NJA Partners with Newark Watershed to Restore Ecologically Valuable Conifer Stands

imageMany forestland owners in the mid-Atlantic incurred significant tree loss during Hurricane Sandy. One of New Jersey Audubon’s (NJA) Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified land owners, Newark Watershed, was no exception.

In the 1930’s, under President Roosevelt, the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) was formed to offer employment opportunities to young men between ages 18 and 25 during the Great Depression. Among other things, the CCC worked on forestry projects throughout New Jersey with one of the more common activities being the reforestation of abandoned farmland and other cleared areas. Typically, CCC reforestation efforts consisted of planting various conifer species in relatively small plantations. In Northern New Jersey, red pine, Norway spruce and Japanese larch were often used in plantations even though they were not necessarily native to the region. Now, some 75 years later, the unmanaged plantations have reached an over-stocked stage of development where the overall growth has slowed considerably, and the less dominant trees have become suppressed. Overstocked plantations typically have tall, spindly stems with small live crowns ratios. Additionally, they usually have minimal root system development compared to those growing under less crowded conditions. These structural factors can cause a predisposition to wind throw during storm events.

As a FSC certified forestland owner, the watershed has committed to managing the CCC’s exotic plantations in a way that will allow for a smooth transition back to a natural forest with a native species composition. NJA has partnered with Newark Watershed to assist with mitigating the mortality within these plantations. The objective for management following the hurricane begins with a salvage harvest of the wind thrown trees in an effort to ensure that desirable native trees become established in the storm affected areas. Removing wind thrown trees will afford access to the site in order to manipulate future populations of non-native trees and shrubs that may become established.

imageThe area of the Watershed seemingly hit hardest by the storm is located near Oak Ridge. Here, plantation salvage harvests will be conducted in the most easily accessible areas first. Typically, the storm affected areas requiring treatment range from a few acres up to ten acres in size. Each treatment area will be assessed individually with a restoration prescription being submitted to the NJ Forest Service and respective townships prior to soliciting contractors to complete the work. In all cases, appropriate healthy trees will be retained, as well as snags and course woody debris that will serve as prime habitat for woodpeckers, salamanders, beetles and many other species that thrive after a natural disturbance occurs. Following the treatments natural regeneration response will be closely monitored along with deer browse pressure. Invasive species will be treated as required and non-native regeneration will be inhibited with a method deemed appropriate to the species in question. If necessary, a native mixture of conifers may be planted to ensure this ecologically valuable softwood component is retained in the watershed.

Prior to Hurricane Sandy there was very little age class diversity and early successional upland habitat within Newark Watershed’s forests. This disturbance, if managed correctly, will be appreciated and used by many wildlife species that require young forests to live in. NJA is committed to enhancing the ecological integrity of the FSC certified forestlands that are listed under the Group Certificate. While the forestry team has a lot of work ahead, they envision this disturbance not as a problem but instead an opportunity to improve the overall health of the watershed’s coniferous stands and to improve their habitat suitability for those species that call them home. Gap disturbances, whether natural or man-made, enable regeneration to establish, provide critical early successional habitat and most of all ensure that the forests we value so deeply will be conserved for generations to come.

By: Jeremy Caggiano

New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Project Coordinator / Forester