North Helps South - Red Cedar and Snakes Perfect Together

New Jersey's landscape is forever changed by the impacts of hurricane Sandy, with the state experiencing some of the worst storm surge flooding seen inSlide6 modern times. However, while the coastal areas have received most of the press coverage associated with the storm, what many outside New Jersey do not realize was how Sandy's extended period of extremely high wind gusts changed the landscape of New Jersey’s interior forests. Tens of thousands of trees were brought down from one end of the state to the other.

Slide1Although storms may significantly change the woods, the woods are not "ruined". Despite the potential economic impacts, there are ecological benefits. While initially looking "messy", storms help create the "old-growth like" habitat characteristics often lacking in most forests (e.g., cavity trees, downed dead logs, diverse tree ages and sizes). Additionally, these "gaps" in the forests also cause an explosion of biodiversity as plants seedlings and saplings receive more light and space to grow, which in turn provide new habitat opportunities for a variety of wildlife.

NJ Audubon also saw an opportunity from the impacts of hurricane Sandy, to utilize some of the downed wood from the storm in the northern part of the state, particularly eastern red cedar, to create artificial snake hibernacula (dens) in the southern NJ Pinelands.

Although the snakes of the NJ Pinelands, such as the State Slide7Endangered corn snake and State Threatened pine snake, are Slide5certainly capable of excavating their own den, habitat loss has created a need for man-made intervention to assist these species. Dens created at strategic locations within the habitat also help to increase the likelihood of intraspecific interactions and accordingly, help promote gene flow across populations.

With logs from storm damaged eastern red cedar trees, donated by Bob and Harriett Druskin of the McMertry Farm in Somerset County, NJ Audubon was able to salvage this wood to utilize in the construction of these artificial snake dens in the southern Jersey Pinelands. Typically, treated wood such as railroad ties or telephone poles are used in the construction of these dens, however with the use of natural rot resistant red cedar there was no need for chemically treated wood for the project.

Slide2The artificial den is a solid underground structure that mimics, but will outlast, the natural root cavities of trees. Although artificial in name, the design promotes the natural excavation behavior of the snakes as they dig out their den. As the different layers of soil are removed they are separated so that when back-filling begins, the appropriate material is returned to the right location, providing the natural underground conditions Slide4important to a pine snake den. A solid roof prevents cave-in and methodically placed PVC pipes offer ease of ingress and egress.

Beth Ciuzio of US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Bob Zappalorti, Executive Director and Founder of Herpetological Associates,Inc. of Jackson, NJ provided assistance to NJA staff in the construction of the pine snake den. The USFWS Partner’s Program donated the machinery used to construct this den. Bob Zappalorti donated not only his time to oversee construction, but also donated supplies to cap it off. The den design is a proven successful model developed by Bob.