National Forest Foundation Celebrates Restoration of South Branch Preserve in New Jersey Highlands

Unique Public/Private Partnership Returns Natural Area's Beauty and Values

Oct 15, 2010, 07:00 ET from National Forest Foundation

MOUNT OLIVE TOWNSHIP, N.J., Oct. 15 /PRNewswire/ -- On Friday, Oct. 15th, in Mount Olive Township, NJ, governmental, environmental and corporate leaders will gather in the New Jersey Highlands to celebrate the completion of the first phase of the South Branch Restoration Project, an area integral to the state's natural resources and drinking water supply.

The South Branch Restoration Project, formerly known as Rezamir Estates, is located in the Township of Mount Olive in the New Jersey Highlands Preservation Area, and contains fragile headwater wetlands, springs and streams flowing into the South Branch of the Raritan River. These streams eventually feed Round Valley and Spruce Run reservoirs and provide drinking water for more than one million New Jersey residents.

The New Jersey Highlands encompass a region that includes 88 municipalities and parts of seven counties. The region's reservoirs provide fresh water to 5.4 million people in 15 counties of New Jersey, serving about 50% of the population.

The New Jersey Highlands Council, the government agency responsible for protecting this environmentally sensitive region, found that the Rezamir property was a high priority for restoration within the entire 860,000-acre Highlands region and was responsible for bringing this project to the attention of the National Forest Foundation (NFF).

"In bringing together the resources and expertise of several dedicated partners, we have realized tremendous restoration results in a short amount of time," said Bill Possiel, president of the National Forest Foundation. "Restoring the South Branch Preserve demonstrates the power of collaborative conservation, while helping to ensure that New Jersey residents can depend upon the clean drinking water supplied by the Highlands."

The previous owner of Rezamir Estates had begun the development of a 16-lot subdivision on the property, including the construction of dirt roads, culverts that diverted critical headwater streams, two detention basins, a home foundation, a potable well, and a variety of large fill and boulder piles. The native vegetation of the property had also been devastated by the over-browsing by deer and the invasion of non-native plant species.

The restoration project was undertaken by a unique private/public partnership between The Land Conservancy of New Jersey, the National Forest Foundation, and El Paso Corporation as part of the company's environmental stewardship program.

"Too many people see New Jersey only for its intensive development," said David Epstein, president of The Land Conservancy of New Jersey. "Our goal with this project was to set a new paradigm – that critical natural resources seemingly lost to poorly planned development can be restored with the proper funding and dedicated partnerships. This project is a model for a better New Jersey based on the concept of protection and sustainability of our drinking water supply."

Since the spring of 2010, the NFF has worked with The Land Conservancy of New Jersey to restore this valuable area through such strategies as:

  • removing six culverts and footings for a planned arch bridge;  
  • restoring natural stream channels and creating vernal ponds;
  • removing detention basins and soil stock piles;
  • installing a deer exclosure fence to facilitate recovery of the leafy plants and shrubs;
  • sealing the edge of former roadways and other gaps in the forest with selected plantings of native trees and shrubs;
  • developing an invasive plant species management plan;
  • creating a plant stewardship index enabling restoration to be monitored and measured;
  • forming a volunteer committee; and
  • documenting the entire effort.

These conservation and restoration accomplishments have been made possible through the efforts of many volunteers, the generosity of El Paso Corporation, and the leadership of the NFF and The Land Conservancy of New Jersey.

One of El Paso's core values is stewardship; towards that end the company has partnered with the NFF on projects across the country to protect and restore areas of environmental significance. El Paso received The Nature Conservancy's Corporate Conservation Leadership Award for commitment to the environment, and El Paso's Tennessee Gas Pipeline's Station 325 received a Certificate of Environmental Stewardship from the New Jersey Environmental Stewardship Initiative.

About the National Forest Foundation (

Founded by Congress in 1991, the National Forest Foundation works to conserve, restore and enhance America's 193-million-acre National Forest System. Through community-based strategies and public-private partnerships, the NFF enhances wildlife habitat, revitalizes wildfire-damaged landscapes, restores watersheds, and improves recreational resources for the benefit of all Americans. The NFF's Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences national conservation campaign is uniting public and private partners to conduct large-scale forest and watershed restoration and revitalize ecosystem resiliency in iconic National Forest System sites around the nation.

About The Land Conservancy of New Jersey (

The Land Conservancy of New Jersey is an accredited land trust dedicated to preserving and protecting New Jersey's vital natural lands and water resources. The organization has been working for the past 29 years to inspire and empower individuals and communities to take action to save the land that is so important to our state. The Conservancy has preserved over 17,000 acres of land and helped towns receive $206 million in grants to purchase and protect land. The Conservancy has worked with 76 municipalities in 13 counties, impacting over half of New Jersey's counties and benefiting millions of residents.

SOURCE National Forest Foundation