The New Jersey Audubon Stewardship South team headed North earlier this month to participate in a two-day partners training held by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, created originally as the Soil Erosion Service (SES) in 1933. The SES was formed with temporary funding to address soil erosion by providing practical information on how to protect the land, and expanding important research to find these answers.
Less than a year after the formation of the SES, the Dust Bowl brought suspended dust particles from the Midwest all the way to Washington, D.C. With soil clouding out the sun on capitol hill, founder Hugh Hammond Bennett had the perfect case to appeal for long term funding. NRCS has since grown to a nationwide federal agency with field offices in all 50 states and 8 US territories. They are the go-to technical assistance agency for agricultural producers and private landowners interested in employing conservation practices and as an agency allocate millions of dollars in financial assistance every year.
NRCS’ partners training brought together organization, agencies and private entities from all over our great state. Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, Cape-Atlantic Soil Conservation District, US Fish and Wildlife Service, NJ Department of Agriculture, Trout Unlimited, Northeast Organic Farming Association and NJ Resource Conservation and Development were just a handful of those in attendance. The first day of classroom training covered topics including the history of NRCS and its roots as the SES, land use classifications, tips on preparing for site visits, and NRCS’s nine step planning process. This information has already proven very useful in the way NJA Stewardship staff plan for visiting private property to advise landowners, which we do often.
The second component was field training at Terraceland Farm in Hunterdon County. This property is a shining example of the collaboration needed to create a successful, cohesive conservation plan. We spent the day touring the site and meeting with NRCS staff members who all played a different role in the planning process. State Soil Scientists outlined the soil types in the region and demonstrated how to classify each horizon in a soil pit from identifying different properties to using a Munsell soil guide.
The State Agronomist defined erosion issues that presented themselves on the crop fields, and how they were remedied with terracing on this parcel with a 17% slope. To us South Jersey folks, this was perhaps the most striking. Working in a region of primarily flat land, we don’t inherently have to consider the issues arising from a field with such a steep slope. At the base of each terrace was a diversion, redirecting runoff from cascading down crop fields and taking sediment along with it. This property could have looked very different if these practices were not employed to protect the soil!
In addition to correcting erosion issues, NRCS Engineers addressed manure storage in an innovative way by separating clean rainwater and redirecting contaminated runoff from a concrete feed lot. By utilizing underground systems, Terraceland Farms can now move their “dirty” water into a crop field to infiltrate through the ground, thereby cleaning the water before it reenters the water table. Essentially they have created a septic leach field to help deal with animal waste. The farmer gained technical assistance with the beginning of the animal waste process as well, working with grazing specialists to score pasture conditions and devise a plan to ensure a healthy, balanced diet for his livestock.
State biologists emphasized the importance of unifying wildlife conservation with the producer’s objectives. Considering the potential impacts of planned practices on the plants and animals of the area is never overlooked, and is something that we at Audubon are passionate about. By utilizing spatial data, visiting the site and asking the right questions, you can learn a lot about the wildlife in the area and the farmer and or the landowner’s interest in implementing different conservation practices. Having this knowledge can better align project goals and can warrant tweaking the plan to allow for more habitat in some situations.
New Jersey Audubon staff came away from this training with new knowledge and practical skills for working with landowners and farmers, and a fully charged morale for putting more conservation practices on the ground. We would like to thank NRCS and participating partners for organizing and attending this training. It was very helpful to see the collaboration and consider all of the discussions that have gone into making this farm a showcase for conservation.
We have gained new skills that will benefit us in working on NJA’s Healthy Land and Waters Grants, an initiative in the Delaware River Watershed that works closely with NRCS to provide additional technical and financial assistance to farmers and producers in southern New Jersey. We are now better equipped to work with our partners to the full extent and to consider all these aspects of planning. Together we strive to reduce water use, protect water quality, and reduce soil loss on agricultural lands, all while improving habitat and safeguarding wildlife and natural resources. For more information please contact Brittany Dobrzynski at 609-400-3826 or Brittany.firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: Brittany Dobrzynski
I am excited to be writing my first blog of the season! I’m Wills, the new summer/fall seasonal land steward with New Jersey Audubon. I have the exciting opportunity to work at several different private and public lands throughout Southern New Jersey, making my job extremely variable given the day and what’s on the agenda.
The first site I will be talking about is New Jersey Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May (the Nature Center), which is, in my personal opinion, a hidden gem. The Nature Center is located in New Jersey’s southernmost beach community on Delaware Avenue, just up the road from the U.S. Coast Guard base. It sits on Cape May Harbor, and is only minutes from all of the excitement of the boardwalk, arcades, and restaurants in Cape May City and Wildwood. If you find yourself East of Lafayette Street, I would recommend stopping into The Nature Center to walk around the trails, check out the visitor’s center and backyard habitat gardens, and take in the views from the 2nd story observation deck, to take in Cape May’s natural beauty.
The Nature Center was the site of my inaugural day with New Jersey Audubon. Upon arrival, I met Gretchen Whitman, the director, and her fantastic group of staff and volunteers. I surveyed the property with Trisha Pitcher, a Stewardship Technician for New Jersey Audubon. Trisha heads the restoration project taking place at the Nature Center, and works on projects eradicating non-native invasive plant species throughout southern New Jersey. Returning to the mid-Atlantic after four years at school in Florida, I was new to invasive plant removal and some of the plant species growing in the region. I realized immediately that there were some plants that seemed more prevalent than others on the landscape. Unfortunately, these were the non-native invasive species. It was apparent by their large numbers and habits of growing over and choking out native vegetation that they had to go.
Habitat restoration and ecosystem health will continue to be the major goal that we hope to achieve at the Nature Center. A list of the invasive plant species that run rampant in Cape May include porcelain berry, common reed (Phragmites), English ivy, mimosa tree, Japanese honeysuckle, weeping love grass, and autumn olive. Both Trisha and I spent countless hours wrestling through vine-ridden terrain, not uncommonly falling trap to thorns, and even worse - ticks. What is that they say, “It’s not a good hard day’s work if you didn’t give it your blood, sweat, and tears?” I think it’s safe to say that I had all of that! Ok… maybe not the tears part, but it is a dirty job.
After two months of hard intensive labor, dense covered brush gave way to more open areas. Native trees and shrubs, such as sassafras and oak that had once been covered completely by porcelain berry have finally become visible. Milkweed could be seen in sections that were primarily Phragmites and mugwort. It even seemed as though the birds were starting to forage more throughout the restored areas, meaning more resources have already become available. The process was not short, but it was well worth seeing our progress.
Stay tuned for more!
Till next time,