareness and conservation. Meistrell has worked here for nearly 10 years and recalls walks she used to take on the property when she started in 2012, surrounded by live Atlantic white cedar trees. Since then, she’s watched the forests completely die off.
“I think every community, every resident, every business has to ask itself hard questions.”
shawn latourette, new jersey commissioner of environmental protection
The state and environmental groups are scrambling to restore the cedar species in environments that aren’t as immediately threatened by impending storm surges. Foresters and environmental groups are largely focused on restoring forests in new homes, where they won’t be hit by sea level rise. The groups have cleared out large swaths of land typically filled with other hardwoods like maple, to allow remaining healthy cedars to drop seeds naturally with adequate space and access to sunlight. The New Jersey Audubon Society leverages farmers’ and hunters’ attachment to the land, working with them on their private property to develop forest stewardship plans to manage the property for wildlife like these cedars.
“We’re trying to put this forest type back on the landscape,” State Forester John Sacco said. “When we do that, we’re introducing biodiversity. There are suites of organisms that occur with this forest type that you really don’t find in other forests. It increases biodiversity, helps with resiliency, and it’s part of our natural heritage that we need to keep around and bequeath to the next generation.”
This will take some time. A healthy cedar forest will take decades to develop, and they’re playing catch up after losing more than 80 percent of the woodlands due to logging over the last two centuries.