When it comes to global footprint, every continent, country, state, and town matters. We are at war with the clock, and we become our own enemies. However, as we fight this climate crisis, the town of West Orange is leaving it up to concerned citizens to advocate for lowering our town’s footprint in this crisis.
Many of these concerned citizens are members of Gen Z, displaying a recurring theme in which many of today’s youth are solving the issues created by adults. A subcommittee of West Orange High School’s Fight for Green Club (FFG) run by Marissa Edelman and Riya Goel and the Local Action Team (headed by freshman Svanfridur Mura and senior Emma Svetvilas) has partnered with Our Green West Orange (OGWO) to cultivate the youth voice to preserve trees in our town.
Emma Svetvilas and Svanfridur Mura gathered the members of the subcommittee to provide an overview of the revisions OGWO has suggested be made to the current tree ordinance (the laws in our town created to preserve trees). When the tree ordinance was on the agenda for the November 4th town council meeting, members of OGWO and FFG spoke to encourage change.
High schoolers Marissa Edelman, Svanfridur Mura, Emma Svetvilas, Raimee Svetvilas, and Elizabeth Parlman all spoke during these meetings revealing to the public and the West Orange government that this is an issue that the youth cares about.
Mura noted the importance of all trees by stating, “Often ignored are other benefits such as trees’ contribution to our mental health and productivity – especially vital during quarantine – and the value in having children grow up around nature so they grow up understanding its importance, a resource more vital to us than any money or technology right now when humanity, specifically our generation, will either adapt to live with the natural world, or pay the price with climate change and the loss of our natural resources.”
In the tree ordinance, trees under 15 feet tall and 4.5 inches in diameter were excluded from the definition of a tree. After pressing to the council the overall importance of a tree, she explained how these benefits are still applied to trees under 15 feet.
Students also pursued a change to the ordinance where it says that a citizen can cut three trees before requiring a permit. Emma Svetvilas supported the idea that everyone should be required to have a permit to cut a tree. She spoke on the benefits of requiring a permit for every tree, saying that “by requiring a permit to be issued for every tree someone wishes to chop down, we would not only add accountability to tree management, but we would save trees, raise money from permit fees, and would discourage people from randomly chopping trees down without proper planning.”
Raimee Svetvilas spoke on prospective additions such as mandating that all cut-down trees be replaced. Edelman also spoke out to say that when conducting sidewalk repairs, efforts should be made to keep the trees on the sidewalk, as it has been found that many neighboring towns have been able to preserve trees. After speaking out, the tree ordinance was placed back onto the agenda for the November 10th meeting.
Previous to the November 10th meeting, OGWO held a meeting on November 9th in which the different environmental concerns plaguing West Orange were discussed. High schoolers Kianna Rodriguez, Svanfridur Mura, Emma Svetvilas, Raime Svetvilas, and Marissa Edelman all attended the meeting. In this meeting, the tree ordinance and the proposed changes were discussed as well as the Crestmont Country Club, where a developer is trying to cut down 90 acres of forest for housing units. The Open Space Committee had previously voted to recommend that the town council recognize and fund two appraisals in order to potentially qualify for green acres funding, which could qualify as half of the funding. Currently, the Open Space trust fund also has $1.25 million in funding for the Rock Spring Golf Course to set aside some of its property for preservation, a fund which is also where all the town’s Green Acres funding has gone. Sadly, the town does not get all the Green Acres funding as they’d like, so they hope that the county, which has a much larger Open Space trust fund, could help with the cost.
In the meeting on the 10th, West Orange students reiterated their same arguments. As a result of the tree ordinance being questioned, trees under 15 feet and 4 feet diameter are now included in the definition of trees. It is also now required that companies have a licensed tree care expert. However, three trees can still be cut down without a permit.
After the town council meeting, the FFG club met with councilwoman Susan McCartney, who responded to the issue of the three tree rule being modified by saying, “I don’t think I have the support of my colleagues [to change the rule].” She further explained that by saying, “It has been strong all of these years.” She went on to talk about how there are state regulations on wetlands but not trees. Although there are no state laws requiring regulations on trees, there was no further explanation on why town regulations would not be defensible in court. She said she wants to “see where the three [tree rule] came from.”
Our neighboring town of South Orange requires a permit for every tree cut and no legal trouble has come from this rule.
To make your voice heard, just as the members of FFG, you can email members of the town council or attend town meetings yourself, where they take public comments. All information on emails and town meetings can be found on the town website www.westorange.org. OGWO meetings are also open to all residents. You can receive updates about meetings by signing up on the website ourgreenwestorange.org.