Stewardship Blog

Clean Water Essential to US All

bald eagle on Musky(PARKE)

A magnificent sight caught my eye this morning on my drive into work. There, perched high above the mighty Musconetcong River in all its glory, a Bald Eagle, sat motionless as the light from the morning sun shone down on its regal head. I pulled over to take in the scene of this wonderful creature as it scanned the clear icy cold flowing water of the Musky for its next meal. A fish, a duck, a muskrat perhaps. They too were all there in the river unaware of the powerful predator watching their every move. Other wildlife also made itself known as I stood on the bank of the river. Tacks in the snow covering the river’s edge reveled that a mink had been here too. A group of Canada Geese swam by and flushed a Hooded Merganser that had been resting on a rock near the shore. It was one of those moments that brings it all together, when you step back and truly appreciate the world you live in. It was one of those moments when you want to be an active part of making sure that the world that you, and all these other residents, live in can only get better. Seeing animals in their natural habitat, living their lives, reinforces the ties we have with our natural surroundings and reminds us of what we all have in common for survival. This morning that tie was clearly one common, yet extremely important, element…the need for clean water.

DRWI mapClean fresh water is essential to all life on Earth. At New Jersey Audubon we are always working to enhance, restore and protect New Jersey's wildlife and unique natural habitats, including freshwater ecosystems. This work takes on many forms, whether its working with the agricultural community on implementing best management practices for natural resource protection; or developing and implementing forest stewardship plans; or educating the public or government officials on the importance of ecological diverse natural systems, to doing research that applies sound scientific principles and practices that focus on natural resource conservation issues associated with numerous species and their habitats.

One specific initiative that focuses on clean water that NJA has been playing a major role in for the past 3 years is working with many partners under the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI). The DRWI mission is to “strategically align conservation efforts of multiple partners in places where both significant threats and opportunities for success will accelerate protection and restoration of the water quality in the Delaware Basin”.

Through funding from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NJ Audubon is looking to engage more landowners and farmers in the Highlands Region and the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Region of the State for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for forestry/agricultural Best Management Practices. Additionally, depending on your property’s location within those regions, you may be eligible for additional funding or free restoration related materials, especially for riparian and wetland restorations. For more information on the NJA DRWI related funding opportunities contact John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org in the Highlands Region and Kristen Meistrell at kristen.meistrell@njaudubon.org in the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Region.

Photo by John Parke

NJ Audubon and USDA Staff Participate in Northeast Organic Farming Association’s Winter Conference

Written by Brittany Dobrzynski*

NRCS Booth at the NOFA Winter ConferenceDuring the last weekend of January, NJ Audubon and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services staff participated in the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey’s Winter Conference at Rutgers University. The conference spanned two days and offered a wide array of workshops for organic producers throughout the Garden state. Whether attendees were looking to learn more about the history of organic farming, carbon soil sequestration, small scale farm tools or soap making, there was a workshop to fit everyone’s interest.

The lounge at the Douglas Student Center was packed with additional information, vendors and book sales to provide conference participants with many references to take with them. Keynote speaker Jean Martin Fortier amped up the crowd with his secrets to making a six figure income on a one-and-a-half-acre organic vegetable farm in Quebec, ALL WITHOUT THE USE OF A TRACTOR! You could feel the love in the room as he shared his stories of traveling the world to learn his adopted techniques, and tales of the two years he and his wife spent living on the land in a tee-pee when first starting out. I was fortunate enough to follow up with Jean Martin one-on-one and received a personal pep-talk after leaving a workshop titled “Starting the Farm from Scratch” on the last session of the first day. I even got an autographed copy of his book “The Market Gardener” which I am already halfway through reading. 

IBrittany Dobrzynski details NJ Audubons' Healthy Land and Waters Grants focal areas within South Jersey was joined by a number of familiar faces throughout the day; my colleagues with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) manned a table in the lounge, spreading the good word on programs offered to benefit these local organic producers. Organic champion and NRCS District Conservationist Nicole Ciccaglione attended as I joined NRCS District Conservationist John Kluthe in two sessions of panel discussions on USDA funding. These panels included representatives from the Farm Service Agency and Rural Development as well. John described NRCS’ history, originating from the Soil Conservation Service in the Dust Bowl days to today. He shared one of my favorite tales of founder Hugh Hammond Bennett’s impeccable timing appealing to Congress for continued funding for the Soil Conservation Service as a dust storm entered the windows of the Congress. While the dust settled in, covering desks and paperwork in a fine silt, they unanimously agreed to continue funding the Service. Kluthe detailed the conservation planning process that begins with identifying problems and opportunities and results in implementation of a well-formulated Conservation Plan, all with the help of experts on staff.

Farm Service Agency staff presented on the many loan programs available to producers. From business start-up costs to cold storage facilities, the Farm Service Agency has a low interest loan program for just about any materials, equipment and facilities aiding in operations on a farm.

Rural Development program staff offered details on their loans and grant services. These are available to farmers, non-profits, businesses and individuals, not just ag producers. They offer loans for things like expanding small businesses, mortgages, and expanding use of renewable energy.

Rural Development funding opportunities featured in the panel discussion New Jersey Audubon staff presented on programs available through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. In southern New Jersey, agricultural best management practices for soil and water conservation are subsidized through New Jersey Audubon’s Healthy Land and Waters Grant program. Producers farming within certain focal areas of the Kirkwood Cohansey Aquifer are eligible to participate. Those areas include residents in the Upper Salem Watershed, Maurice and Upper Cohansey, Greater Hammonton area and West Cape May Penninsula.

In the northern New Jersey, Audubon offers assistance by technical assistance and materials for restoration projects within the Northern Lopatcong, Lower Musconetcong and Paulinskill watersheds. Materials include, but are not limited to, seed, live stakes, whips, tree and shrub seedlings, even ball and burlap trees. The NJ Audubon programs are made possible thanks to financial support from the William Penn Foundation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

For more information on these New Jersey Audubon programs through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, please contact Brittany Dobrzynski at 609-400-3826 or Brittany.dobrzynski@njaudubon.org.

I would like to extend a big thanks to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey for putting on such a wonderful conference. It is always truly inspiring to meet with so many partner agencies from throughout the state all in one spot and makes me proud to be a member of this agricultural community. Until next year!

* Brittany Dobrzynski is Stewardship Specialist with New Jersey Audubon and is currently working through a cooperative agreement as a Natural Resources Conservation Service Partner Employee.

Photos by Nicole Ciccaglione, District Conservationist