On January 12, 2015 the New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Department was awarded the Firman E. Bear Chapter of the Soil & Water Conservation Society’s Ecological Excellence Award. The award is given annually to an individual or organization that displays excellence in an ecological restoration project, unique soil and water conservation stabilization project, or innovative habitat development or enhancement project.
The NJA project that was selected was the conversion of an existing dilapidated in-ground swimming pool into a functioning vernal pool. “The Ecological Excellence Award is a great way to recognize projects in NJ that are making a difference for the environment. The NJ Soil and Water Conservation Society is proud to honor NJ Audubon with the 2014 award for their innovative restoration project at the Wattles property,” said the SWCS Chapter’s President, Christine Hall. “Our awards committee was impressed with this very unique project and the public awareness component that may lead to the protection of vernal pools elsewhere.”
Vernal pools are confined wetland depressions, either natural or man-made, that hold water for at least two consecutive months out of the year and are devoid of fish. These unique ecosystems provide habitat to many species of amphibians, insects, reptiles, plants, and other wildlife.
The Wattles Stewardship Center site is home to several amphibian species that rely exclusively on vernal pools as breeding areas. With the abundance of vernal pool breeders on site, an innovative proposal was made by NJ Audubon to USFWS under the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program to take the onsite in-ground swimming pool that had become non-functional and convert it into a functional vernal pool. This converted pool serves not only as prime suitable breeding habitat for amphibian species, but is also used for educational purposes to promote the importance and ecological significance of vernal pools. Additional support for the project had also been received from PSE&G, NJDFW and donated native plant materials were provided by the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership (CWRP).
NJA believes it essential to bring public awareness to vernal pools because although the NJ Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act has been in place since 1989, many vernal pools had been filled because wetlands smaller than 1 acre were exempt from the regulatory protection prior to 2008. Fortunately, we can re-establish vernal ponds that look and function like their natural counterparts, thus, restoring an important component of the landscape.
New Jersey Audubon would like to express sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Firman E. Bear Chapter of the Soil & Water Conservation Society, as well as, Pinelands Nursery and the committee for selecting our project for the award. We also thank the Chapter for continuing to support and encourage science-based conservation practice, programs, and policy.