The Drew Forest preserve was once a desolate area of vines and wood chips, but now it is a beautiful ecosystem. Restoration of the land started 10 years ago, when Drew partnered with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife to control invasive species and introduce native plants to the campus. This happened shortly after the deer fence went up, thanks to a generous donation made by former Madison resident and environmentalist Chris Hepburn.
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The purpose of the restoration project is to bring back biodiversity and get students involved with restoration ecology. Many biology and environmental science courses at Drew use the preserve in their class. Students also do wildlife and forest ecology research there. Work sessions are held every semester to remove invasive species, such as Japanese stilt grass and garlic mustard and planting native ones.
Dr. Sara Webb, now retired, has been with the restoration since the beginning. “It’s thrilling to see a hummingbird come in, or some butterflies that are on some flowers that we planted, and there was no habitat for them before. It’s thrilling to see so many plants come back on there own that we didn’t even plant because they’re now protected,” Webb said. She enjoys working with students, working outdoors and spending her retirement in the preserve. The work done in the Drew Forest Preserve is made possible by grants.
Challenges of the restoration project include poison ivy, droughts and deer that get through the fence. In fact, in order to prevent the oak trees to die, the team had to get creative. “We got a firefighter’s water backpack,” Dr. Webb said. “And [we] carried it up the hill and watered these oak trees.”
The Drew forest Preserve extends beyond the Hepburn Woods and the Zuck Arboretum, all the way to behind Tolley-Brown. It encompasses 45 acres, however only 20 of those acres are fenced in. There are no more work sessions this semester, but there will be more in the spring.