New Jersey Audubon, teachers from the Toms River School District, and more than eight hundred middle school and high school students have just planted a new, 13-acre Atlantic white cedar stand at our Hovnanian Sanctuary in Berkeley Township.
We’ve written about work at our 513-acre sanctuary before, but the creation of the Atlantic white cedar forest is an event we’re extra pleased with. Atlantic white cedar forests have declined in New Jersey and throughout the Eastern Seaboard, with only an estimated 20 to 25 percent of their original extent remaining. These forests grow in wet areas and provide excellent habitat for a number of rare and endangered plant and animal species, including Pine Barrens treefrog, Hessel’s hairstreak, barred owls, curly-grass fern, and swamp pink. It is essential to manage and restore Atlantic white cedar systems to ensure the stability of these species.
In a collaboration between NJ Audubon and the Toms River School District, eight hundred students from grades 6 through 8, participated in the four-day event, planting more than 10,000 seedlings. They received help from Toms River High School advanced placement science students who have been studying Atlantic white cedar throughout the school year. These seedlings, most less than a foot tall, will take decades to develop into a mature forest. We hope that the students who helped us plant them will visit the site over the years to check on their progress, and that they will bring their own children to visit the forest someday.
During the four-day event, in addition to planting trees, the students spent time in the field learning about Pinelands flora, fauna, soils, and hydrology. They also were able to learn about careers in conservation from NJ DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, Brian Corvinus and Greg McLaughlin from the NJ Forest Fire Service, Eric Schrading from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Jim Dunne and Courtney Compton from the NJ Division of Forestry.
Funding for the restoration project has been provided by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Forest Service, New Jersey DEP’s Critical Habitat fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the William Penn Foundation. The education portion the project was funded by The National Park Foundation and the Trust for Public Land with support from the Toms River Regional School district.
Thanks to all of our many partners and volunteers for helping us complete this restoration effort!
Written by Jean Lynch
Earlier this Spring NJ Audubon Conservation Department staff along with staff of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Trout Unlimited participated in the re-vegetation of a stream corridor as part of a Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) project. Several hundred native willows, donated by Pinelands Nursery & Supply of Columbus, NJ and shrub dogwoods, supplied by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), were planted along a 0.37 mile (~2,000 feet) stretch of the Pohatcong Creek for bank stabilization and habitat purposes. This section of the Pohatcong is a Category One Trout Maintenance Water, meaning this waterbody has been designed by NJDEP as having exceptional water quality that is important to all residents, particularly to the many communities that depend upon surface waters for drinking water supplies and fish production. In particular, New Jersey's only native trout, the brook trout (the NJ State Fish), use these waters for breeding and other parts of their life cycle.
What makes this particular project such an outstanding example of "conservation in action" was the persistency of NRCS to rectify a resource that was in peril for years, the level of commitment to implement the project by the new landowner, Dr. Calvin Shen, and immediate support from numerous agencies' staff, volunteers and conservation organizations to come out and lend a hand when needed.
Several years ago the site was the location of what was known as the Willever Lake Dam site. Prior to Dr. Shen's obtaining the property, NRCS had attempted numerous times to enroll the property into a conservation program because extreme siltation had occurred at the dam structure, which impeded fish passage and lead to degraded water quality. Specifically, the siltation lead to water levels to become shallow, which then lead to water temperatures becoming elevated. With that, native wetland and aquatic plants were then soon outcompeted by the non-native invasive Chinese water chestnut. The influx of water chestnut lead to decreases in dissolved oxygen in the water, thus the area provided little to no biodiversity or suitable habitat for fish and other wildlife. For a site that was listed as being a Category One Waterway, the dam structure in its previous condition was putting the water resource in a state of extreme peril.
After Dr. Shen became the new owner of the property, NRCS again reached out to offer assistance and education to the new landowner about the detriments that the dam was having on the water quality, wildlife habitat as well as NJDEP Dam Safety compliance. Through NRCS and a commitment from Dr. Shen, restoration funding was secured, the site was entered into WHIP and engineering plans were designed by the RBA Group to breach the dam, provide better soil erosion and sediment controls, address the invasive vegetation and habitat restoration plans were implemented. The news of this project spread quickly through the environmental community with members of Trout Unlimited and New Jersey Audubon immediately responding to NRCS' request to help with the re-vegetation of the newly exposed stream corridor. Almost immediately the wildlife returned to the site with sightings of brook trout and small-mouth bass found in the creek during restoration activities, as well as great blue heron and belted kingfisher. With the breach of the dam, approximately 8 acres of low quality standing water was now exposed, creating a floodplain which now could again provide critical habitat, as well as flood-storage area during storm events as it once did before the installation of the dam structure.
NJ Audubon's mission specifically promotes preservation of New Jersey's valuable habitat and it also promotes a conservation ethic among our citizens and protects all wildlife, not just the birds. That said, NJ Audubon would like to congratulate and say thank you to Dr. Shen, NRCS, USFWS, NJDEP, RBA Group, Pinelands Nursery & Supply and the members of Trout Unlimited for their incredible efforts to restore a very special stretch of the Pohatcong Creek which now has added critical habitat and valuable water quality improvements to the region!
NJ Audubon is very proud to have assisted with the project and it was such an inspiration to see a project of this scope and size bring a wide array of people out to the field and work together for a common goal - conservation of NJ's natural resources!
New Jersey American Water initiated its first habitat restoration project as part of their participation in NJ Audubon's Corporate Stewardship Council. This spectacular event took place on New Jersey American Water property in the Pottersville section of Tewksbury, Hunterdon County. The habitat restoration was focused on improving native understory plant communities in a riparian area along the Lamington River (a Category One Waterway - designated as such for its ecological importance). Ultimately this habitat improvement will benefit migratory birds and other wildlife by providing critical foraging and breeding areas.
Late in 2011 New Jersey American Water entered into a contract with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and New Jersey Audubon through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program and performed extensive invasive non-native vegetation removal and control at the site. Prior to the invasive controls, the site was overrun with non-native invasive vegetation that included common reed, mutiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, tartarian honeysuckle and Japanese barberry. These types of non-native vegetation outcompete native plants and in many cases shade out new growth providing little to no benefit to wildlife. On April 12, 2012, over 800 native trees and shrubs were planted at the site by NJ American Water employees, volunteers, and staff from USFWS and NJ Audubon just in time for the spring migration of birds and other wildlife.
"The most significant improvement of the property comes as a result of the removal of invasive vegetation allowing the soils at the site to be exposed to the sun for the first time in years. This has lead to an explosion of growth by native herbaceous plants seeds lying dormant in the soil.", said NJ Audubon Stewardship Project Director John Parke. "Skunk cabbage, spring beauty, trout lily, dog-tooth violets and cut-leaf toothwort were just some of the native plants we found to be growing on the site where they were not noted the year before. Having these native wildflowers back on the landscape will provide early pollen sources for beneficial insects."
"This project provides a great example of how a corporate landowner can take the initiative to improve wildlife habitat through relatively simple voluntary restoration measures and through partnering.," said Brian Marsh, Private Lands Biologist with USFWS. "The USFWS commends NJ American Water for their interest in partnering to restore wildlife habitat and hopes their efforts will motivate other landowners to perform similar measures."
The habitat restoration at the Pottersville facility is also the same location that was recognized by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2011 for New Jersey American Water's voluntary and proactive measures taken to go beyond compliance in an effort to improve the environment and ensure a sustainable future, which included a $3 million upgrade of the wastewater facility. “We are committed to delivering innovative and environmental friendly solutions to better serve our customers - whether it is the treatment of wastewater or restoring an environmentally sensitive site. The work we’ve done with NJ Audubon and USFWS at our Pottersville Wastewater Treatment Plant is an example of such commitment,” said Suzanne Chiavari, Vice President of Engineering at New Jersey American Water.