ture of invasives, we agree that it’s a
huge problem. But when it comes down
to plants, there does get to be some disagreement with how some certain species are treated and classified.” He says
some varieties of barberry, for example,
are not harmful, although that is open
WHILE THE LEGISLATURE has been reluctant to take on invasive plants, other parts
of state government are deeply engaged
in the battle against insect pests, which
are a much bigger and potentially costlier problem. Paul J. Kurtz, an entomolo-gist with the New Jersey Department of
Agriculture, says the greatest threat right
now is the emerald ash borer, a tiny jewel
beetle that has wiped out 50 million ash
trees around the country since it was discovered in Michigan in 2002.
Despite being smaller than a penny, the
ash borer has managed to travel hundreds
of miles into 25 states and two Canadian
provinces since 2002, in large measure because of help from unwitting humans who
transport firewood from infested areas.
“They can go as far as you’re going,”
Kurtz says. “That’s why we always cau-
tion people about the movement of fire-
wood, especially during the summer.”
Kurtz says campsites don’t have prof-
its in mind when they forbid campers
from bringing their own firewood. “They
want to protect the forest,” he explains.
The four confirmed detections of the
ash borer in New Jersey have triggered
a massive effort to track the bug’s movement. Kurtz says the state is deploying
special traps in more than 100 municipali-ties this summer and monitoring them to
see where the ash borer is heading next.
A number of emerging species are on
the state’s watch list. Kurtz is concerned
about the spotted lantern fly that has been
attacking a broad range of trees, especially
fruit trees, in Pennsylvania, and a walnut
t wig beetle, also seen in Pennsylvania, that
can kill black walnut trees. He’s also monitoring a number of snails that have slipped
into the state from other countries and
now threaten Jersey crops. Exotic snails
have been found attached to imported
granite slabs used for kitchen countertops.
The cernuella virgata, a small, inedible
snail from Asia, was discovered just out-
side Port Salem several years ago. About
the size of a pea, the snail moves
slowly but reproduces quick-
ly, and in a short time, it can
completely infest grain fields,
contaminating the crops with
its feces and clogging the tines of mechan-
Kurtz has worked with the strike team
on a limited basis; he even has their app on
his smartphone. “Some of the things on
their list are on our lists as well, especially
forest pests,” he says. But he says there’s
a difference in approach. While the volunteers operate on a “see something, say
something,” basis, the state uses scientific
data, official programs and field scientists
with lures and traps—as well as reports
from the public—to determine the presence of invaders.
In the end, he says, “we all work in
concert with each other to minimize and
IN THE UNCOMMON chill of a late April
morning, Laurel Gould and a half dozen
other volunteers pull on work gloves and
boots and march into an overgrown patch
of woods at the edge of the Great Swamp
National Wildlife Refuge in Morris County.
They head toward a huge grove of
Callery pear trees blooming with telltale
white flowers. The area was once a commercial nursery, and Callery—or Bradford—pear once was a darling of landscapers throughout the state because of those
spring blossoms. Tens of thousands of the
trees still flourish on suburban streets, in
shopping malls and on university campuses across New Jersey.
But the trees fell out of favor when
their weak limbs snapped in the state’s
storms. When the nursery went out of
business, the Great Swamp acquired the
land, along with the remaining Callery
pears and all their seedlings, plentiful
enough now to crowd out native species
that provide habitat for the bog turtle.
The volunteers, who form the Great
Swamp’s own strike team, quickly spread
through the undergrowth. The old nursery
is a hotbed of invasive species, and from it
have sprouted not just the Callery pear
trees, but a towering grove of bamboo, a
mess of chocolate vine, and even some trifoliate orange, a pesky deciduous shrub.
“This is really depressing,” says John
Berry, a freelance editor who volunteers
twice a month to clear out unwanted
plants. “It’s a Callery forest.”
Berry’s job this day is to coat the
base of Callery pear trees with a powerful
herbicide. When he’s done, they look like
they are slathered with strawberry jam.
The poison gets drawn into growing tissue
and kills the tree. The application takes
just a minute, but the task is enormous be-
cause of the sheer number of trees.
Ordinarily, such an infestation would
be considered too far gone, hopelessly
widespread in the state strike team’s categorization terms. But, as Berry explains,
the trees pose a threat to the rest of the
refuge. “Unless we get them now, it will
only become much worse,” he says.
And so, despite the enormous odds, the
volunteers engage Callery pear at every
turn. Stephen Gruber, a retired chemist,
sprays herbicide on those too big to cut,
while Linda Jerdach uses a pair of loppers
to take down spindly young ones.
“Oh, we’ve got a lot over here,” says
Jerdach, a retired nutritionist, lunging at
a clump of trees, each about the thickness
of a broom handle. She grunts as she shuts
the loppers. Some take more effort than
others, but Jerdach is not deterred.
“For every one we don’t get,” she says,
gasping for breath, “next year there’ll be
10 or 20 more.”
They work all morning, struggling
through the saplings and thorny vines of
multiflora rose. At noon, they head back to
their cars, tired and bloodied, their hands
pricked by the barberry bristles, their
pants ripped by rose thorns.
Making her way through the underbrush, Gould takes note of a spiral of green
gently poking through last season’s brown
grass. “Sensitive fern,” she exclaims, excitedly pointing to the New Jersey native
that is reaching for the sun of another season, defiantly staking out its space against
the uninvited species all around it.
For Gould, the appearance of the fern
is a sign that the fight to restore a natural balance is worth waging, despite the
overwhelming odds. “There’s hope,” she
says, gazing into the woods beyond the
doomed Callery pears. ■
Anthony DePalma is the writer in residence
at Seton Hall University and author, most
recently of Here: A Biography of the New
American Continent (Kindle e-book, 2014).
(Continued from page 61)