New Jersey American Water Restores Critical Amphibian Breeding and Migratory Bird Habitat at its Canoe Brook Facility

female mallard (PARKE)With the success of New Jersey American Water’s Environmental Quality Award Winning Hunterdon County project under its belt, New Jersey American Water completed its second Corporate Stewardship Council (CSC) project at its Canoe Brook Facility in Millburn, Essex County, NJ with NJ Audubon (NJA) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as its partners. Through the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, New Jersey American Water is pursuing this project as part of their goal of environmental sustainability and responsible leadership through NJA’s Corporate Stewardship Council.

Home to resident Bald Eagles, owls and numerous other bird species the location of the Canoe Brook facility offers a unique opportunity to restore and enhance habitat on a site that is also a critical stopover area for migratory birds and yet is embedded in a suburban landscape. The site provides an oasis for wildlife either making the site their home or simply a resting location on their migratory journey.

The project encompasses a 30-acre wetland restoration to restore and/ or enhance breeding and foraging habitat for amphibians, and birds including dabbling ducks and wading birds, such as herons and egrets. Specifically NJ American Water with the help of the USFWS and NJ Audubon completed 2 years of large scale invasive non-native vegetation controls, creation of shallow water depressions (vernal pools), and planting of native grasses and several hundred native woody plants that are beneficial for wildlife, especially migratory birds. Additionally, nest boxes for Eastern Bluebird, Tree Swallow, Wood Duck, American Kestrel and Eastern Screech Owl have also wood frog egg masses in vernal poolbeen installed at the property.

“As opposed to the adjacent reservoir or river, the creation of these vernal pools are very important at the Canoe Brook site because the wet-dry cycle of these pools prevents fish from becoming established, allowing critical breeding and rearing habitat for amphibians (frogs, salamanders), crustaceans, and insects,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of New Jersey Audubon. “In North America, approximately one-half of all frogs and one-third of all salamander species rely on seasonal or temporary wetlands for development. So these vernal pools provide a critical window of necessity for these species to function and fulfill their role in the ecosystem, which includes being part of the food web.”

Snowy Egret (PARKE)Secretive wading birds like herons, bitterns, and egrets are attracted to the pools as a foraging area feeding on amphibians and their larvae in the pools. Reptiles such as the eastern painted turtle, snapping turtle and the eastern garter snake also use vernal ponds, as feeding stations as they move from one area to another. Waterfowl such as the wood duck, black duck and mallard use vernal ponds extensively during migration, consuming insects, crustaceans, and seeds for energy during their long flights. Shorebirds, such as the spotted sandpiper, solitary sandpiper, Wilson’s snipe, and yellowlegs search out and feed on exposed mud flats that are created as water levels drop in the pools. Mammals, such as raccoons, opossum, and bats will use vernal ponds too as a water source and foraging areas as well as migratory avian insectivores such as swallows and fly catchers that are attracted to them to feast on the insects that fly over the water.

“Vernal pools also help protect watersheds,” said Gary A. Matthews, retired Environmental Manager of New Jersey American Water who spearheaded the project. “They capture and hold water, allowing time for it to seep into the surface and recharge groundwater supplies. This reduces the amount of water runoff and lessening erosion. Vernal pools also capture sediment, thereby protecting water quality in streams, rivers and our reservoirs. ”