The Need for Trees

We interrupt Italian Heritage Month for this important announcement from The Land Conservancy of New Jersey

Volunteers Needed for Tree Planting

We had a great day planting trees at Nancy Conger West Brook Preserve. Twenty people came out to help create a young forest on the site where a dilapidated barn used to be.

But this is a big job, and we still need you! There are 50 trees still left to plant at Nancy Conger West Brook Preserve in West Milford, and 100 at South Branch Preserve in Mt. Olive.

Dates for these projects are Monday, 10/24 at West Brook and Thursday, 10/27 at South Branch, starting at 9am. The work consists of moving 3-gallon pots, as well as planting, shoveling dirt, and watering the seedlings. Our staff has dug the holes for the trees to go in, so that work will be minimal.

Please RSVP here if you would like to help the New Jersey Land Conservancy plant!

Planting trees is one of the best tools we have to slow the connected crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Trees give off oxygen that we need to breathe. They reduce storm water runoff, which means less erosion and pollution in our waterways, and mitigate flooding in extreme weather. Many species of birds and mammals depend on trees for food, protection, and homes.

So when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offered us 250 native hardwood trees plus various shrubs to plant at our preserves, we jumped at the chance. This planting complements the long-term conservation work under way at both locations, from the young forests and pollinator meadows at South Branch to the stream restoration on the West Brook.

A Want for Italian Immigration History Education

New Jersey is home to one of the largest collection of Americans of Italian descent in the entire country. Yet, if you ask any child if they learn about this important part of history, they would know very little. Luckily, there’s a solution to the problem.

A few years ago, the Italian-American Heritage Commission developed a full curriculum covering just this subject. “The Universality of Italian Heritage” curriculum is an infusion model which integrates Italian and Italian American cultural heritage throughout all content areas K-16. Ongoing professional development is provided to public, religious, private and charter schools statewide and beyond, as well as to colleges and universities at the undergraduate level.

This program includes extensive resources to teach about everything from the Roman Empire’s influence on the rule of law, to Leonardo DaVinci’s place in the arts and sciences, to Pinocchio’s role in literature.

New Jersey Italian Heritage Commission

It took a long time to develop this curriculum. The commission was first created by law in 2002 as a way to build up the state’s Italian heritage and dispel negative stereotypes. It is part of a long line of commissions in New Jersey with specific curriculum missions, including one for the Holocaust and another for African-American history.

“We are confident that The Universality of Italian Heritage will open the door to an educationally stimulating and rewarding experience for teachers and students throughout the country,” said Cav. Gilda Rorro Baldassari, Ed.D., who chairs the NJIHC Curriculum Development Committee. “Italy, through its art, philosophy, innovation and culture, heavily influenced and accelerated the development of the modern world, so it seems fitting that we use Italian heritage as a catalyst to create more enriching curricula for every student.”

Now I will fully admit I have no idea if this curriculum is being used currently. I know of two schools in New Jersey that have used it in the past – Little Egg Harbor and Nottingham High School in Hamilton. Additionally, I know schools are filled with state requirements, standardized test prep, and testing. Personally, I have always thought schools should teach the heritage of all our immigrants, as New Jersey is a melting pot full of ethnic pride and heritage.

Hopefully schools and civic groups will take full advantage of this curriculum and teach the full history of all Italians have contributed to the building of local communities, our state, and our nation. They need to go beyond the stereotypes of Jersey Shore and The Sopranos in order to get to who we truly are as a people.

Italian Heritage Month 2022

I always heard a saying growing up. “There are two types of people. Italians and people that wish they were Italian.”

I agree completely.

We grow up around three main concepts. Faith, family, and food. Sundays were extra special. We would start the day at church. Then head to the cemetery to plant flowers and clean the headstones. When I was older I got the job of picking up bread and pastries for dinner. Then there was a intoxicating aroma of Grandma’s Sunday gravy with meatballs and sausage. Long dinners sitting with family with the “kids” at the card table. The fact that I was still at the kid’s table even after I was married never really bothered me. After dinner was time to play cards, read the paper, or play a board game.

Italian heritage month

We learned to love our heritage, but remember we were Americans first. We pass down recipes, love, and pride.

We also don’t take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes to a fault.

We know how to laugh at ourselves. As a result, many others think it is okay to laugh at our expense.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. It is not okay.

We aren’t the dumb, mobsters you see in movies and on television. We aren’t the fist-pumping idiots from Jersey Shore. We aren’t hot heads that throw dishes. Let’s face it. We are the last ethnicity that is not only okay to stereotype. It is encouraged by Hollywood and the media.

I hope you will go on this journey with me this month as I share some of what is wonderful about Italian heritage.

Viva Italia!

Destruction, Degradation, and Death

Over the years I have shared my love of the Jersey Shore regularly. It seems like everyone has their favorite beach they visit year after year. For my husband and I it is Wildwood Crest.

When my husband was just a boy, his family would vacation at the Pan American every summer. When we began dating, he introduced me to this lovely area and that’s been our “down the shore” spot ever since.
This weekend our beloved spot down the shore was infiltrated by a group of thugs-claimed-car-enthusiasts known as H2Oi. This was an unsanctioned event and had nothing to do with the Classic Car Show taking place.

This group has quite the reputation of causing damage, having zero regard for safety, and creating problems everywhere they go. In previous years they would meet in Ocean City, Maryland. After long-term planning and a hard clamp-down on the group, they finally left the area alone.

Next stop – Wildwood.

They were warned to not to come to this lovely little area. That if they did, the behavior they are infamous for would not be tolerated.

They came anyway.

They caused damage, had no consideration for the residents or other visitors that were in the area to just enjoy a weekend at the shore. By the end of the night on Saturday, two people were dead, an unknown number were injured, and a car struck a building.

To say their behavior is shameful is putting it lightly.

Gerald J. White arrest statement
The arrest statement of Gerald J. White.
(Source: Cape May County Sheriff’s Office)

The police, fire department, EMS, DPW, and other town services and first responders did their absolute best to hold back the proverbial ocean. They called in support from the entire county as well as the New Jersey State Police.

Gerald J. White, 37, of Pittsburgh, faces multiple charges and is currently being held without bail in Cape May County jail. Police say he crashed into a Honda Civic, killing its passenger, Timothy Ogden, 34, of Clayton and killing a pedestrian, Lindsay Weakland, 18, of Carlisle.

During the 2019 H2oi event in Ocean City, Maryland one driver doing a burnout hit a child and adult with their car, according to a report at the time from the Baltimore Sun. In 2020, Ocean City police reportedly issued more than 3,500 citations and impounded and towed over 350 cars throughout the event – also unsanctioned.

The group moved on from Ocean City when they finally got the message. Sadly, Wildwood was next on their list. Like a gang of traveling thugs, they go where they want and do what they want.

This is a lovely little town and they wreaked havoc. For nothing.

Over the last two years the behavior of people, for whatever reason, has descended into utter chaos. It may sound old fashioned, but manners and decency should still matter.

I know this isn’t the typical post from me. My husband and I are heartbroken and our prayers are with those who suffered this weekend and the families of the two individuals who were killed.

These supposed “car fans” should be ashamed. This should be a wakeup call for every town in our beautiful state. They need to clamp down on these events no matter where they are. There’s a small one that takes place once a week in my little town and nothing will be done until someone either hits a pedestrian or wraps their car around a pole. Our Representatives in Trenton and Governor need to give police the support they need to stop these “clubs” right in their tracks.

Be better people. It’s not that hard.

Roxbury Mourns Former Fire Chief

One week after the nation commemorated the twenty-first anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Roxbury Township lost one of its own to 9/11-related illness.

Former Roxbury Fire Chief Jeff Poissant passed away after a long battle with cancer attributed to his work at the World Trade Center site after the attacks.

Roxbury Fire Department Past Chief Jeff Poissant
Roxbury Fire Department Past Chief Jeff Poissant (Source: Roxbury Fire Department Facebook Page)

“It is with deep regret the Roxbury Fire Department announces the passing of Past Department Chief Jeff Poissant, who succumbed to his World Trade Center related illness on Saturday, September 17, 2022,” wrote Roxbury Co. 1 Fire and EMS on Facebook. “Jeff joined the Roxbury Fire Department in April of 1982 and was an active member for many years.”

In addition to his time with the Roxbury Fire Department, Chief Poissant was a local business owner. He owned the Succasunna Service Center auto repair shop in Kenvil and later started East Coast Towing with his brother.

Chief Poissant is survived by his wife Cathy, his two sons Zachary and Jeffery, his daughter Elizabeth, his two sisters Dawn and Tina and his brother Alan.

According to data collected by the CDC, almost 3,500 first responded have died due to 9/11-related illnesses.

Thank you Chief for your service to your community and for answering the call when you were needed at Ground Zero. We owe you a debt. God’s speed.

9/11: Twenty-One Years Later

“Where were you on 9/11?”

For those of us who were witnesses to history, we remember every minute of that day. We can describe in detail every moment and every feeling.

If you put that question to an entirely new generation, they have no answer. They weren’t born.

Just like if someone asked me where I was during the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., President Kennedy or the attack on Pearl Harbor. I wasn’t alive. The generations that were witnesses to those events had an obligation to those who came after them to make those events more than just pages in a history book.

And they did.

9/11/2021 Eagle Rock, Essex County, NJ
A photo I took at Eagle Rock on 9/11/2021

My family would tell me how they felt. What they did. The days of crying. The actions they took. For the men, they told me about their time fighting in World War II. They made it a living history. And I thank them for it.

We now have that same responsibility for this generation and the ones that continue to be born. They can’t know 9/11 as just pages in a history book. There’s an oral history that needs to be shared. Those emotions, as painful as they may be, must be shared. We have an obligation to keep it a living history, just as the generations before us did for those critical moments in our nation’s history.

Tomorrow I am meeting a few colleagues at the 9/11 memorial in Morris Plains where our company used to stand. It is in memory of two of our colleagues and the sister of another colleague who all perished on that day. The company is sadly long gone, but the memorial remains. We are making a conscious decision to not forget. To meet in our sadness and remember. It makes me wonder how many small memorials like this there are around the country. Every year when I visit if there is someone nearby, I ask them, “did you know there’s a 9/11 memorial here? No? Let me show you.”

9/11 Memorial, 301 Gibraltar Drive, Morris Plains, NJ
The 9/11 Memorial at 301 Gibraltar Drive in Morris Plains.

So if you were a witness to one of the darkest days in American history, take the obligation to pass on your personal experience and impressions of the day to those who weren’t alive or were too young to remember.

Don’t let this day just turn into a date on the calendar or a page in a history book. We owe it to those who lost their lives on that day and the countless first responders who have lost their lives since that day due to illnesses related to their work at Ground Zero.

We promised to Never Forget. Take that promise seriously.

Fourth Grade and New Jersey History

As the school year begins, I think back to growing up in Belleville and starting school in September. I have many wonderful memories of that time. In sixth grade I was part of the school patrol and guarded the kindergarten door. In middle school, I accompanied the chorus on piano for the first time. In high school I spent most of my time in the band room, where I felt at home.

But two great memories, believe it or not, took place in fourth grade with Miss Stackfleth at School Seven. She was an incredibly hard teacher and she scared most of us kids half to death with her strict ways and her paragraph-long sentences she would hand out as punishment if you did something wrong. However, she did begin to instill two important traits in me; my love of country and my love of New Jersey.

New Jersey state flag
The New Jersey State Flag was adopted in 1896. (Credit: state.nj.us)

Every morning we would begin our day with the Flag Salute, like every other classroom. We would then continue our show of patriotism with the singing of a song. She played piano and had one in her classroom. Each day a different song would be selected and she would teach us the words and melody. In short order we learned several songs like This Land is Your Land and You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag. I still remember the words to many of those songs today. And I thank her for sharing them with us.

When it comes to my love of New Jersey, that took the entire school year. When I was in the fourth grade, which was a long time ago, history class was focused on New Jersey history. I remember it starting with “what do you think our state looks like?” We had answers like “a seahorse” and “the letter S.” It moved on from there. We learned about the Lenni Lenape tribe, our state’s important role in the Revolutionary War, it’s rich agricultural history, and more. It gave me an appreciation for an area beyond my neighborhood on Irving Street.

Ever since, my love of New Jersey has only grown. Yes, there are a lot of annoying things about our state; the traffic, high taxes, and don’t even get me started on the politics. But there are plenty more things to love. Like how you can enjoy the Atlantic Ocean, the Flatbrook River, living American history in Morristown, and awesome Italian food in my hometown of Belleville. We have a rich and wonderful state. I hope children are still learning about it. And I have Mrs. Stackfleth to thank for it. The teacher that actually terrified me.

The Bird and the Bug

This weekend I had a very frightening event happen at our home… thankfully with a very happy ending. I want to tell you that story to serve as a warning.

The tail-end of last week, an email was sent out from our homeowner’s association spraying would take place in an effort to try and kill as many spotted lanternflies as possible in the woods behind our building. On Friday evening a neighbor told me she saw a dead bird along the tree line and I immediately thought of the spraying that took place the previous day.

Spotted Lanternflies on a tree trunk (Source: NJ Department of Agriculture)

Sunday morning a young woodpecker flew into our building and fell with a hard thump on our deck. I ran out to find this tiny little bird on its back, its leg twitching. I quickly grabbed gloves and found a small box. I very carefully turned it upright, placed it in the box in the shade and kept it partially closed. I called Animal Control to review the steps I had taken and she confirmed I followed proper protocol. She said to let it be, as it could be quite awhile for it to come around if the hit was as hard as I suspected.

My husband and I regularly checked on it for hours. I called our town’s Animal Control Officer again and she thought by now it might need to be go to a rehabber, so she wanted to swing by and take a look at the bird and see what might be our next steps.

I picked up the box and went downstairs to wait outside. She quickly arrived to examine our little feathered friend. She carefully opened the box and began to examine the bird. Shockingly, he started to come around, hopped to her hand and flew away! We were both shocked! And thankful!

I am very grateful to Susan at Animal Control for her guidance and care. She told me it was her third bird call just that morning. My call, thankfully, had a happy ending. One, she was still monitoring, but looked promising. The third was on its way to a rehab facility and did not look good. The suspected issue with all three? Spraying for spotted lantern flies.

These bugs are an invasive species leaving damage everywhere they lay their eggs. However, when sprays are used, they do not just kill the spotted lanternfly; they kill all the other bugs. Then the birds eat those poisoned bugs and those birds die. Then you have a fox, racoon, or other animal eat the bird, and so on.

So obviously, sprays are causing a lot of damage. Instead, some are using fly glue/tape traps with the thought this would be less harmful. While this is somewhat correct, the Animal Control Officer shared with me it is because of these fly tape traps the third bird she responded to on Sunday will more than likely perish. Birds are getting stuck to the tape and as they attempt to get away, they are pulling out their feathers.

It has become such an issue, The Raptor Trust released the following statement on Facebook last week:

“We’re continuing to sound the alarm – the number of birds tragically caught in glue tape traps set out for Spotted Lanternfly remediation grows daily: more than 60 birds already this year.
This nuthatch had nearly ALL of its wing and tail feathers stuck, and one particularly nasty piece of glue tape caught an entire family of birds.

nuthatch stuck on lanternfly glue trap
This nuthatch had nearly ALL of its wing and tail feathers stuck, and one particularly nasty piece of glue tape caught an entire family of birds (source: Raptor Trust)


While the Spotted Lanternfly is of great concern in our area, the unintended consequences of this method of remediation far outweigh its effectiveness, and in some cases the bycatch victims are they very things that might prey upon the Lanternflies in the first place.
A wildlife-safe alternative is this “circle trap,” being used very effectively in Pennsylvania.
https://extension.psu.edu/how-to-build-a-new-style-spotted-lanternfly-circle-trap
If you must use the sticky tape traps (though we advise alternative methods), you can make them somewhat safer for birds and small mammals by wrapping a cover of small mesh wire over the tape at least an inch away from the tape. The wire mesh needs to be small enough to keep birds out, but the Lanternflies can still get in. Half inch “hardware cloth” is a good option.
If you find a bird caught in a glue trap, please bring it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.”

Of the 61 birds that have been stuck in glue tape and brought to Raptor Trust as of August 3rd, 15 have recovered and been released and 23 continue to receive care for their injuries. Sadly, the rest have died.

So how do you actually kill spotted lanternflies safely?

If you are in an area that has a large infestation of the dreaded spotted lanternfly, there are a few different ways you can get rid of them that are much safer than spraying poison or using glue traps.

Common Milkweed
Common Milkweed (Source: milkweed4monarchs.org)
  1. Smash them out! Just the plain’ old shoe-to-bug method. Just give them the old squish.
  2. Trap in water bottle. Many are finding success holding the mouth of an empty water bottle over them and when they try to fly away they are caught in the bottle. Yes, it is one at a time, but you can catch a bunch in one bottle and then toss it.
  3. Grab the shop vac. If you have a ton of them on the outside of your home, you can actually suck them all up in your shop vac and then pour water and Dawn dish soap in the reservoir to kill them.
  4. Insecticidal soap. This safe, effective, and low toxicity alternative to more toxic pesticides is a great natural way to control many undesirable insects, including the spotted lanternfly. You can either purchase it pre-made, or you can make your own at home. Penn State reports the following soaps work: Concern Insect Killing Soap C, Ortho Elementals Insecticidal Soap, and Safer Insect-Killing-Soap.
  5. Plant Milkweed. As the spotted lanternfly is not indigenous to the United States, Common Milkweed is poisonous to them. An added bonus to planting milkweed? It’s great for butterflies!
  6. Spray horticultural vinegar on weeds. A more potent type of common household vinegar, spraying horticultural vinegar will kill the spotted lanternflies. It will also kill the weeds (or whatever else you spray), so just be careful if you are spraying it near your zinnias or tomato plants.

Unfortunately, it seems like the spotted lanternfly is here for the long-term. We all need to play a part in its management and hopeful eradication. Unfortunately, dealing with an issue such as this doesn’t always have an easy answer. No matter what you use outside, from insect spray to fertilizer, think about how it will affect the environment and wildlife around you before you put a product to use.

National New Jersey Day

This week we celebrated National New Jersey Day. Yes, that’s right. There’s an official day to nationally celebrate New Jersey.

There are plenty of reasons to celebrate New Jersey and I thought I would share some interesting facts about our awesome state, which officially became a state in 1776.

New Jersey State Seal
The New Jersey State Seal (source: state.nj.us)

First of all, we are known as “The Garden State” thanks to Abraham Browning. He bestowed the nickname in 1897, the state was full of garden and farmers, and agriculture was the predominant occupation at that time. While many joke it is better known as “The Mall State” now, if you head to the western part of the state, you will still see plenty of farmland.

The state’s seal was created by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere in 1777 and contains five symbols, each of which represents something about New Jersey. The helmet and the horse’s head crest represent New Jersey’s independence as a state. They also represent New Jersey’s status as one of the first states. In 1787 New Jersey was the third state to sign the U.S. Constitution. The woman holding a staff with a liberty cap on top is Liberty, who represents freedom. In ancient Rome, former Roman slaves saw a liberty cap as a badge of freedom. Liberty caps became popular again during the Revolutionary War. The woman on the right is the Roman goddess of grain, Ceres, and holds a cornucopia, filled with the many fruits and vegetables produced in New Jersey. The three plows on the shield symbolize the agricultural tradition of New Jersey. The state’s motto “Liberty and Prosperity” is written on the scroll.

The eastern brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is native to northeastern North America and being so, was designated in 1992 as the State Fish of New Jersey. Based on results of a genetic-research study conducted in 2008 by NJDFW, it was been determined that wild book trout in New Jersey are descendants of the native species that colonized this area of the northeast following deglaciation about 12,000 years ago. It is an incredibly beautiful fish and my favorite fish of all marine life. It is also known as an “indicator species,” meaning brook trout only survive in the cleanest, most pure water. So if you see a brook trout in the water, known that is some of the cleanest waterway in the state.

The state tree is the Red Oak, a perfect choice for New Jersey because it is just like us. Tough, strong, and durable.

New Jersey is one of the top blueberry producers in the country and blueberries were the top crop in New Jersey for 2020 with a production value of $85 million, according to the USDA. Farmers in the Garden State harvested 46 million pounds of blueberries on 9,300 acres last year.

Farmland on the way to Frenchtown

New Jersey played a pivotal role in our nation’s fight for independence from the British. More than 100 battles took place in New Jersey. In 1776, crossing the Delaware River into Trenton; George Washington fought with, and ultimately defeated the British forces. This was one of the first major victories in the Revolutionary War. Morristown National Historical Park commemorates the sites of General Washington and the Continental army’s winter encampment of December 1779 to June 1780, where they survived through what would be the coldest winter on record. The park also maintains a museum & library collection related to the encampments & George Washington, as well as items relating to pre- and post-Revolutionary America.

We here in New Jersey have plenty to be proud of and love when it comes to our great state. For those who “think” they know us by what they see when they land at Newark Airport or some horrible television show about a bunch of idiots from New York and elsewhere, well, we know better.

The True Story Behind Jaws

Today begins the much anticipated Shark Week on Discovery. I’ve always been fascinated by marine wildlife. Fascination, along with a healthy dose of respect. That respect first came from the movie Jaws; one of my favorite all-time movies.

What many do not know is Peter Benchley’s inspiration for the book upon which the movie is based was a week of terror that took place off the coast of New Jersey in 1916. It is briefly mentioned in the movie as Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) try to convince Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) the shark terrorizing the waters of Amity island actually exists and they should close the beach.

Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton)

Michael Capuzzo’s Close to Shore is an incredible non-fiction account of the harrowing days in 1916 when a Great White shark attacked swimmers along the Jersey shore, triggering mass hysteria and launching an extensive shark hunt. This is an incredible read that has been meticulously researched. These attacks were the first documented shark attacks in the country and for individuals who just recently discovered the benefits of “sunbathing,” learning there were creatures in the ocean that could kill children simply enjoying the water was shocking.

So as you are watching Shark Week, I highly recommend you check out Close to Shore and learn how New Jersey played an important part in the history of shark attacks, research, and lore. And maybe as I do, have a healthy respect for marine life while you enjoy your time in the water.