Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L) initiated its second critical habitat restoration project as part of their participation in NJ Audubon's Corporate Stewardship Council (CSC), at the Yards Creek Scout Reservation. Volunteering the use of personnel and heavy equipment, JCP&L provided a key component in removing non-native invasive vegetation that had severely impacted numerous acres of woodland and young forest habitat vital for the survival of numerous wildlife species. This area of restoration was considered “ground-zero” for an infestation of Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), that started out as a planted ornamental, but left uncontrolled over the years had become aggressively wide spread, overtaking native plants and disrupting important ecosystem processes.
“New Jersey Audubon is encountering Chinese wisteria more and more across the state and it is clearly emerging as one of the worst invasive vegetation threats to our forests.” said John Parke, New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Project Director-North Region. “The non-native wisteria is long-lived perennial, that can tolerate a variety of soil and moisture regimes and it moves not just across the forest floor, but up the canopy as well, strangling, shading out, and displacing native vegetation. This leads to an accelerated death of large trees encouraging further growth and spread of the wisteria.” said Parke. “Once established in an area, wisteria patches can potentially cover several acres and completely change natural plant community development, which directly impacts the habitat requirements for certain wildlife species.”
The Boys Scouts of America Central New Jersey Council’s Yards Creek Scout Reservation in Blairstown Township lies in the US Fish and Wildlife’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Highlands/Middle Delaware River Focus Area and abuts Worthington State Forest. The area of Worthington State Forest and Kittatinny Mountain Ridge, that the site is part of, is also a designated Important Bird Area (IBA) of New Jersey, because of its important migratory stop over and breeding habitat. The region’s mix of largely contiguous forest and early successional habitat provides critical breeding habitat for several state endangered and threatened raptors, as well as supporting consistently high numbers of breeding state special species of concern, like Cerulean Warbler, and Regional Responsibility species, including Wood Thrush, Hooded Warbler, Gray Catbird, Eastern Wood-Peewee, Black and White Warbler and Scarlet Tanager.
“After habitat destruction, invasive species, like Chinese wisteria, are the next biggest threat to native plant communities.” said Brain Marsh, Private Lands Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). “This non-native wisteria does not have natural insects predators or diseases here in North America to keep its growth in check, so the plant can become wide spread pretty quickly. It is a direct threat to biodiversity and ecosystem stability on natural areas by negatively impacting wildlife dependent on native vegetation for forage, nesting, and cover.” said Marsh. “The USFWS together with the Boy Scouts of America, JCP&L and NJ Audubon have entered into a partnership under the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to remove and control the wisteria from the area and ultimately will restore natural wildlife communities on the site for migratory and breeding bird habitat.”
"We are pleased that JCP&L's ongoing engagement with New Jersey Audubon’s Corporate Stewardship Council enabled the preservation of a vital habitat at the Yards Creek Scout Reservation," said Don Lynch, JCP&L president. "Our employees embraced the opportunity to work with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Boy Scouts of America and New Jersey Audubon on helping to return the area to its natural condition."
"By partnering with JCP&L and USFWS through New Jersey Audubon’s Corporate Stewardship Council, we were finally able to better address this destructive invasive non-native plant species," said Central New Jersey Council BSA Staff Advisor Tom Leitz. "This partnership will go a long way in promoting a healthy forest, to insure that it is around for the future youth to enjoy!"
By Jean Lynch, Photos by Jean Lynch
Today marked NJ Audubon’s third Just flip ‘em!® walk on open beaches in the North Cape May area. Since we’re just a few days past Saturday’s full moon, the high and low tides have been pretty extreme, and large numbers of horseshoe crabs have been spawning.
We got on the beach around 7:15 a.m. When we looked south, we saw dozens of horseshoe crabs making their way back down to the water, and a local resident was still busy turning them over. So we headed north, where hundreds of horseshoe crabs were still stranded upside down. We quickly covered about a mile and a half of beach, walking, counting, and flipping crabs. We reached a natural ending point when we got to a beach that was already being cleared by three other residents.
In May and June of each year, especially around the times of the full moon, beachgoers on the Delaware Bay may notice large numbers of horseshoe crabs that have been flipped over on their backs as the tide goes out. Horseshoe crabs that are unable to right themselves risk death from exposure to extreme heat, from desiccation, or from predators such as gulls. By flipping the horseshoe crabs over and allowing them to walk back down to the water, a person strolling on the beach can allow a horseshoe crab to continue its life cycle. It takes about ten years for a horseshoe crab to reach maturity and be able to reproduce; very few of those eggs will ever become adult horseshoe crabs. Saving a mature horseshoe crab is a fun and easy step that beachgoers can take to contribute to conservation at the Delaware Bay.
The Just flip ‘em!® campaign was started in 1998 by Dover, Delaware-based ERDG, a non-profit wildlife conservation organization whose primary focus is the conservation of the world’s four remaining horseshoe crab species. The correct way to flip a horseshoe crab is to push it over from its side, to avoid injuring the tail. They need the tail for navigation, and the tail is the main tool that they have for turning themselves back over on their own.
The Delaware Bay is the world’s largest spawning ground for horseshoe crabs and one of the most significant stopover sites worldwide for migrating shorebirds, which rely on the horseshoe crab’s eggs to fuel them on their long migration north. Due mainly to overharvesting for bait in the 1980s through the early 2000s, Delaware Bay horseshoe crab populations have seen steep declines, and with them so have populations of migrating shorebirds. A moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting for bait has been in effect in New Jersey since 2008.
By the end of today’s walk, we had flipped 764 crabs! One of them had been tagged by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and we submitted its location online. Soon we’ll find out where that crab was originally tagged and released.
If you are walking on the beach and come across an upside-down horseshoe crab, you can help too! Please follow this guidance:
1. Turn over the horseshoe crab gently by its side. Don't hold it by the tail, as this could injure the horseshoe crab. They look a little scary, but they don't bite!
2. NJ state law forbids the removal of horseshoe crabs or their parts from the beach.
3. If you see shorebirds on the beach or near the horseshoe crabs, give them plenty of room and avoid scaring them away.
And have fun giving our local Delaware Bay wildlife a hand.
Whether or not you own a one-acre or 200-acre wooded lot, you may have experienced significant forest disturbance as a result of Hurricane Sandy. While catastrophic events such as high winds, ice storms or fire are a natural part of shaping our forests, as a landowner it can be difficult to accept the post-storm forest and the urge to clean up can be overwhelming. To a degree, debris removal, removing partially fallen trees, and filling in big holes in the ground can aid in forest restoration. NJ Audubon suggests considering a combination of clean-up and “hands-off” to achieve a more natural environment that provides new wildlife habitat and encourages vegetation re-growth.
Recommendation 1: Retain Some Coarse Woody Debris
Coarse woody debris (CWD) includes fallen trees and large branches that are on the forest floor as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Some amount of CWD should be left as is in the forest as it has both wildlife and nutritive value in terms of organic matter inputs and energy/nutrient flows. CWD has habitat benefits for a wide variety of wildlife from insects to large mammals by serving as nesting, denning, foraging or cover habitat. Accordingly, CWD of various sizes (diameter and length) and at various stages of decay are an important part of the forest component and supporting a variety of wildlife.
The exact amount of retained woody debris is difficult to quantify and not well understood. In natural landscapes, CWD may be clumped or randomly distributed, typical of forests impacted by a range of events from isolated disease to catastrophic disturbances such as wind throw. Leaving a small amount of CWD in each storm impacted area would be a good way to mimic the natural presentation of CWD in the forest.
Recommendation 2: Retain Some Brush Piles
Where CWD would be individual logs and large branches lying on the forest floor, brush piles would be areas of smaller branches and storm debris that are piled or clumped together. Brush piles are important wildlife habitat providing nesting and cover, particularly to small mammals and birds. In a natural forest environment “brush piles” may be the result of variable sized branches fallen from trees. Like CWD, they may be randomly distributed about the forest. Creating small brush piles creates microhabitat that is not only important to wildlife, but provides some level of protection for new vegetation.
Recommendation 3: Retention of Pit and Mound topography
A hallmark of old, natural forests is the presence of pit and mound topography. This type of typography is the result of uprooted trees, creating both a pit where the root system formerly was, and a mound where the root system is now exposed. Similar to CWD, important wildlife habitat can be created as a result of uprooted trees. The pit, depending on soil conditions, may retain water, creating a vernal pool, ideal for amphibians and macroinvertebrates. Additionally, the mounds are important sites for tree regeneration. Small seedlings may begin to appear on the mound and, given the elevation off the forest floor, these seedlings are somewhat protected from predation thus allowing this new age class of trees to develop in the forest. Rather than cutting all trees such that the root mass falls back, pit and mound topography can be retained in combination with retention of CWD.
Recommendation 4: Replanting with Compatible Native Species
Looking to the benefit of a catastrophic event such as Hurricane Sandy, we now have an opportunity to create some diversity of age classes in the forest. A diverse age class is important not only for overall forest health, but provides a more heterogeneous habitat that can support a wider diversity of wildlife dependent on trees of different densities and sizes. A forest with this structure also encourages growth of native saplings. Perhaps consider increasing forest diversity with compatible native vegetation of various sizes to assist in forest restoration. If planting in small canopy gaps (two or three trees in size) tree species that are at least tolerant of partial shade should be used. Soil and moisture conditions are also important when evaluating what species are appropriate to replant. For example, in small gaps with moist soils, black gum and swamp white oak might be good choices, while hickory and white oak could be planted in drier locations. For larger openings where more light is available, tulip poplar, red oak, black or pin oak might be added into the mix. In addition understory vegetation, such as maple-leaf viburnum, spice bush or witch-hazel may be nice additions to the forest. Plantings can be done in conjunction with retention of CWD, brush piles and pit and mound topography to help provide some level of protection from browse.
Recommendation 5: Maintaining Important Ecological Components
Some of the trees that Sandy affected the most in NJ forests were coniferous, many of which served an important role for a variety of wildlife. In southern New Jersey, pockets of the already rare Atlantic White Cedar (AWC) were toppled during the storm. AWC is considered a globally rare forest type that harbors some very particular wildlife. Ensuring that these forests regenerate with cedar, and not other species such as red maple, will be critical to the continued existence of the animals and insects that depend on AWC for some part of their life cycle. In the hardwood dominated forests of northern New Jersey, hundreds of acres of evergreens were affected by the storm. While the evergreens here only compromise a small percentage of the overall forest, they do provide an element of diversity that would otherwise be lacking. Many of the affected trees are within plantations of non-indigenous species that were established during the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps. While some might argue that a species such as Norway spruce is not native to New Jersey, and is therefore no great loss because it wasn’t supposed to be here, it is important to remember that these evergreens still provide critical habitat for some wildlife species. For example, Norway spruce stands many be the last stronghold for red squirrel populations in north jersey, and many owls prefer nesting in spruce in lieu of nearby hardwoods. Given the fact that for a variety of reasons we continue to see declines in the presence of native conifers that have historically been part of the northern NJ forests, it is extremely important that we work to restore some of these losses. In the case of some non-native plantations blown over in the storm, we are presented with an opportunity to restore them with an evergreen species that is better suited to our area and still maintain that diversity.