Hiking in a meadow in Sussex County over the weekend, I came upon a small semi-hard grayish-yellow mass attached to a goldenrod stem. This “foam-like” cube was an egg case of a praying mantis. However, I was not as excited as some may think, because the majority of mantids in New Jersey are invasive species, specifically the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera aridifolia subspecies sinensis) and the European Mantis (Mantis religiosa).
As with most invasive species, these two non-native insects pose an interesting threat to some of our most important pollinators, because of their indiscriminate predatory behavior and voracious appetite!
According to The Kauffman Guide to Insects of North America, "The Chinese Mantis entered the U.S. as early as 1896. It is still deliberately introduced to many areas as a (pest)control agent. Its efficacy is questionable, as it is an indiscriminate predator, taking beneficial insects as well as pests." A much larger mantid (nearly twice the length of the European and Carolina Mantis) the Chinese mantis has a vertically striped face, bold green stripe along the edge of the forewing and a yellow spot between the arms.
Another introduced species in NJ is the European mantis. This mantis species was first brought here, accidentally, in 1899 on nursery stock from southern Europe, but was latter imported to the US in the 1930’s in commercially sold egg cases for garden insect control, as well as, later used as a biological control for Gypsy Moth in the eastern US. This species can be recognized by a black-ringed white spot on the inside of the front legs near the head and thin red and white “racing-strip” along the forewing.
A native mantis of NJ is the Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina), which can be identified by its small size (2-3 inches), mottled green or brown color and small wings, which when folded only cover about half of its abdomen.
Aside from their physical attributes, the shape of the mantis egg case (called the ootheca) can also be used to identify each species. The ootheca of the Chinese mantis are “cube-ish” and are as long as they are wide. Where the native Carolina mantis’ ootheca is elongated and slender.
Born from egg cases, and as ravenous as their parents, the young mantises’ first meal is often their siblings! As they grow, shedding their skin 5 to 6 times, they use their strong front legs to capture not only spiders and insects (including butterflies, moths, and bees), but larger mantises such as the Chinese mantis have been observed to catch and devour small vertebrates including, amphibians, lizards, snakes, mice and small birds!
Reports of mantises preying on birds dates back to 1864, however more recent studies conducted between 2000 and 2015 that appeared in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, indicated that in total, about 24 species of birds were identified as mantis prey. This group included hummingbirds and small passerines — perching birds such as sparrows and finches. The study indicated that “once a bird was caught, its fate was as good as sealed, with only 2 percent able to free themselves from the insect's clutches without human intervention.” Most notable in the study was that the birds most often captured and eaten by mantises in North America were the ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Although both native and non-native mantids are deadly predators that will use hummingbird feeders and wildflower gardens as their personal buffets, it is good to realize that the predator prey relationships are complex and can have strong indirect and cascading effects on ecosystem functions.
Additionally, contrary to popular belief, mantises are not protected by any state or federal laws.
Photos by John Parke
Photo of Mantis Eating Hummingbird by Kathy Cantafio
Eaton, E., Kauffman, K., 2007, Kauffman Guide to Insects of North America,
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects & Spiders (1989)
Nyffeler, M., Maxwell, M., Remsen, Jr., J.V., 2016, Bird Predation by Praying Mantises: A Global Perceptive, The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 129(2):331-344. 2017
For the third time in four years, the New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Department has won the prestigious “Firman E. Bear Ecological Excellence Award,” given by the New Jersey Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society in partnership with Pinelands Nursery. The award recognizes excellence in an ecological restoration project that implements unique soil and water conservation practices with innovative habitat enhancements.
In addition, the same project has been awarded the “Excellence Water Resources Award” given by the New Jersey Section of the American Water Resources Association (NJ-AWRA). The Excellence Award recognizes projects that advance water resources research, planning, development, management and education.
New Jersey Audubon’s use of bulrush on the project to address both a water resource concern and a critical habitat concern is a great example of efficient collaborative conservation intervention that is part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, an unprecedented collaboration supported by the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Working together, New Jersey Audubon, the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority/Wallkill River Watershed Management Group (SCMUA-WRWMG) and the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg planted more than 10,000 native plants along a tributary of the Paulin’s Kill River that runs through an active farm pasture in the Delaware River Watershed.
The choice of plants is a careful balance. The plantings must help improve water quality and control soil erosion, but also must be compatible with the needs of native species and their habitats. For example, the use of trees and other woody vegetation, which would typically be used for bank stabilization, are not always compatible with some native species habitats, such as that of the federally-listed bog turtle.
“Trees and other woody vegetation are not always the answer for riparian restorations, you have to consider the habitat needs of the species living there, so for this project the type of plant we used at the site was dark green bulrush,” explained John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of New Jersey Audubon. “Bulrush is a native plant that is commonly found in bog turtle habitat in this region. By planting it along the banks of the stream it not only helps stabilize the stream banks and prevent soil erosion but it also provides important food and cover for wildlife. Although bulrush can be grazed and is not harmful for livestock, it is not preferred by livestock. Thus livestock tend to leave it alone and in doing so, the area that was planted with bulrush allowed the native seed bank to grow naturally which improved biodiversity, habitat and general wetland function on site. Additionally, bulrush naturally removes excess phosphorus from water, through its root system. This use of a plant to remove the excess nutrient pollution is termed phytoremediation.”
Excess phosphorus is a major part of nutrient pollution, which according to the US EPA, is “one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems.” Although, phosphorous is a natural and essential part of ecosystems, too much can pollute the water by leading algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. Excess algae can harm water quality by decreasing the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Additionally, significant increases of algae in our water can also impact human health, food resources, and thus impact a region’s economy.
“New Jersey Audubon has a long history of doing good ecological work, in partnership with other organizations, that encourages similar projects elsewhere,” added Tom Drewes, retired former State Conservationist of New Jersey for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and coordinator of the Firman award judging. “Our Soil and Water Conservation Society Chapter, in collaboration with Pinelands Nursery, is happy to provide this award in recognition of their accomplishment.”
“Not only did NJ Audubon’s project address phosphorous loading in the bog turtle habitat, which in itself is an important water quality improvement,” says Rebecca Traylor, Secretary of the NJ-AWRA and an award judge, “it exposed young adults to water resources careers and practical science with hands-on experience by engaging the New Jersey Youth Corps. The project truly epitomizes our mission.”
New Jersey Audubon would like to express sincere gratitude and appreciation to the New Jersey chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society and NJ Section of the American Water Resources Association and their respective committees for selecting the project for the awards and their support to encourage science-based conservation practices, programs, and policy.
NJA also would like to thank the project property owner the Joritsma family and the other organizations and agencies, that also played an important role on implementing various conservation practices on the project site to improve water quality and critical habitat for a rare species, they include the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg, the Wallkill River Watershed Management Group, US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and USDA-NRCS. Finally we would like to thank our grant funders the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for their financial support for the project as part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative.”
NJ Audubon is looking to engage more landowners for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for conducting conservation practices on their land, as well as distribute more free native plant materials. However to be eligible to receive free pant materials properties must be located in the following sub-watersheds of the Highlands region (the Musconetcong, Lopatcong and the Paulin's Kill sub-watersheds) and must exhibit a degree of ecological impairment. For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at email@example.com.
Photos by John Parke
Project Site during bulrush install spring 2016 (top photo)
Project Site now in summer 2017 (bottom photo)
This past week NJ Audubon’s Stewardship Department presented an overview of the Bobwhite Quail Restoration Initiative and the project’s tie in with the National Shortleaf Pine Initiative at the 4th Biennial Shortleaf Pine Conference in Galloway, NJ.
According to the 2016 Shortleaf Pine Restoration Plan, “Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinate) has the largest geographic extent of the southern yellow pines, occurring in 22 states in the US. However, extensive logging, subsistence farming, the loss of open range grazing of livestock, and a lack of appropriate disturbance for subsequent regeneration have contributed to a 53% decline in its range since 1980.”
In New Jersey, which is its most northern and eastern limits of its range, shortleaf pine does occur in 13 of the 21 counties, but it is a more a common component in the NJ Pine Barrens region in the southern part of the state. Making up only 2% of all pines in NJ (2015 FIA Data), the “two-needle pine” or “smooth-bark pine” defines the shortleaf’ s physical characteristics from its more common associate in the Pinelands, the pitch pine (Pinus rigida).
As fire plays a key role in the Pinelands ecosystem, helping to maintaining forest structure and diversity, the shortleaf benefits from this periodic disturbance because of its fire-adapted traits. These traits include seedlings and saplings having the capacity to re-sprout when top-killed by fire due to axillary buds located in a basal J-shaped crook near the ground surface, a unique feature of the species (Mattoon 1915a). Shortleaf pine also has a thick platy bark and minimal quantities of resin protect older trees from fire, as well as the tree produces abundant seed crops and persistent cones allowing for regeneration soon after fire (Mattoon 1915a).
The open woodland structure of shortleaf pine ecosystems provides important habitat for wildlife, including Northern Bobwhite. Since shortleaf pine woodlands typically have a lower canopy cover and a more diverse understory dominated by grasses and forbs, a greater numbers of bird and animal species are found within them (Masters 2007) as compared to pine-oak forests.
For more information about shortleaf pine and Forest Stewardship in NJ see the New Jersey Forest Service.
Photo by John Parke
Anderson, M., Hayes, L., Keyser, P., Lituma, C., Sutter, R., Zollner, D., 2016. Shortleaf Pine Restoration Plan: Restoring an American Forest Legacy. Shortleaf Pine Initiative
Masters, R.E. 2007. The importance of shortleaf pine for wildlife and diversity in mixed oak-pine forests and in pine-grassland woodlands. In J.M. Kabrick, D.C. Dey, and D. Gwaze, editors. Shortleaf pine restoration and ecology in the Ozarks: proceeding of a symposium. Gen Tech. rep. NRS-P-15. Newton square, PA: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern research station. 2155 p.
Mattoon, W.R. 1915a. Life history of the shortleaf pine. Bulletin of the US Department of Agriculture. No 244, 46 p.
NJ Forest Service, 2015, Shortleaf Pine Initiative Fact Sheet
Photos & Text by Kristen Meistrell
Every season, farmers across the Garden State tend to their crops while preparing for next season’s harvest. For some, part of this process involves turning the soil over to incorporate old crop residue, such as corn stalks, into the soil. This method is called conventional tillage and is often used to reduce weed pressure and to loosen the soil to prepare for planting.
Tilling and turning the soil over is a practice that is as old as agricultural itself, but there can be some side effects. This method can be an intensive practice and involves multiple passes with equipment. It exposes the soil to the elements, which can reduce soil moisture, increase compaction, and reduce organic material – all of which can increase water and fertilizer usage, decrease drainage, and increase erosion and runoff.
In Cumberland County, a farmer who has practiced conventional tillage for decades recognized some of these downfalls and decided to try a different approach called the no-till system. This method involves very little soil disturbance and only creates a narrow and shallow indentation in the soil where the seed will be placed. To help address potential weed pressure, he also decided to incorporate a winter cover crop, which is a plant that is grown between harvesting and planting of different commodity crops.
Switching to a no-till system can be intimidating and expensive. It requires new equipment and materials, and can have some level of uncertainty surrounding crop yields and long-term economic benefits. Because of the inherent risk, the farmer in Cumberland County tested out this new method on a few small soybean fields. After just one year, the difference is remarkable.
In the photo above, the farmer planted both fields with soybeans. Both fields have similar soil types and were planted only days apart. After a full growing season, the field on the left is riddled with weeds, and the soybeans are already beginning to drop their leaves. On the right, there is very little weed pressure and the soybeans grew vigorously and tall. The difference between these fields was not additional fertilizers and soil amendments, but rather the method of planting the soybeans. To the farmer’s surprise, the field on the right used the no-till system while the field on the left used conventional tillage.
After one growing season, it is easy to see the yield benefits to a no-till system, but how does it benefit soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat? Using a no-till system with cover crops reduces soil disturbance while keeping the ground covered for much of the year. This helps to retain soil moisture, promotes infiltration, reduces soil erosion, and increases organic matter. No-till systems also require fewer passes with equipment, reducing fuel consumption and soil compaction. Cover crops can have added benefits as well. Legumes (peas, clovers) add nutrients to the soil by fixing nitrogen, brassicas (radishes) increase infiltration through deep taproots, and grasses (rye, wheat, barley) can help suppress weeds. Many of these cover crops can further provide shelter for wildlife during the winter months. In early spring, some cover crop species will flower, providing much needed nectar to native pollinators.
With so many benefits to the environment and to the community, a no-till system with cover crops can be a great alternative and option for many farms. Through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, New Jersey Audubon is committed to working with farmers and producers to improve water quality, build soil health, and increase wildlife habitat on working lands through these practices and others, such as stream buffers. The Delaware River Watershed Initiative is a long-term, multi-state program that is supported by the William Penn Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and NJ DEP’s Water Quality Restoration Grants.
Bill Haines, Jr. owner and CEO of Pine Island Cranberry Company (PICC) of Chatsworth, NJ was the recipient of New Jersey’s first ever National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s (NBCI) National Fire Bird Conservation Award. The award, presented at the NJ Fish and Game Council Meeting by James Sloan, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW) Upland Habitat/Game Biologist and NJ Coordinator of NBCI, recognizes entities and/or an individual’s contributions to that state’s efforts toward habitat-based restoration of wild bobwhite.
“The work done at Pine Island Cranberry Company over the years through active forest stewardship, combined with their participation in the national Bobwhite Quail recovery initiative could very well change the reintroduction effort in the Mid-Atlantic region for the species,” said Sloan.
According to NBCI, the award’s name, “Fire Bird”, symbolizes the historic reliance of Bobwhites on fire in much of its range to maintain the landscape in an “early successional” stage, that is, in the native grasses, wildflowers and young forest providing bobwhites with suitable habitat. The term “Fire Bird” in relation to Bobwhites was first coined by naturalist Herbert Stoddard, who researched bobwhites and worked to restore bobwhite habitat in the early 20th Century.
“PICC’s landscape characteristics, achieved by meticulously performing the conservation practices and prescriptions in their NJDEP approved Forest Stewardship Plan, are a natural match for the Bobwhite. The actions that Bill Haines Jr. and the PICC have taken will continue to create and enhance high quality habitat for the species in the years ahead as plan implementation progresses,” said John Parke, NJ Audubon Stewardship Project Director. “NJ Audubon congratulates Bill Haines, Jr and the staff at Pine Island Cranberry Company, on receiving this well-deserved award and commends PICC and PICC’s forester Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry, for their efforts to establish quality habitat for quail and other species, while also helping to address forest health issues such as fuel load reduction, control of forest diseases and pests, and ultimately successful regeneration and forest function,” Parke added.
Beginning in 2015, PICC, along with project partners NJ Audubon, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, the University of Delaware and Pine Creek Forestry conducted the first release of wild Northern Bobwhite translocated from Georgia to the PICC study site. To date, a total of 240 wild birds have been released and radio tracked via telemetry at the PICC site. This has resulted in 39 nests (1st confirmed nesting of wild Northern Bobwhite in the Pinelands since the 1980s), and 117 confirmed chicks. The project also demonstrated that translocated quail can over-winter from year to year. Additionally, researchers documented double-clutching nesting, where the male bird incubates while the female goes on to lay a second nest. These successes reflect the quality of habitat on the PICC site brought about through thoughtful and active land management and stewardship. By performing active management on the land, a balance of different cover types for nesting, brood rearing, and foraging were created, allowing for the translocated Bobwhite to take advantage of their naturally high reproductive potential.
“We are honored to receive this recognition, but it is an even greater honor to participate in the project with partners like NJ Audubon, the University of Delaware, Tall Timbers, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife,” said Stefanie Haines of Pine Island Cranberry, receiving the award on behalf of her father. “We are proud that our stewardship practices benefit not only our business and our home, but the wildlife which surrounds us as well,” added Haines.
Click here to support the NJ Audubon Bobwhite Quail Restoration Initiative
Photos Courtesy of NJ Audubon
New Jersey Audubon has been steadfastly working, with its project collaborators (Tall Timbers Research Station, the University of Delaware, Pine Island Cranberry Company, Pine Creek Forestry and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife) over the past three years to study translocation as a viable method of creating a sustainable wild population of Bobwhite Quail back in New Jersey. In wildlife conservation, the term ‘Translocation’ means the capture, transport and release/introduce a species from one area to another with the ultimate goals of species population persistence and resilience at the release area. In New Jersey the Northern Bobwhite Quail was once a common species, however it is now believed to be functionally extinct in the state, thus translocation offers an option to “jump-start” the species on the road to recovery in its former home in NJ.
Today, with researchers at the Pine Island Cranberry Bobwhite Quail Translocation Study Site in Chatsworth, New Jersey Audubon has confirmed the hatching of two Bobwhite Quail nests.
Twenty chicks were confirmed to have left the nest and were seen with adults.
More exciting news came from the field today, as three more active nests (i.e. quail incubating eggs) were discovered at the study site, bringing the total nests for the season to 11.
One of the hatchings was a milestone for the project; it marked the first double clutch of a translocated bird in New Jersey over the three-year project.
It also marked the first time for the project in which a male successfully incubated the clutch to fruition. This particular nest had an unfortunate situation where the female was depredated during her second clutch egg laying – hence only 9 eggs were laid (typically Bobwhite typically lay between 12 and 16 eggs). However the male finished out the incubation and successfully hatched 8 of the 9 eggs.
“Reproductive success is a critical component of the translocation project,” said John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “We are very excited to confirm the successful hatching of a double clutch nest, and a male successfully incubating to completion, because it reflects the quality of habitat on site that was achieved through the management. By performing active management on the land a balance of different cover types for nesting, brood rearing, and foraging allows for the translocated Bobwhite to take advantage of their naturally high reproductive potential.”
Click here to support the NJ Audubon Bobwhite Quail Restoration Initiative
Photos by Phil Coppola and Gylla MacGregor
Invasive plant species are an ever-present problem for land managers and conservationists. Properly managing invasive species is a task that many within the conservation world deal with on a regular basis. Being able to properly identify invasive species of plants is crucial so effective action can be taken to remove or manage the identified species. Conversely it is also very important to be able to correctly identify beneficial native plants that may look very similar to an invasive plant species. Properly distinguishing “lookalikes” ensures that native plants are not mistakenly removed or chemically treated during management projects.
One of the best examples of such lookalikes is Ainlanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven) and two native sumacs to the region, Rhus typhina (staghorn sumac) and Rhus glabra (smooth sumac). At a quick glance Tree of Heaven and native sumac may seem indistinguishable, or at least confusing, but upon closer inspection there are several key characteristics to look for that will quickly distinguish the invasive Ailanthus from the native sumacs.
If you can reach the leaves or a stem of the tree and break off a leaf or small twig you will be able to decipher which plant you have encountered. Ailanthus has a very pungent aroma at a broken section of a twig or crushed leaf. Some describe it as rancid peanut butter or burnt rubber. Sumac on the other hand does not have a very pungent odor and the leaves will have an average, mild vegetative scent.
Each plants’ leaves are also different, which can be observed on the leaflets (both species have compound leaves where there are numerous leaflets along one leaf stem). The leaflets of both sumacs are serrated or toothed while Ailanthus has almost entirely smooth leaflet edges (sumac on the left, ailanthus on the right in the picture to the right).
Also, Ailanthus leaflets contain one or more glands that can be found at the base of the leaflet. These glands are not present on sumac leaves.
One last distinguishing trait of each plant can be observed in late summer or early fall and that is the seed or fruit cluster. If the tree has finished flowering and produced fruit or seed, this is a great way to quickly identify the tree, even if at a distance. Sumacs have a panicle of flowers that produces a deep red cluster of fuzzy fruits which can easily persist into winter. Ailanthus produces samaras that hang in clusters and turn a dull orange/brown color.
Using these characteristics (barring winter months when seeds and leaves may not be present) it can be very easy, even for an average property owner to distinguish Ailanthus from our native sumacs. Don’t rush to judgment though, look closely for the key characteristics.
Native sumac offers a great food source and habitat when found in natural areas and NJ Audubon encourages property owners to leave it if found. Ailanthus on the other hand should be removed using appropriate techniques, see http://wiki.bugwood.org/Ailanthus_altissima for removal guidance.
(Photo Chuck Bargeron, University of Georgie, bugwood.org)
Proper plant identification is one of the many skillsets NJ Audubon staff use to ensure that we are undertaking stewardship activities and managing habitat to produce the most positive ecological results.
Text and all photos except Ailanthus seeds by Ryan Hasko.
The first quail nest of 2017 was discovered by NJA’s researchers at the Pine Island Cranberry Study Site in Chatsworth, Burlington County. The nest, as well as three more discovered in June, marks the third consecutive year of successful breeding by the translocated birds; further evidence of a turning tide in Bobwhite Quail recovery in New Jersey.
“We have seen a substantial decline in quail and yet, with proper habitat management, we believe we can bring them back, which is why we are bringing them in to reestablish their population,” explained John Cecil, Vice President for Stewardship, NJA.
2017 marks the third year of release of wild Bobwhite captured from Georgia and translocated to the Pine Island Cranberry study site in Chatsworth, NJ. Since the spring release, the birds have been tracked via radio telemetry by researchers from the University of Delaware contracted by NJA. One exciting element to the radio tracking this season is that four 2016 released quail (that still have working radio collars) have been confirmed to have paired up with this year’s released birds! Additionally, one uncollared bird, which indicates an offspring from previous years, has also paired up with a 2017 released bird!
“We are working to create permanence with Northern Bobwhite in New Jersey,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director - North Region, NJA. “In reviewing the data collected over the last few years and seeing these wild birds adapt to their new surroundings and successfully nest is a testament to how important active management is to maintain forest health and wildlife diversity,” Parke said. “The Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative has implications for quail recovery in the Mid-Atlantic, is providing information on other species that use these same managed forest habitat, and is motivating others to implement forest management. We are excited by the progress of the project, the hard work of the project partners and collaborators and eager to see Bobwhite thrive again in New Jersey,” he added.
ANSWER THE CALL and be part of this historic reintroduction and recovery of this beloved iconic species and support the Bobwhite Recovery Initiative! Go to NJ Audubon's Bobwhite Quail webpage: https://community.njaudubon.org/pages/quail-restoration-initiative-donation-page
Photos by Phil Coppola and John Parke
As I mowed the lawn in my front yard a commotion of chirps and squawks filled the air above me as I passed under a “snag” tree that I had purposely left standing upon the tree’s demise. As I stared up the trunk, scanning each hole and crevice for movement that would identify the producer of the loud vocalizations, two small feathery heads with long pointed beaks popped out of one of the cavities and looked down at me. “Pileated Woodpecker chicks!” I excitedly exclaimed, recognizing the white and black facial coloration, red cap and large size. With that, the adult Pileated flew in to be greeted by the two young chicks with a resounding series of calls of “feed me’'” from the hollow of the snag!
The world-renowned forest ecologist Dr. Jerry Franklin, says: "A dead tree is more alive than a live tree." Alive with wildlife that is!! In North American over 85 species of birds, 35 of which occur in the Northeast, use cavities in snags. Additionally, snags also provide essential habitat for other species including insects, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.
A snag tree (or cavity tree or wildlife tree), is a standing dead or dying tree, that typically exhibits leafless branches, loose bark, or exposed sapwood and rot. Snags typically develop “cavities” either naturally or cavities are by wildlife. Specifically, snags often attract insects to the decaying wood, thus also attracting other wildlife (including woodpeckers) to forage on the insects and ultimately create excavation holes that can be used by them or other species for nesting, shelter, roosting, perches and forage storage areas (i.e. caches).
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service “The best snags for cavity-nesters are those with hard sapwood (between bark) and decayed heartwood (inner core) making them hard on the outside and soft in the middle. The hard sapwood provides protection from predators and insulation against weather, while the softened heartwood allows easy excavation deep into the snag. Many birds avoid very soft snags for nesting because extremely soft wood can be wet or crumbly.” Some ways to recognize a tree that is on its way to becoming a snag include: sap runs, dead main limbs, excessive fungi on the bark, splits in the trunk, large fissures or hollows, and large areas of decaying bark. All trees of all sizes in forests of various age-classes can be potential snags and each tree species and the location of the snag in the landscape will have different uses for different wildlife. But generally, the value of a snag tree increases as its size increases. Snags that are around shorelines or even in water features, (i.e. lakes, ponds streams, rivers), add important woody debris to aquatic habitat as well as provide unobstructed views for perching and foraging .
Snags are an important natural habitat component to wildlife and can be a “one-stop” shop for the survival of certain species. A snag tree can remain standing in place for many years and although snags have many wildlife benefits, it is important to consider the location of a snag when considering leaving it where it is standing. As the snag tree decays it could pose a hazard to life and property if it fell. Snags should not be retained in high activity public places.
Through forest stewardship planning and implementation, snags/den trees, and other coarse woody debris for wildlife habitat can be incorporated into forest property management. As part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), and through funding from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NJ Audubon is seeking out landowners and farmers in the Highlands Region and the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Region (especially along the Delaware Bayshore) of the State for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for forest stewardship, as well as farmland, conservation practices. These conservation practices when implemented can help provide critical habitat for wildlife, as well as, contribute to improving water quality in the region. Additionally, depending on your property’s location within those regions, you may be eligible for additional funding or free restoration related materials, especially for riparian and wetland restorations. For more information on the NJ Audubon Delaware River Watershed Initiative related funding opportunities contact John Parke (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the Highlands Region and Kristen Meistrell ( email@example.com) in the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Region (southern NJ).
All photos by John Parke
DeGraaf, R. 1978. New life from dead trees. Natl. Wild. 16(4):28-31
Scott, V. E., K. E. Evans, D. R. Patton and C. P. Stone. 1977. Cavity-nesting birds of North American forest. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture., Forest Service. Agric. Handbook No. 553. 510 pp.
Forests in New Jersey have experienced the negative impacts of pathogens, pests, and diseases over the years, many of which target specific species or genus of trees. One pest that has arrived over the last three years in New Jersey is the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). First identified in Somerset county in 2014, it has now spread to over ten counties throughout the state. EAB is an invasive insect that carries out its life cycle solely in ash trees, ultimately killing the tree within four to five years. One of the most recently documented occurrences of EAB was identified by New Jersey Audubon staff in the spring of 2017 at Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren county.
This occurrence only helps to remind land managers of the inevitable: EAB is here and will continue to have significant impacts on our forested landscapes. Realizing the potential for widespread loss of ash stands on its own properties as well as others, NJ Audubon staff have begun utilizing forestry practices to proactively prepare for the impending forest changes.
NJ Audubon currently utilizes forestry practices on a variety of its lands to mimic now-limited natural disturbances (i.e. fire, beaver impact, storm damage, flooding), which creates a mosaic of different sized and aged forest stands over time. These variations in species, age composition, and size classes helps create the necessary diversity and structure to support a multitude of wildlife that utilize various stages of a forest’s life-cycle.
Recently, NJ Audubon staff completed forestry work on a forest stand at the Wattles Stewardship Center property and two stands at Merrill Creek Reservoir. Both sites were prepped by mowing existing woody invasive plant species throughout the stands. Future herbicide treatments of invasive plant regrowth will promote the successful reestablishment of native vegetation.
After completion of invasive plant species control, harvesting of ash trees was completed at Merrill Creek, which was already confirmed to be in the beginning stages of an EAB infestation. Select walnut trees were also harvested to open the canopy and because of their allelopathic characteristic. This is a trait where a plant can release biochemicals into the soil which hinders growth or germination of other plants; including desirable species. Ash and walnut were also selected against at the Wattles site, although no timber was harvested. At the Wattles Stewardship Center, the technique of girdling was used to kill unwanted walnuts and most ash were left with the expectation of die-off within 5-7 years.
With the forestry work completed, NJ Audubon staff recognized that future regeneration, if left to naturally occur, would be a high percentage of ash and walnut returning from an existing seed bank. To ensure forest regeneration of more diverse species, NJA staff, Merrill Creek staff, and the New Jersey Youth Corps planted over 4,000 seedlings between both sites which were provided by The New Jersey Tree Foundation. This reforestation effort with NJ Youth Corp is also part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, which works to maintain or improve water quality through the implementation of best management practices and other natural resource protection measures.
Each site was planted with a mixture of oak, pine, black gum, and black cherry trees. To further ensure the successful reestablishment of the young forest, low voltage electric fence was installed around each work area to discourage deer browse until the trees and other vegetation has fully established.
With the use of successful forestry practices, thoughtful foresight, and unique partnerships, NJ Audubon has successfully continued its work to improve the health and management of our forests. Through science-based, responsible land management we can all continue to enhance and strengthen the habitats throughout New Jersey.
Text by Ryan Hasko. Photos by Ryan Hasko and John Parke