Academic advisor ‘roots’ for the environment

Jane Sinclair-Piegza gathers saplings ready to be planted on her property overlooking Lake Erie. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki


Published May 13, 2022

“Our goal is to regrow a forest on this land and have it fully matured within ten years. ”
Jane Sinclair-Piegza, senior academic advisor
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Jane Sinclair-Piegza and her husband, Larry, found the perfect piece of land.

Situated on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie, amid vineyards and farmhouses near the Pennsylvania border, the roughly 32 acres offered both serenity and privacy.

An ideal place, many people would say, to build a summer cottage.

And that was the plan … initially.

But as the couple walked the property — a flat, open field most recently used to grow corn — a new vision emerged.

“We started talking and came to the idea that it was big enough for a reforestation project,” says Jane, a senior academic advisor in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ Office of Undergraduate Education.

Turning a forlorn piece of earth into a healthy forest of native trees and shrubs, where wildlife flourishes and helps blunt the effects of climate change, was something the eco-minded couple from Amherst had longed to do.

So when they closed on the property in the spring of 2021, they eschewed any discussion of roofing, siding and windows. Instead, they focused on what sort of assistance they would need to plant thousands of trees.

Photos: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

“We do things like composting and recycling to minimize our environmental footprint. But we’re always trying to find ways to make a bigger impact,” says Jane. “Our goal is to regrow a forest on this land and have it fully matured within ten years.”

The couple and their two children — Cayden, a second-year student at UB, and Erin, an 11th grader at Amherst Central High School — took a big step toward that goal by planting roughly 1,200 trees this spring.

Sinclair-Piegza with her son Cayden, a second-year student at UB, and daughter Erin, an 11th-grader at Amherst Central High School. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

They had help from a cadre of volunteers, including the Boy Scouts of America Allegheny Highlands Council; Boy Scout Troop 129 in Falconer; Boy Scout Troop 286 in Tonawanda; Girl Scouts of Western New York; Girl Scout Troop 20033 in Fredonia; and Girl Scout Troop 20025 in Brocton.

Additional volunteers included Carey Casillo-Young, a master gardener from Chautauqua County, and Jeff Brockelbank, a forestry supervisor with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

To support their efforts, the couple applied for and received a grant from the Regenerate New York Forestry Cost Share Grant Program, which, according to the DEC, supports “the regeneration of forests so they may continue to deliver vital services such as mitigating climate change, protecting air and water quality, and supporting the economy.”

The grant helped the couple procure an array of saplings, which ranged in height from 6 inches to a couple of feet, depending on the tree type.

The volunteers placed protective sleeves around each tree to ensure that hungry animals don’t eat them before they have a chance to grow. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

“We planted red oak, white oak, balsam fir, white pine, swamp white oak, black cherry, serviceberry, mountain ash and common persimmon,” says Jane, a UB alum who received a BA in psychology and an MA in anthropology before joining UB’s staff in the late 1990s.

The property, along Route 5 between the towns of Westfield and Ripley, was bustling with activity on a recent Saturday in April. Orange and pink flags told volunteers where to plant trees. Saplings sat waiting in Home Depot buckets.

Volunteers planted and staked the budding trees. They placed protective sleeves around each tree to ensure that hungry animals don’t eat them before they have a chance to grow. The appearance of the sleeves, which are white and roughly 5 feet tall, resemble candles on a birthday cake — albeit a really large birthday cake.

Ultimately, Jane says, they hope to plant nearly 6,000 trees and apply to have the budding forest certified as a National Wildlife Federation wildlife habitat.

“We’re already looking ahead to next year, and how we can plant even more trees,” Jane says.