MADISON- The Drew University Undergraduate Student Government is awaiting responses from the school president on the potential sale and development of part of the Drew Forest Preserve.
The elected body representing Drew’s College of Liberal Arts made several “requests” of President Thomas Schwarz in a resolution dated Wednesday, Feb. 23, saying unclear communications from the university “have caused confusion and transparency in decisions taken with respect to the sale of the Drew Forest and the impacts so mentioned will directly affect the Drew community.”
The students asked Schwarz to provide within two weeks a color-coded map of the land for sale, a written statement on the current state of the forest, “and transparency on the steps taken to ensure that the (sale ) of the partial land does not further harm the environment Transparency would include reporting on carbon offsets, net environmental benefits, and sustainability impacts to the Drew community and the greater Madison area.
The resolution says the university’s intentions “have not been well communicated and stakeholders have had little or no access to information.”
Drew Student Elisabeth Sauerman, Co-Chair of the Student Government Sustainability Committee, presented the resolution to the Madison Environmental Commission on Thursday, Feb. 24, then spoke at the borough council meeting on Monday, Feb. 28. following.
“Many Drew students are concerned about the loss of biodiversity, the intrinsic value of forest ecosystems, and the various potential environmental damages that could come from the sale of sections of the forest,” she said. to the council.
The university plans to hold a town hall-style meeting on the subject, Sauerman said, at which the student government hopes to learn more about the plans. She said the meeting will be open only to the Drew University community.
Asked to comment on the matter, Drew University spokesman Stuart Dezenhall emailed a statement to this newspaper Tuesday morning on behalf of the university.
“Drew University is grateful to have a student government, student body, and broader Drew community who care deeply about the institution and this issue,” the university said in the statement.
“As we expressed to student government, the university had already begun planning a town hall led by President Schwarz for the Drew community to learn more about the potential sale of some of the land on the outskirts of our campus. We look forward to sharing additional details about the town hall in the coming weeks.”
Mayor Robert Conley thanked Sauerman for his leadership on the issue during the borough council meeting.
Drew University students Erica Cowper and Rachel Papa, creators of a student-led petition to save the forest, wrote the student government resolution. Senior Drew University Senator Gabby Rizzolo sponsored the measure.
“Like going back in time”
The resolution is the latest action from a local group calling for university action on the forest reserve.
Public calls to this effect from Friends of Drew’s Forest volunteers and local, regional and even national conservationists have not ceased either.
Sharon Wander of environmental consultancy Wander Ecological Associates and Susi Tilley of the Ridge and Valley Conservancy, both in Newton, Sussex, lent their names to the growing list of Save the Drew Forest campaign advocates at the Monday’s board meeting.
Wander and Tilley spoke not only of the vital role the forest plays in the larger ecosystem, but also of its unique and pristine status through proactive management.
“We have thousands of contiguous acres of forest in our area, but what we don’t have much yet is what Zuck’s Arboretum and Hepburn Woods offer, namely, forest with a lush native understory of shrubs, small trees and flowers – the result of years of excluding deer, controlling invasive plants and planting native trees and wildflowers,” said Tilley, of the township of Hardwick.
She said visiting the forest is like “going back in time to see what the forests were like. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live near Drew Forest and be afraid of losing your beauty and tranquility, plus all the ecological services it provides. I just wanted to tell you personally that your Drew Forest is also precious far beyond your region. Please save it.
Tilley described the forest as a “jewel” and a “free laboratory” from which all sciences can draw inspiration, and a necessary refuge for students.
Wander of Fredon Township said the reserve is a great example of forest restoration accomplished through the exclusion of deer. The forest, with its intact canopy and native understory, serves as an “irreplaceable refuge” for thousands of insect species that form the basis of the ecosystem.
In addition to the refuge the forest provides for wildlife, Wander cited its role in mitigating the effects of climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the air, producing oxygen and recharging the aquifer under of Buried Valley.
She urged the city, which is seeking to work with the university and conservation groups to preserve the forest, to do everything in its power to save Madison’s “irreplaceable resource for ecological services, biodiversity, l education and spiritual refreshment.
“We are in a time when awareness of the catastrophic effects of climate change and biodiversity loss is leading governments and non-profit organizations to plant trees and restore degraded forests in recognition of their critical role in maintaining our planet that we can still live in,” she said. “The destruction of Drew Forest will be a disastrous step in the wrong direction.”