Stewardship Blog

Cruising with the Techs: Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area

The Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area is comprised of 3,282 acres in Sussex and Morris counties. The WMA is owned by the State of NJ and is open clip_image002to the public for hunting and passive recreation. Nestled in the heart of the WMA is the 349 acre NJ Audubon Sparta Preserve. The Sparta Mountain WMA has a rich history. The Edison Mines in the heart of the WMA were built by Thomas Edison in the early part of the 20th century to extract iron. Because of the development surrounding the mines, the area was one of the first in the world to have electricity. Many of the mines are still open and are partially fenced in to prevent accidents. While working the WMA we have stumbled upon several mines as well as ruins from processing buildings, home sites, roads, and railroads.

NJ Audubon Stewardship Team has partnered with the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife to inventory the forests of the Sparta WMA. The NJA Forestry team is comprised of Project Director Don Donnelly, Project Coordinator Jeremy Caggiano, and Forest Technicians Lisa Dunne and Liz O’Rourke. The goal of conducting forest inventory is to find what species comprise the WMA with the goal of eventually creating management plans that will drive sustainable decision making for the next ten years. Inventory is conducted according to Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) national standards. This process involves creating a grid of points where data will be collected and compiled into a database. At each plot, a series of over-story and understory measurements were taken. clip_image004Plots were laid out in a 5x10 chain (330’x660’) grid, or one plot every 5 acres for a total of over 600 plots. All of our points were loaded into a handheld Garmin GPS. Once arrived at the point, a plot center is established in which all of the measurements are based around. In each plot, trees were selected based on their diameter at breast height (DBH) and distance from plot center using a 15 basal area factor prism. Basal area is a term that refers to the surface area that a tree takes up on the forest floor. Tree height, DBH, and percent living crown were measured. In addition, each tree was assigned a most valuable timber product. This includes sawlogs, firewood, and even cull (leave behind). Understory was also taken into consideration. A 1/100 acre plot was laid out (12 ft radius from plot center) and all woody vegetation was identified. Height class and DBH as well as plant origin were recorded. Once the WMA is broken up into discrete forest stands, we will revisit plots to observe and collect data on the herbaceous layer, or the non-woody plants that make up the forest floor. This includes everything from wildlflowers, rushes, grasses, and invasive plants such as Japanese barberry and multiflora rose.

clip_image006The data we have collected will be analyzed using NED2- Northeast Ecosystem Decision Modeling software. The WMA will be stratified into individual forest stands that are distinguished by their species composition. This software is also able to model forest growth into the future. NJA will use the analysis to develop forest management plans specific to Sparta Mountain WMA and the goals of NJDEP.


One of the best perks of the job of a forest technician is the wildlife and plants that we encounter. We spotted a North American Porcupine in our early days at Sparta WMA. It was climbing up a steep ridge just east of the Edison area while we were scrambling down. It waddled away as quickly as it could and climbed an eastern hemlock. Our plot was just a few yards from his perch and he stared down at us while we tallied trees. After a few minutes we realized all the American beeches in the vicinity had had their bark stripped. They no doubt fell victim to this innocent looking bark eater.

Pink and yellow lady slipper orchids have been spotted this spring at Sparta WMA. clip_image010Pink lady slippers are coming up in the timber harvest area, while we stumbled upon the smaller yellow variety deep in the swamps in the heart of the WMA. Black bears have been quite active since the arrival of spring to New Jersey. Usually we only catch a glimpse of a bear or hear it crashing through the brush while it’s high-tailing it in the opposite direction. But a few bears have been curious about what two girls are doing deep in their woods and wandered close, possibly catching a whiff of our packed peanut butter and jellies.

Forest inventory will wrap up this week but work will continue as we run the data through NED2. We will also be back out in the WMA collecting data on the herbaceous layer in the coming months.

Co-authored by: Lisa Dunne and Liz O’Rourke -- Photos by: Lisa Dunne

Have you seen these purple bags?

eabtrapIn an effort to monitor the emerald ash borer (EAB), the US Department of Agriculture has placed EAB traps at NJA’s Deerpath Sanctuary, the Turkey Hill Preserve section, in Hunterdon County.  The EAB is an invasive pest of ash trees that has become established in the central United States and has caused the destruction of millions of ash trees throughout the US.  The EAB has been detected in New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland – very close to, but not yet in, New Jersey.  Do your part to help protect NJ:  Do not move firewood – buy local/burn local; Inspect your trees for any sign of EAB; Spread the word to neighbors and friends about EAB; Know local State and Federal Regulations; Ask Questions.  A couple of the web links below can help you help New Jersey.  http://www.emeraldashborer.info/        http://na.fs.fed.us/fhp/eab/       http://www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/forest/community/Emerald_Ash_Borer.htm

New Jersey Audubon Earns Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Group Certificate

clip_image002On April 9th, 2012 New Jersey Audubon (NJA) became the first and only organization in the state certified to the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Under the auspices of the Rainforest Alliance, NJA’s Ecological Forestry Project is now officially certified to supply qualifying forest land owners, in New Jersey, FSC Certification.

Late in the 1980s, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) forest certification movement was initiated as a result of European consumers boycotting the use of imported hardwoods in light of tropical deforestation concerns. The boycott was intended to reduce the demand for products harvested in an exploitive manner, however, the boycott also had a negative effect on responsible enterprises. This spurred members of European environmental organizations and the forest industry to meet and discuss standards of practice for harvesting tropical hardwoods in a non-destructive way. In 1993, in Switzerland, the World Wide Fund for Nature, now the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), along with other conservation organizations, helped to form the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC was tasked with developing a set of Principles and Criteria which could be applied to the management of forestland throughout the world and also with developing a process for an independent third party to evaluate these Principles and Criteria.

The ten FSC Principles of Forest Stewardship are summarized below, and a full copy is available from the FSC or NJA. Criteria subtend each Principle and provide direction for its implementation. The ten Principles address the following:


  • Compliance with laws;
  • The legal right to own and produce timber;
  • Recognition and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples;
  • Economic and social well-being of local communities;
  • Conservation of the forest's economic resources;
  • Protection of biological biodiversity;
  • A written management plan;
  • Regular monitoring;
  • Conservation of primary forests and well-developed secondary forests;
  • Management of plantations to alleviate pressures on natural forests.

The forestlands of our region can be categorized into three groups: private industrial ownerships, government ownerships, and non-industrial private forests (NIPFs). Timber harvests on government lands have been decreasing over the past decade as more land is classified as wilderness, or reserved forest. On small, private woodlots the amount of wood available for harvest is increasing and these lands will become more important to our nation's overall wood supply.

This inadvertent, increased pressure on NIPFs can be used in two, very alternative ways: as an economic driving force to allow good forestry to be realized or as a shortsighted opportunity to harvest timber in ways that leave only low-quality trees in the forest. This is the question many forestland owners are presently facing. At NJA we believe forest owners should choose to pursue certified forestry and make a commitment to be part of an on-the-ground movement to advance high quality, responsible forest management.

clip_image006Through certification, there are two general benefits derived by the forestland owner as well as their surrounding community. First, participation in third party certification will hold forest management activities on the property to a higher standard, in turn by setting positive example. This will have an impact on how forestry is practiced on other private woodlands. A second benefit is that the forest products harvested from certified lands will displace some non-FSC-certified wood from the marketplace. An increased consumer demand for FSC-certified wood products, in a finite economy, will put pressure on owners of non-FSC-certified lands to get certified in turn enhancing the environmental integrity of private forestlands both throughout New Jersey and nationwide.

To date, NJA has already certified approximately 13,000 acres of working forest land under its Group Certificate: RA-FM/COC-005879. The property owners are both private and public alike, some of which are also under conservation easement. Through NJA, NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife has successfully earned the certification of roughly 3,000 acres of woodland, in the Skylands Region, better known as Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Also, just about 9,000 acres of the Pequannock Watershed, owned by The City of Newark, has been FSC certified by NJA with the goal of certifying 14,000 additional acres within two years. NJA (as the FSC Group Entity), these properties as well as six others, and all associated NJ Forest Stewardship Plans, had to undergo a comprehensive evaluation by a team of internationally recognized eco-investigators.


Land owners interested in FSC certification can be rest assured that NJA will assist in the following ways. The marketing of FSC-certified wood from small woodlots presents a complex problem. NJA is working with landowners and other organizations to develop strategies to promote New Jersey grown wood harvested from FSC-certified forests. We will independently produce or provide guidance and support to the public, landowners, and consulting foresters in the development of Forest Stewardship Plans that lead to FSC certification. Our Ecological Forestry Project will manage the FSC certification process and maintain records of pertinent information with particular attention paid to meeting the requirements of annual Rainforest Alliance audits and five year comprehensive assessments. We will also provide ongoing monitoring to assure that forestland owners, already having received FSC certification, remain conformant with their respective management plans and the ten guiding FSC Principals.

NJA is committed to maintaining the ecological integrity of New Jersey’s forestlands through certification and beyond. Those interested in certification are encouraged to contact a NJA Forester at Wattles Stewardship Center in Port Murray at (908) 837 – 9570.

By: Jeremy Caggiano, NJA Stewardship Project Coordinator