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Proactive Forestry to Counter Loss of Ash Trees

Forests in New Jersey have experienced the negative impacts of pathogens, pests, and diseases over the years, many of which target EAB holes in Ashspecific species or genus of trees. One pest that has arrived over the last three years in New Jersey is the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). First identified in Somerset county in 2014, it has now spread to over ten counties throughout the state. EAB is an invasive insect that carries out its life cycle solely in ash trees, ultimately killing the tree within four to five years. One of the most recently documented occurrences of EAB was identified by New Jersey Audubon staff in the spring of 2017 at Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren county.

This occurrence only helps to remind land managers of the inevitable: EAB is here and will continue to have significant impacts on our forested landscapes. Realizing the potential for widespread loss of ash stands on its own properties as well as others, NJ Audubon staff have begun utilizing forestry practices to proactively prepare for the impending forest changes.

merrill creek forestry cutNJ Audubon currently utilizes forestry practices on a variety of its lands to mimic now-limited natural disturbances (i.e. fire, beaver impact, storm damage, flooding), which creates a mosaic of different sized and aged forest stands over time. These variations in species, age composition, and size classes helps create the necessary diversity and structure to support a multitude of wildlife that utilize various stages of a forest’s life-cycle.

Recently, NJ Audubon staff completed forestry work on a forest stand at the Wattles Stewardship Center property and two stands at Merrill Creek Reservoir. Both sites were prepped by mowing existing woody invasive plant species throughout the stands. Future herbicide treatments of invasive plant regrowth will promote the successful reestablishment of native vegetation.

After completion of invasive plant species control, harvesting of ash trees was completed at Merrill Creek, which was already confirmed to be in the beginning stages of an EAB infestation. Select walnut trees were also harvested to open the canopy and because of their allelopathic characteristic. This is a trait where a plant can release biochemicals into the soil which hinders growth or germination of other plants; including desirable species. Ash and walnut were also selected against at the Wattles site, although no timber was harvested. At the Wattles Stewardship Center, the IMG_1051technique of girdling was used to kill unwanted walnuts and most ash were left with the expectation of die-off within 5-7 years.

With the forestry work completed, NJ Audubon staff recognized that future regeneration, if left to naturally occur, would be a high percentage of ash and walnut returning from an existing seed bank. To ensure forest regeneration of more diverse species, NJA staff, Merrill Creek staff, and the New Jersey Youth Corps planted over 4,000 seedlings between both sites which were nj youth corp tree planting at Merril Creek Resprovided by The New Jersey Tree Foundation. This reforestation effort with NJ Youth Corp is also part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, which works to maintain or improve water quality through the implementation of best management practices and other natural resource protection measures.

Each site was planted with a mixture of oak, pine, black gum, and black cherry trees. To further ensure the successful reestablishment of the young forest, low voltage electric fence was installed around each work area to discourage deer browse until the trees and other vegetation has fully established.

With the use of successful forestry practices, thoughtful foresight, and unique partnerships, NJ Audubon has successfully continued its work to improve the health and management of our forests. Through science-based, responsible land management we can all continue to enhance and strengthen the habitats throughout New Jersey.

Text by Ryan Hasko.  Photos by Ryan Hasko and John Parke

Tour of Hortulus Farm & Garden Connects People with Nature

“Inspiration” was the word of the day as NJ Audubon lead a special outing with friends and members to the much celebrated Hortulus Farm and Garden. clip_image001Set amongst the diverse habitat and rolling hills of Bucks County, PA, Hortulus Farm and Garden is a Master Gardener and horticulture enthusiast’s dream! This 100-acre historic 18th Century farmstead, located just across the Delaware River from Lambertville, NJ, offered a unique experience of floral discovery that provided the stimulus to engage with nature!

The group was accompanied by the owners and designers of Hortulus Garden, world-famous garden designer Renny Reynolds and noted garden writer and author Jack Staub. Together, Renny and Jack, provided background on the property, its preservation and how various plant species were selected to complement the native plants and habitats. Renny and Jack’s eye and talent for horticulture are revealed and dramatically on display as their plantings mix with the native meadows, woodlands ponds and streams that are intertwined among twenty separate formal gardens, creating a bucolic landscape with dramatic vistas.

“What many people do not realize is that horticulture is so much more than a branch of agriculture and goes beyond the gardening, plant propagation and landscaping,” said John Parke, NJA Project Stewardship Director. “Horticulture is a great way to empower people to become stewards of the land because it clip_image002connects people with the world around them.”

Although several species of birds were encountered during the tour of Hortulus, the group was more focused on the diverse, interesting and unique vegetation and habitat and how it played into the landscape and delighted one’s senses. Amongst the fragrant aroma of magnolia trees in bloom and the magnificent striking plots of perennials, such as blue-bells, wood anemone, and violets, the group was also educated on the planning and upkeep practices performed at Hortulus that are also used by NJA in habitat restorations and natural resource planning. Important aspects include considering light regimes, soil types, position on the landscape, water considerations and companion vegetation when planning for species selection, essential factors to implementing stewardship maintenance options and to promote plant resiliency. clip_image003

Considered the father of modern horticulture, Liberty Hyde Bailey once said, “A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.” Hortulus Farm & Garden and the hard and diligent work of Renny Reynolds and Jack Staub clip_image004personifies Bailey’s quote. Hortulus Farm & Garden is a must see!

NJ Audubon would again like to express our sincere thanks to Renny and Jack for taking the time to let us tour the gardens and making the day so relaxing, educational and extremely enjoyable!

Bird species encountered during the tour: Wood Thrush, Red-tail Hawk, Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Phoebe, Pileated Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher,  Eastern Wood Peewee, Yellow Warbler, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Mallard, Canada Goose.

All photos by Erica Parke and John Parke

Keeping Common Species Common

When thinking of what is “common”, it suggests things that one perceives as being familiar or ordinary or perhaps even not special common yellowthroat in treament area(PARKE)in any kind of way. Sometimes these things that are considered common are taken for granted or overlooked because of their perceived abundance. Sometimes even how they are named implies that they occur frequently and are “seen all the time”. Take for instance, birds species, such as the Common Yellowthroat, the Common Nighthawk and the Common Grackle. All species that if you check their conservation status, as designated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are listed as species of “Least Concern” and common because of their current population status. However, the same report also indicates steady declines in all 3 species since 1966 as corroborated by the North American Breeding Bird Survey (i.e., Common Yellowthroat populations have declined cumulatively since 1966 in the US by 38%, Common Grackle have declined 58% and Common Nighthawk 61%).

While Federal, and then state listed, Endangered and threatened species typically receive the most attention and focus when it comes to conservation efforts, “common” species do factor into conservation objectives and management. Perceived abundance of these “common” species and the idea that “generalist” species can always adapt, does not guarantee invulnerability from significant population declines over time.

Many factors contribute to species population declines, and yet the loss and degradation of suitable habitat continues to be a primary and driving factor. There is hope though as landscape level conservation and stewardship practices can make a difference and help to halt if not reverse these declines. Keeping common species common in areas where they are abundant through active stewardship serves as a preventative measure to retain those species at levels that allow for sustainability and suitable ecological function of a habitat.

gray cat bird(PARKE)For instance, a “common” bird in NJ that arrives each spring, breeds and spends the summer is the Gray Catbird. According to a 2013 report by the Partners in Flight Science Committee, the Gray Catbird is the 2nd most abundant bird breeding in the NJ (American Robins are #1). Additionally, NJ has the 3rd highest density of breeding Gray Catbirds in the US and Canada combined (24.56 birds per breeding bird survey route). Compared to all other species breeding in NJ, Gray Catbirds have the highest percent of their overall (global) population in the State. (Partners in Flight estimates that 620,000 individuals make NJ their home in the spring, which represents 2.3% of the overall (global) population). While that number seems low, it is the bird that has the highest percent of its breeding population in NJ, as compared to all other breeding bird species in NJ (Prairie Warblers are 2nd at 1.5%, American Robins only 0.3% - robins have the largest estimated population of any North American bird species and are broadly distributed across the continent).

Although Gray Catbirds are typically considered a generalist when it comes to their spring and summer habitats, they do favor dense tangles of shrubs, vines, and thickets of young trees, indicative of early successional young forest landscapes. Thus, specific habitat management for other young forest habitat species, such as the Golden-winged Warbler, American Woodcock, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and others, ultimately have a positive impact on Gray Catbird by providing suitable breeding habitat to maintain and/or improve their population.

As indicated by the Partners in Flight (PIF) Landbird Conservation Plan (2016) and the Appalachian Mountain Joint Venture, the Northeast does have many stressors that have now resulted in a majority of forest lacking structural and age-class diversity which are required for the survival of many species, including some of the more “common” ones (see also New Jersey Forests 2013) . To revive a dynamic forest landscape and create a mosaic of forest types that supports suites of species (rare and common) requires a long-term process of active management and stewardship. Without action that will help to prevent further declines, more species ultimately will be listed or simply lost, and as indicated by PIF, “their recovery will come at a greater cost to society.”

As part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), and through funding from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NJ Audubon is seeking 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 (BMPs).  These BMPs when implemented can help provide critical habitat for these species, as well as, contribute to improving water quality in the region.  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.

All photos by John Parke

FIGHTN’ FEMELSCHLAGERS ENCOUNTER LITTLE EGRET AND MORE AT WSB

littleegret(PARKE)

The NJA Stewardship Department World Series of Birding team, The Fightn’ Femelschlagers, had a great day out in South Jersey participating in the 34th Annual World Series of Birding racking up 114 species of birds!  Bald Eagle, Whip-poor Will, Savannah Sparrow, Prothonotary Warbler, American Widgeon, and Black Skimmer were just some of the species we came across on our trek though different habitat types searching for birds. The highlight by far was a Little Egret encountered at Heislerville Wildlife Management Area in Cumberland County. According to information on the National Audubon website,Little Egret is an Old World counterpart to our Snowy Egret and was formerly only an accidental visitor to North America, with only one record before 1980. Since 1980 it has been recorded several times along our Atlantic Coast during the warmer months. These strays probably make the crossing from West Africa to the Caribbean, and then migrate north on our side of the Atlantic.

shorebirds in cumberland countyThe birding was great, but we also encountered other species of wildlife throughout the day, such as Eastern Box Turtle, Fowlers Toad, and Muskrat, which just goes to show how important it is to remember that it’s not just about the birds when we think conservation. Habitat restoration and stewardship of those lands are important for a variety of species. What makes the NJ Stewardship Department so unique in how we get significant meaningful conservation work done is, although our work is grounded in science, the professional staff at the Stewardship Department consider other factors then just a single target species or resource concern. Meaning, impacts for other species and numerous ecological resources, as well as social, cultural and economic factors are looked at and planned for to make a project, and the resource, we are focusing on a sustainable project with lasting results.

The World Series of Birding (WSB) is an important fundraiser for the NJ Audubon Stewardship Department, raising funds vital to support our Department’s cormorant rookeryconservation work on behalf of declining wildlife species and habitat in NJ.  Please note that your pledge/donation to our team goes directly to funding our Department’s work here at NJ Audubon, specifically for conservation projects in NJ such as, but not limited to: the Bobwhite Quail reintroduction project in the Pinelands, conservation innovation projects with agricultural producers, sustainable forestry projects throughout the State, native grassland restoration projects, bog turtle habitat restoration projects, snake fungal disease survey projects, Ruffed Grouse restoration and population recovery projects, vegetation management projects for early successional species, water quality and habitat improvement projects in the Highlands and Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer regions, invasive species control projects, the S.A.V.E.™ program and working with NJ farmers and rural landowners to create and restore habitat that also benefits the agricultural community.

On behalf of the New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Department, we thank all of you that supported our team and our work!!

teamfemelschag2017The NJA Stewardship Department Team would also like to thank our team sponsors, Hudson Farm, Ernst Conservation Seeds, South Jersey Gas, Ingenuity Sun Media and Eagle Optics for their generous support for our work to restore, enhance and maintain critical wildlife habitat and our natural heritage!

So what is a Femelschlag?  “Femelschlag”, is a German term for a forest management practice that is designed to emulate natural disturbance patterns and encourage tree species diversity in multiple-age classes, thereby enhancing ecosystem services and complexity. (A lot of our sustainable forestry work for various rare species involves this management practice here in NJ)  #Femelschlag

All photos by John Parke and Dale Rosselet