Woods 7194

Naturalist Peter Strom prunes invasive vines around the Irvington Reservoir on Dec. 13, 2020.

The Village of Irvington has received an Urban Forestry Grant of $21,760 from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to conduct a tree inventory of the Irvington Woods and develop a forest management plan.

The 400-acre forest includes the O’Hara Nature Center, the Peter Oley Trailway System, and the Irvington Reservoir. It’s one of the largest continuous corridors of open space in the New York metropolitan area and is maintained by the Irvington Parks & Recreation Department.

The grant, provided through the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, was one of 38 awarded last month, totaling $1.4 million. Grant proposals were submitted for 154 projects in New York.

“The intention of the grant is to try to assess the condition of the woods but do so in a way that is realistic and economical,” Village Administrator Larry Schopfer told the Enterprise on Jan. 4. He explained that a “tree inventory” would not report on the condition of every tree, but would extrapolate the information based upon representative sectors of the woods. 

Some of the problems the Irvington Woods face include invasive species, climate change, and environmental degradation. Last month, volunteers removed invasive vines and shrubs, which tend to choke out or crowd out native plants that provide food and habitat for wildlife. The volunteers even went as far as plucking and bagging the tiny red berries from the invasive shrub “Japanese Barberry” before removing the bushes themselves, to prevent fallen berries from being eaten by birds, which fly away and excrete the seeds, sowing growth elsewhere.

Being able to identify and quantify the good with the bad, through an expert inventory, will help address such issues. According to Nikki Coddington, chair of the Irvington Woods Committee, “Knowing what we have... knowing we have x percent of our tree canopy as Norway maples, or ailanthus (“Tree of Heaven”), and other things you don’t want, that gives you an idea of the scope of the problem and you can start to prioritize. What are the biggest and/or most urgent problems? And we’ll have to take a phased approach, I’m sure. We may have to do some fencing.”

A consultant will work with the Village to perform the tree inventory and develop a plan for the long-term health of the woods, which will probably depend on volunteers for light work as well as parks department staff or outside contractors for removing trees or installing deer fencing. 

Like other forests in the Rivertowns, the Irvington Woods host a large population of white-tailed deer. “Deer are eating the understory of native tree saplings that you want, and they tend not to like invasive plants,” Coddington said, “so having an overpopulation of deer just aggravates the problem.” 

Last spring, the parks department’s two naturalists, C.J. Reilly and Peter Strom, undertook an ambitious project to restore the understory around the O’Hara Nature Center and Hermit’s Wetland. Reilly and Strom planted 225 native trees and shrubs, including 25 each of bitternut hickory, buttonbush, gray dogwood, Atlantic white cedar, American witch hazel, red oak, and pussy willow, and 50 each of northern bayberry and black cherry. 

“The saplings that were put in last year have tree tubes to protect them from the deer,” Coddington explained. “Eventually the saplings will get tall enough to have their growing tips out of the reach of deer — basically about 6 feet above the ground.”

The native tree and shrub planting effort will continue this spring. The Village will also be able to apply for additional urban forestry grants. Hastings has secured multiple urban forestry grants in recent years. Last month, Hastings was awarded $40,000 for tree maintenance and $14,756 for a tree inventory and management plan.

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