New Jersey Audubon’s Stewardship staff have been working to restore maritime forest in Cape May Point State Park since 2011, and much of the success can be attributed to the hard work of dedicated volunteers. On a cold, rainy Saturday in April, a group of volunteers joined NJ Audubon staff and state park staff in removing garlic mustard and other non-native invasive plants from the Seagrove Avenue restoration site. The group’s hard work, which resulted in a dump truck full of invasive plants, is critical to the restoration of this unique ecosystem.
The Cape May Peninsula is known around the world for its migratory bird concentrations while also providing habitat for many rare species, including the state endangered Cope’s Gray treefrog. Maritime forests found on the peninsula are unique plant communities comprising of coastal dune woodlands and forested uplands, which provide vital resources for the Peninsula’s migrant and resident wildlife. In Cape May, many of these forests have become degraded due to invasive plants that threaten biodiversity and ecosystem structure. For this restoration project, NJ Audubon and Cape May Point State Park aim to improve ecosystem health by removing invasive plants while preserving mature trees and encouraging new native growth. A combination of hand weeding, forestry mowing, and herbicide application has been implemented, a strategy that has shown to be effective in combating invasive plants. This integration of techniques has already shown great success, including regeneration of native black cherry, sassafras, and aster.
For this particular volunteer event, the team focused on hand pulling garlic mustard, a widespread invasive plant that produces abundant seeds in its second year. This plant is also known to change the composition of the soil by interfering with mycorrhizal fungi, or fungi of the root zone, which help many plants uptake essential minerals. These characteristics help garlic mustard out-compete native species, leading to limited plant diversity on the forest floor. Pulling these plants before they go to seed can help decrease garlic mustard and increase native regeneration, biodiversity, and resources for many wildlife species.
Although this is a long-term project that requires careful monitoring and diligence, the positive results seen each year are a testament to the hard work performed by our dedicated volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering for NJ Audubon on this project, please contact Kristen Meistrell at (609) 861-1608 ext. 29 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This project has been made possible through funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Atlantic City Electric, and the William Penn Foundation.
--Written by Jean Lynch, photos by Jean Lynch
Moore's Beach is a classic Delaware Bayshore site-a mile and a half long access road, flanked by salt marsh, leads you to a narrow beach with almost a mile of shoreline. This site is used by native wildlife such as diamondback terrapins, horseshoe crabs, shorebirds, raptors, and laughing gulls; in fact, it used to be one of the Bayshore's most heavily used shorebird stopover sites during spring migration. The land is owned by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and is officially part of Heislerville Wildlife Management Area.
Despite its historical condition, the site is marred by tons of rubble from years ago, a legacy of a community defending itself against storm surges and rising seas. When the land was acquired by the state, the homes and the majority of the infrastructure were removed. Years later the beach still retains a large amount of rubble, including cinder blocks, drain pipes, stone, brick, asphalt, pilings, and other debris. Not only does the debris detract from the experience of visiting Moore’s Beach, but it is also suspected of interfering with the natural dynamics of sand dispersion on the beach, creating obstacles to horseshoe crab movement. Hurricane Sandy eroded the beach further, reducing the amount of quality available nesting and foraging habitat for crabs and birds. The mile and a half-long access road has also become degraded over time, with potholes visible from satellite photos.
View this as the past. For more than a year, NJ Audubon and several partners have been developing the plan to improve this habitat for horseshoe crab spawning and shorebird foraging, and to improve visitor access. Now, thanks in part to attention and resources brought in response to Hurricane Sandy, restoration of the beach is underway.
As of this writing, the road is being patched to allow heavy equipment to reach the beach. Once the road has been adequately prepared, equipment will be brought onto the beach to conduct large-scale rubble removal. We hope to have the rubble removal completed by the end of April, in time for this year’s shorebird migration! Work not completed by that time, including sand replenishment, will be undertaken after the migration and bird breeding season are over. Other improvements we are striving for include interpretive signs, a viewing platform, parking and other enhancements for visitors and wildlife.
Our partners include the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, owners of the site, and LJ Niles Associates LLC. Larry Niles and Dianne Daly deserve special recognition for their key leadership roles on the project. Funding in support of the project has been provided by the DuPont Clear into the Future Program, the State of New Jersey Natural Resource Damages Fund, the Dodge Recovery Fund, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the William Penn Foundation.
Readers should be aware that access to Moore’s Beach is normally restricted from early May to early June to protect migrating shorebirds.
As Spring arrives the fields and woodlands begin to wake-up and burst with the emergence of plant life to color the landscape and welcome in the wildlife from the long cold winter. And with the arrival of the new buds, shoots and flowers comes opportunity for us humans to embrace the outdoors and our primal roots and forage!
NJ Audubon believes in the concept of foraging because it is an excellent way to engage the public and educate them about the importance of natural resource protection, habitat and agriculture. Knowing where your food comes from, linking the food to the land, creates better education opportunities for the public to recognize how conservation efforts protect soil, water, wildlife and other natural resources
Where our food comes from and how it is grown (be it on a farm or in nature) has a profound effect on our landscapes, our health, our wildlife and the communities where we live. And how we steward and manage our lands and understand the connections these plants have on an ecosystem is the key to a meaningful, healthy, and enjoyable existence.
However, not all plants may be suitable to forage. Just because it appears in an edible wild plant book, cookbook or website or are being offered for sale for consumption does not always make that plant fair game to forage. Obviously plants that appear in Federal and State Endangered or Threatened species list should not be foraged, but what about other native plants that serve ecological niches in ecosystems. Some of these plants might seem “abundant” in a particular preserve or area that has not yet been disturbed by man but those plants also fill very special functions on the landscape that have direct impact on other species and help maintain ecological balance in the landscape. In particular, I refer to certain native plants called Spring ephemerals.
Spring ephemerals are found throughout the eastern United States and Canada, usually close to the ground in woodlands and floodplains. Examples of spring ephemerals in the Northeast include: Trout lily (Erythronium americanum), Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), Cut-leaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), May-apple (Podophyllum peltatum), and various trilliums (Trillium spp.) to name a few.
Spring ephemerals have a unique growing strategy. They begin to show them themselves above ground during a very small window where the trees do not yet have leaves and they can receiver maximum sunlight. In this short timeframe of a few weeks out of the entire year, the spring ephemeral must grow, leaf-out, flower, be pollinated, produce seeds and die back. By May or June when the trees and shrubs overhead have fully leafed-out and block access to the sunlight the Spring ephemerals have retreated underground until they emerge again the following year.
Spring ephemerals serve many ecological purposes including providing vital early spring food sources for many beneficial insects, when food sources are limited. This is of particular importance to various essential pollinators such as bees, bee flies and butterflies. According to the National Academy of Sciences, close to 75% of the flowering plants on earth rely to some degree on pollinators in order to set seed or fruit. From these plants comes one-third of humankind's food and even greater proportion of the food for much of our wildlife. When you consider how limited early spring food sources are in the landscape for these pollinators, one may re-think foraging for a spring ephemeral, no matter if it just taking a few or many.
Another function spring ephemerals serve is being the main subject of a process called myrmecochory. Myrmecochory is seed dispersal by ants. Spring ephemeral seeds have fatty external appendages called eliaosomes. These elaiosomes attract ants that will carry the seeds back to their nests to feed their young. However once the eliaosmes are eaten the remaining seeds have now been transported to another location to start to germinate to grow another generation of spring ephemeral.
Reports have show that a single ant colony may collect as many as a thousand seeds over a season. However, although many seeds are collected and transported, the transportation of the seed on average in not that far, only on average of about 6 feet. Because offspring remain so local (unlike plants dispersed by wind, larger animals, birds), removal of plants from an area is major threat to the survival of spring ephemerals because once these plants are gone from the forest, it is rare that they return because the seed source is removed
Spring ephemerals are declining in many areas due to development (urbanization and sprawl) climate change, spread of invasive species and deer browse.
Because of their fragile beauty, spring ephemerals are also tempting to being picked for their flowers. Disturbance to these plants, especially digging them out, can severely disturb or kill the slow-growing rootstocks of the ones that remain on the landscape.
So leave these plants and enjoy their fragile beauty in nature where they belong. If you need to pick, then be responsible and choose some lovely but robust invasive plants or noxious weeds which are not as connected to the underlying landscape ecosystem and which are aggressively prolific. Remember, sustainable management of natural resources is essential to make food systems sustainable.
On April 9th, 2012 New Jersey Audubon (NJA) became the first organization in the State of New Jersey to become Forest Stewardship Council certified. Now under supervision of the Rainforest Alliance, NJA can provide FSC certification to qualifying NJ landowners. Lands certified under the Forest Stewardship Council are held to a higher standard of land management. NJA has already certified 13,000 forested acres in New Jersey, including both public and private landowners. For more on FSC qualifications and specifics you can refer to an earlier blog post by Stewardship Project Coordinator Jeremy Caggiano. (http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionConservation/StewardshipProgam/StewardshipBlog/tabid/2006/entryid/68/New-Jersey-Audubon-Earns-Forest-Stewardship-Council-FSC-Group-Certificate.aspx)
In order for us to become FSC certified, the Rainforest Alliance had to perform an extensive five day assessment of all enrolled properties. After a successful completion of that first assessment in 2012, NJA was awarded an FSC Group Certificate. On January 16th, 2013 we underwent our second annual FSC audit. Over the course of one day, the NJA forestry staff was questioned about both past and future forest management activities to ensure cooperation with all FSC guidelines.
The Rainforest Alliance dispatched an auditor from coastal Maine and we convened at the historic Green Pond office on the Newark Watershed. Being from rural Maine, he had a few remarks about the six lane highways and strip malls he had to endure along the journey from Newark International Airport. However, once he arrived at Green Pond, a 250 year old stone house tucked into tall pines and situated on an expansive wetland, he felt more at home.
One of the main goals of the meeting was to prove we were in compliance with a few minor non-conformities that were addressed at last year’s audit. These minor non-conformities are instances where NJA has not met or adequately documented a standard required by the Forest Stewardship Council. These items need to be addressed and corrected within one year to uphold our FSC group certificate. One non-conformity was the illegal trespass in the form of unauthorized vehicle use on some properties, which we addressed by erecting more signage and gates along access points and woods roads. Another required us to carefully map out power line easements, which pass through FSC certified properties but are excluded from the certification. One interesting non-conformity that was addressed was the fact the several of our properties include pine and spruce plantations, some of which are made up of non-native species, like Norway spruce. The Forest Stewardship Council does not allow management of exotic species under their certificate, but in some locations the native trees are suffering due to pests and climate change. Through discussions we were able to work out a compromise in which we may attempt to re-establish alternate species that is adapted to a warmer climate and can provide similar habitat for wildlife. In places where the native evergreens are dying back, such as Eastern hemlock, this strategy may protect critical habitat. All of our non-conformities from 2012 were addressed and have come back into compliance. No new non-conformities were found this year.
After we wrapped up in the office, we headed out to the field to visit a few of our Forest Stewardship Council certified properties in the area. First we visited a Newark Watershed location in Oak Ridge where a large swath of evergreen plantation had been blown down in Hurricane Sandy. Here we discussed our plan to attempt to salvage the fallen timber, which will reduce the fire hazard as well as allow regeneration of a new forest. We also visited NJA’s Janet Van Gelder Wildlife Sanctuary, a proposed location for an evergreen planting to attempt to reforest an area where Eastern Hemlocks are dying back.
The second audit was completed with great success and was an excellent accomplishment for New Jersey Audubon’s ecological forestry project. All the non-conformances from 2012 were corrected and no new infractions on FSC requirements were found. We will continue to maintain the ecological integrity of New Jersey’s forestlands through stewardship and certification. Those interested in certification are encouraged to contact New Jersey Audubon at Wattles Stewardship Center in Port Murray at (908) 837 – 9570.
By: Liz O’Rourke and Lisa Dunne – New Jersey Audubon Forestry Technicians