Drew receives grant to replace invasive plants with native species

Drew University will implement a long-awaited restoration of its forested areas, including the Zuck Arboretum, thanks to a generous gift from former Madison residents and environmentalists Chris Hepburn and Ken Martin.

The natural forested areas of the University’s campus are critical for migratory birds and groundwater recharge. However, the Drew Forest and Arboretum have been degraded by an over-abundant white-tailed deer population and the spread of invasive plant species. Through a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and New Jersey Audubon Society, the University has begun to remove non-native species, such as wisteria and bittersweet vines, which are detrimental to the survival of native trees on nearly 10 acres of campus. Once these species are removed, native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and ferns will be planted and allowed to flourish.

This project is a natural extension of Drew’s commitment to protecting the forest ecosystem on campus and within the broader community. However, it could not move forward without protecting the new, native plants from the large deer population. Deer browsing is evident throughout the campus, where the native undergrowth is eaten and the invasive species are allowed to expand their presence in mature forests.

This is where Chris Hepburn and Ken Martin stepped into the picture. When they resided in Madison, Chris was very involved in the community. In addition to her membership on the environmental commission and the Great Swamp Watershed Association, she founded the group Madison Matters and remains a Trustee of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition. She enjoyed the nature around their home, and often photographed the birds that visited their yard from the adjacent Drew Forest. To support the integrity of this Forest, not only for the birds and wildlife that call it home but as an outdoor education center for students, Chris and Ken made a gift that will provide deer fencing for the planned restoration area.

In addition, their gift will allow for fencing Drew’s 16-acre Zuck Arboretum. A nature trail, along with interpretive signage and seating, will be developed throughout the newly fenced and restored areas to complement the existing trail at the Arboretum. Gates will be installed in all fencing to allow for access by students and others.

In recognition of their generous gift, this area will be named the Christine Hepburn Forest Restoration Area and Nature Trail. “We are so grateful for this remarkable gift. Thanks to Chris and Ken, this restoration area will become a model of what the region’s forests once were and an ideal place for educating our students and our friends and neighbors in the larger community,” said Sara Webb, Professor of Biology and Director of Drew’s Environmental Studies and Sustainability Program.