For the third time in four years, the New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Department has won the prestigious “Firman E. Bear Ecological Excellence Award,” given by the New Jersey chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society in partnership with Pinelands Nursery. The award recognizes excellence in an ecological restoration project that implements unique soil and water conservation practices with innovative habitat enhancements.
In addition, the same project has been awarded the “Excellence Water Resources Award” given by the New Jersey Section of the American Water Resources Association (NJ-AWRA). The Excellence Award recognizes projects that advance water resources research, planning, development, management and education.
New Jersey Audubon’s use of bulrush on the project to address both a water resource concern and a critical habitat concern is a great example of efficient collaborative conservation intervention that is part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, an unprecedented collaboration supported by the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Working together, New Jersey Audubon, the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority/Wallkill River Watershed Management Group (SCMUA-WRWMG) and the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg planted more than 10,000 native plants along a tributary of the Paulin’s Kill River that runs through an active farm pasture in the Delaware River Watershed.
The choice of plants is a careful balance. The plantings must help improve water quality and control soil erosion, but also must be compatible with the needs of native species and their habitats. For example, the use of trees and other woody vegetation, which would typically be used for bank stabilization, are not always compatible with some native species habitats, such as that of the federally-listed bog turtle.
“Trees and other woody vegetation are not always the answer for riparian restorations, you have to consider the habitat needs of the species living there, so for this project the type of plant we used at the site was dark green bulrush,” explained John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of New Jersey Audubon. “Bulrush is a native plant that is commonly found in bog turtle habitat in this region. By planting it along the banks of the stream it not only helps stabilize the stream banks and prevent soil erosion but it also provides important food and cover for wildlife. Although bulrush can be grazed and is not harmful for livestock, it is not preferred by livestock. Thus livestock tend to leave it alone and in doing so, the area that was planted with bulrush allowed the native seed bank to grow which improved biodiversity, habitat and general wetland function on site. Additionally, bulrush naturally removes excess phosphorus from water, through its root system. This use of a plant to remove the excess nutrient pollution is termed phytoremediation.”
Excess phosphorus is a major part of nutrient pollution, which according to the US EPA, is “one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems.” Although, phosphorous is a natural and essential part of ecosystems, too much can pollute the water by leading algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. Excess algae can harm water quality by decreasing the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Additionally, significant increases of algae in our water can also impact human health, food resources, and thus impact a region’s economy.
“New Jersey Audubon has a long history of doing good ecological work, in partnership with other organizations, that encourages similar projects elsewhere,” added Tom Drewes, retired former State Conservationist of New Jersey for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and coordinator of the Firman award judging. “Our Soil and Water Conservation Society Chapter, in collaboration with Pinelands Nursery, is happy to provide this award in recognition of their accomplishment.”
“Not only did NJ Audubon’s project address phosphorous loading in the bog turtle habitat, which in itself is an important water quality improvement,” says Rebecca Traylor, Secretary of the NJ-AWRA and an award judge, “it exposed young adults to water resources careers and practical science with hands-on experience by engaging the New Jersey Youth Corps. The project truly epitomizes our mission.”
New Jersey Audubon would like to express sincere gratitude and appreciation to the New Jersey chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society and NJ Section of the American Water Resources Association and their respective committees for selecting the project for the awards and their support to encourage science-based conservation practices, programs, and policy.
NJA also would like to thank the project property owner the Joritsma family and the other organizations and agencies, that also played an important role on implementing various conservation practices on the project site to improve water quality and critical habitat for a rare species, they include the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg, the Wallkill River Watershed Management Group, US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and USDA-NRCS. Finally we would like to thank our grant funders the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for their financial support for the project as part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative.”
NJ Audubon is looking to engage more landowners for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for conducting conservation practices on their land, as well as distribute more free native plant materials. However to be eligible to receive free pant materials properties must be located in the following sub-watersheds of the Highlands region (the Musconetcong, Lopatcong and the Paulin's Kill sub-watersheds) and must exhibit a degree of ecological impairment. For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at email@example.com.
Photos by John Parke
Project Site during bulrush install spring 2016 (top photo)
Project Site now in summer 2017 (bottom photo)
This past week NJ Audubon’s Stewardship Department presented an overview of the Bobwhite Quail Restoration Initiative and the project’s tie in with the National Shortleaf Pine Initiative at the 4th Biennial Shortleaf Pine Conference in Galloway, NJ.
According to the 2016 Shortleaf Pine Restoration Plan, “Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinate) has the largest geographic extent of the southern yellow pines, occurring in 22 states in the US. However, extensive logging, subsistence farming, the loss of open range grazing of livestock, and a lack of appropriate disturbance for subsequent regeneration have contributed to a 53% decline in its range since 1980.”
In New Jersey, which is its most northern and eastern limits of its range, shortleaf pine does occur in 13 of the 21 counties, but it is a more a common component in the NJ Pine Barrens region in the southern part of the state. Making up only 2% of all pines in NJ (2015 FIA Data), the “two-needle pine” or “smooth-bark pine” defines the shortleaf’ s physical characteristics from its more common associate in the Pinelands, the pitch pine (Pinus rigida).
As fire plays a key role in the Pinelands ecosystem, helping to maintaining forest structure and diversity, the shortleaf benefits from this periodic disturbance because of its fire-adapted traits. These traits include seedlings and saplings having the capacity to re-sprout when top-killed by fire due to axillary buds located in a basal J-shaped crook near the ground surface, a unique feature of the species (Mattoon 1915a). Shortleaf pine also has a thick platy bark and minimal quantities of resin protect older trees from fire, as well as the tree produces abundant seed crops and persistent cones allowing for regeneration soon after fire (Mattoon 1915a).
The open woodland structure of shortleaf pine ecosystems provides important habitat for wildlife, including Northern Bobwhite. Since shortleaf pine woodlands typically have a lower canopy cover and a more diverse understory dominated by grasses and forbs, a greater numbers of bird and animal species are found within them (Masters 2007) as compared to pine-oak forests.
For more information about shortleaf pine and Forest Stewardship in NJ see the New Jersey Forest Service.
Photo by John Parke
Anderson, M., Hayes, L., Keyser, P., Lituma, C., Sutter, R., Zollner, D., 2016. Shortleaf Pine Restoration Plan: Restoring an American Forest Legacy. Shortleaf Pine Initiative
Masters, R.E. 2007. The importance of shortleaf pine for wildlife and diversity in mixed oak-pine forests and in pine-grassland woodlands. In J.M. Kabrick, D.C. Dey, and D. Gwaze, editors. Shortleaf pine restoration and ecology in the Ozarks: proceeding of a symposium. Gen Tech. rep. NRS-P-15. Newton square, PA: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern research station. 2155 p.
Mattoon, W.R. 1915a. Life history of the shortleaf pine. Bulletin of the US Department of Agriculture. No 244, 46 p.
NJ Forest Service, 2015, Shortleaf Pine Initiative Fact Sheet
Photos & Text by Kristen Meistrell
Every season, farmers across the Garden State tend to their crops while preparing for next season’s harvest. For some, part of this process involves turning the soil over to incorporate old crop residue, such as corn stalks, into the soil. This method is called conventional tillage and is often used to reduce weed pressure and to loosen the soil to prepare for planting.
Tilling and turning the soil over is a practice that is as old as agricultural itself, but there can be some side effects. This method can be an intensive practice and involves multiple passes with equipment. It exposes the soil to the elements, which can reduce soil moisture, increase compaction, and reduce organic material – all of which can increase water and fertilizer usage, decrease drainage, and increase erosion and runoff.
In Cumberland County, a farmer who has practiced conventional tillage for decades recognized some of these downfalls and decided to try a different approach called the no-till system. This method involves very little soil disturbance and only creates a narrow and shallow indentation in the soil where the seed will be placed. To help address potential weed pressure, he also decided to incorporate a winter cover crop, which is a plant that is grown between harvesting and planting of different commodity crops.
Switching to a no-till system can be intimidating and expensive. It requires new equipment and materials, and can have some level of uncertainty surrounding crop yields and long-term economic benefits. Because of the inherent risk, the farmer in Cumberland County tested out this new method on a few small soybean fields. After just one year, the difference is remarkable.
In the photo above, the farmer planted both fields with soybeans. Both fields have similar soil types and were planted only days apart. After a full growing season, the field on the left is riddled with weeds, and the soybeans are already beginning to drop their leaves. On the right, there is very little weed pressure and the soybeans grew vigorously and tall. The difference between these fields was not additional fertilizers and soil amendments, but rather the method of planting the soybeans. To the farmer’s surprise, the field on the right used the no-till system while the field on the left used conventional tillage.
After one growing season, it is easy to see the yield benefits to a no-till system, but how does it benefit soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat? Using a no-till system with cover crops reduces soil disturbance while keeping the ground covered for much of the year. This helps to retain soil moisture, promotes infiltration, reduces soil erosion, and increases organic matter. No-till systems also require fewer passes with equipment, reducing fuel consumption and soil compaction. Cover crops can have added benefits as well. Legumes (peas, clovers) add nutrients to the soil by fixing nitrogen, brassicas (radishes) increase infiltration through deep taproots, and grasses (rye, wheat, barley) can help suppress weeds. Many of these cover crops can further provide shelter for wildlife during the winter months. In early spring, some cover crop species will flower, providing much needed nectar to native pollinators.
With so many benefits to the environment and to the community, a no-till system with cover crops can be a great alternative and option for many farms. Through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, New Jersey Audubon is committed to working with farmers and producers to improve water quality, build soil health, and increase wildlife habitat on working lands through these practices and others, such as stream buffers. The Delaware River Watershed Initiative is a long-term, multi-state program that is supported by the William Penn Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and NJ DEP’s Water Quality Restoration Grants.