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Shortleaf Pine an Important Component to NJ’s Forests

This past week NJ Audubon’s Stewardship Department presented an overview of the Bobwhite Quail Restoration InitiativePA060002 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).

P3300084As 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

References:

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

How to Correctly Distinguish Invasive Tree of Heaven from Native Sumac

Invasive plant species are an ever-present problem for land managers and conservationists. Properly managing invasive species is a task that many within the conservation world deal with on a regular basis. Being able to properly identify invasive species of plants is crucial so effective action can be taken to remove or manage the identified species. Conversely it is also very important to be able to correctly identify beneficial native plants that may look very similar to an invasive plant species. Properly distinguishing “lookalikes” ensures that native plants are not mistakenly removed or chemically treated during management projects.

One of the best examples of such lookalikes is Ainlanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven) and two native sumacs to the region, Rhus typhina (staghorn sumac) and Rhus glabra (smooth sumac).  At a quick glance Tree of Heaven and native sumac may seem indistinguishable, or at least confusing, but upon closer inspection there are several key characteristics to look for that will quickly distinguish the invasive Ailanthus from the native sumacs.

If you can reach the leaves or a stem of the tree and break off a leaf or small twig you will be able to decipher which plant you have encountered. Ailanthus has a very pungent aroma at a broken section of a twig or crushed leaf. Some describe it as rancid peanut butter or burnt rubber. Sumac on the other hand does not have a very pungent odor and the leaves will have an average, mild vegetative scent. 

Each plants’ leaves are also different, which can be observed on the leaflets (both 

species have compound leaves where there are numerous leaflets along one leaf stem). The leaflets of both sumacs are serrated or toothed while Ailanthus has almost entirely smooth leaflet edges (sumac on the left, ailanthus on the right in the picture to the right).


 Also, Ailanthus leaflets contain one or more glands that can be found at the base of the leaflet. These glands are not present on sumac leaves.

One last distinguishing trait of each plant can be observed in late summer or early fall and that is the seed or fruit cluster. If the tree has finished flowering and produced fruit or seed, this is a great way to quickly identify the tree, even if at a distance. Sumacs have a panicle of flowers that produces a deep red cluster of fuzzy fruits which can easily persist into winter.  Ailanthus produces samaras that hang in clusters and turn a dull orange/brown color.

Using these characteristics (barring winter months when seeds and leaves may not be present) it can be very easy, even for an average property owner to distinguish Ailanthus from our native sumacs. Don’t rush to judgment though, look closely for the key characteristics. 


Ailanthus seeds

Native sumac offers a great food source and habitat when found in natural areas and NJ Audubon encourages property owners to leave it if found. Ailanthus on the other hand should be removed using appropriate techniques, see http://wiki.bugwood.org/Ailanthus_altissima for removal guidance.

 

 (Photo Chuck Bargeron, University of Georgie, bugwood.org)

 Proper plant identification is one of the many skillsets NJ Audubon staff use to ensure that we are undertaking stewardship activities and managing habitat to produce the most positive ecological results. 

 Text and all photos except Ailanthus seeds by Ryan Hasko.

Snagged – Dead Wood For Wildlife

As I mowed the lawn in my front yard a commotion of chirps and squawks filled the air above me as I passed under a “snag” tree Pileated chicks in snag (Parke)that I had purposely left standing upon the tree’s demise. As I stared up the trunk, scanning each hole and crevice for movement that would identify the producer of the loud vocalizations, two small feathery heads with long pointed beaks popped out of one of the cavities and looked down at me. “Pileated Woodpecker chicks!” I excitedly exclaimed, recognizing the white and black facial coloration, red cap and large size. With that, the adult Pileated flew in to be greeted by the two young chicks with a resounding series of calls of “feed me’'” from the hollow of the snag!

The world-renowned forest ecologist Dr. Jerry Franklin, says: "A dead tree is more alive than a live tree." Alive with wildlife that is!!  In North American over 85 species of birds, 35 of which occur in the Northeast, use cavities in snags. Additionally, snags also provide essential habitat for other species including insects, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

Screech owl in hole of snag in Morris Couty (PARKE)A snag tree (or cavity tree or wildlife tree), is a standing dead or dying tree, that typically exhibits leafless branches, loose bark, or exposed sapwood and rot. Snags typically develop “cavities” either naturally or cavities are by wildlife. Specifically, snags often attract insects to the decaying wood, thus also attracting other wildlife (including woodpeckers) to forage on the insects and ultimately create excavation holes that can be used by them or other species for nesting, shelter, roosting, perches and forage storage areas (i.e. caches).

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service “The best snags for cavity-nesters are those with hard sapwood (between bark) and decayed heartwood (inner core) making them hard on the outside and soft in the middle. double-crested cormorants perched in snags in Merrill Creek ReservoirThe hard sapwood provides protection from predators and insulation against weather, while the softened heartwood allows easy excavation deep into the snag. Many birds avoid very soft snags for nesting because extremely soft wood can be wet or crumbly.” Some ways to recognize a tree that is on its way to becoming a snag include: sap runs, dead main limbs, excessive fungi on the bark, splits in the trunk, large fissures or hollows, and large areas of decaying bark.  All trees of all sizes in forests of various age-classes can be potential snags and each tree species and the location of the snag in the landscape will have different uses for different wildlife. But generally, the value of a snag tree increases as its size increases. Snags that are around shorelines or even in water features, (i.e. lakes, ponds streams, rivers), add important woody debris to aquatic habitat as well as provide unobstructed views for perching and foraging . 

Snags are an important natural habitat component to wildlife and can be a “one-stop” shop for the survival of certain species. A snag tree can remain standing in place for many years and although snags have many wildlife benefits, it is important to consider the location of a snag when considering leaving it where it is standing.   As the snag tree decays it  could pose a Raccoon in snaghazard to life and property if it fell. Snags should not be retained in high activity public places.

Through forest stewardship planning and implementation, snags/den trees, and other coarse woody debris for wildlife habitat can be incorporated into forest property management. 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 out landowners and farmers in the Highlands Region and the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Region (especially along the Delaware Bayshore) of the State for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for forest stewardship, as well as farmland, conservation practices.  These conservation practices when implemented can help provide critical habitat for wildlife, 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 NJ Audubon Delaware River Watershed Initiative related funding opportunities contact John Parke (john.parke@njaudubon.org) for the Highlands Region and Kristen Meistrell ( kristen.meistrell@njaudubon.org)  in the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Region (southern NJ).

All photos by John Parke

References
DeGraaf, R. 1978. New life from dead trees. Natl. Wild. 16(4):28-31

Scott, V. E., K. E. Evans, D. R. Patton and C. P. Stone. 1977. Cavity-nesting birds of North American forest. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture., Forest Service. Agric. Handbook No. 553. 510 pp.

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

NJ Audubon Assisting with Snake Fugal Disease Surveys

New Jersey Audubon’s Stewardship Department is working with the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) in a multi-state, multi-organization survey effort to determine the distribution and extent of the Snake Fungal Disease (SFD).  SFD is an emerging disease in certain populations of wild snakes and is associated with the soil fungus, Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola (Oo) and as its name implies, is only known to afflict snakes. 

black racer with SFD in NJ(PARKE)SFD has become a point of discussion and concern among the scientific community, especially after significant declines in localized snake populations across the Midwest and Eastern United States, had been discovered as a result of infection(s) confirmed to be associated with this fungus.  In New Jersey several snake species, including Timber Rattlesnake, Corn Snake, Pine Snake, Black Rat Snake, and Black Racer, have been confirmed with SFD.

Although it remains unclear as to whether or not this fungus is native to our environment, we are certain that over the past decade throughout the northeast it has impacted native snakes forcing them to spend more time basking (and less foraging) and in some cases, one documented in New Jersey, causing mortality,” said Kris Schantz, Principal Zoologist with New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.  “While New Jersey has documented only one SFD-related death, research in our state has been limited and therefore, we are not certain of SFD's impact on our snakes. Currently, SFD has been confirmed in snake populations within Ocean, Burlington, Passaic and Bergen Counties and is suspected to be in Warren and Sussex Counties,” added Schantz.

Researchers have identified that the fungus, O. ophiodiicola, survives by eating keratin, the substance out of which snaketimber rattlesnake with SFD (PARKE) scales, (and human fingernails) are made.  According to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, “The most consistent clinical signs of SFD include scabs or crusty scales, subcutaneous nodules, premature separation of the outermost layer of the skin (stratum corneum) from the underlying skin (or abnormal molting), white opaque cloudiness of the eyes (not associated with molting), or localized thickening or crusting of the skin (hyperkeratosis). Skin ulcers, swelling of the face, and nodules in the deeper tissues of the head have also been documented. Clinical signs of SFD and disease severity may vary by snake species.”  In some cases it has been documented to affect the snake’s ability to obtain prey and can lead to malnutrition and die of starvation.  Additionally SFD can lead a snake to exhibit behaviors that, in the wild, could cause the snake to spend more time in open areas to bask and thus become more exposed to predation.

Aside from the symptoms, little else is known about the condition, but researchers are now investigating how snakes catch it, fight it and die from it.  Although, some snakes have died in association with SFD, it is not yet known what the population-level impacts of the disease are.  This is mainly because of the solitary and cryptic nature of snakes.  Additionally there is a lack of any long-term monitoring data.  According to USGS, while fungal infections were occasionally reported in wild snakes prior to 2006, it is only in recent years that there has been such a significant increase in infected snakes across a much wider range than was originally reported, bringing the issue to the forefront and taking immediate action.

milk snake with SFD(PARKE)In an effort to obtain better data on SFD in New Jersey, the NJ Audubon’s Stewardship Department has begun working with ENSP this year to systematically survey documented den, basking and gestation/birthing habitats in northern New Jersey, for snakes exhibiting symptoms associated with SFD, record such information and capture symptomatic snakes for testing and in some cases treatment.

Snakes are a critically important part of a healthy ecosystem basically helping to control prey items such as rodents, not to mention that they are prey items themselves for a variety of animals,” said John Parke, Project Stewardship Director of NJ Audubon.  “SFD can be devastating when you consider how other fungal infections have taken significant tolls on other species such as bats with white-nose syndrome and salamanders and frogs with the chytrid fungus. The problem here is since most snakes are secretive and some hibernate in communal dens that are not accessible, you could have a die-off and not know it.

If you should be lucky enough to come across any snake in the wild, do not approach it or attempt to handle it.   However if you do encounter a snake with signs consistent with SFD, NJA does encourage you to take a photo of the snake (from a distance) and note the location of the encounter and send it to NJDFW-ENSP Principal Zoologist Kris Schantz at Kris.Schantz@dep.nj.gov

Photos by John Parke 

 

Managing a Meadow with Prescribed Fire

Recently, New Jersey Audubon’s stewardship staff partnered with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service to conduct a prescribed burn at the Center for Research and Education in Goshen. This burn is part of a management plan to maintain one acre of native meadow and scrub-shrub habitat that provides critical resources for a number of birds, native pollinators, and other wildlife, including eastern box turtles and North American river otters, which visit from the adjacent marshland.

In Southern New Jersey, fires occurred with some regularity before European settlement and well into the nineteenth century, whether sparked by lightning; set by Native Americans as a management tool; or started accidentally as a result of the regionally important iron, glass, and charcoal industries. As the population and industries changed, fire occurrences became less frequent, and as development increased and fire suppression tools improved, fire suppression efforts became stronger and more successful. Throughout most of the twentieth century, suppression was the dominant policy relating to forest fires. 

In recent decades, however, planned fires, or prescribed fires, have been recognized as a beneficial tool to reduce fuel loads in the forest and to reduce the danger to human life and property caused by wildfires. From October through March, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service works to burn parcels of land throughout the state to reduce the fuel load on the ground. Leaf litter and debris can serve as the perfect kindling leading up to a more intense blaze, particularly during the warmer and drier summer months. By periodically burning off this material in a controlled setting, prescribed fire protects against more intense fires and allows personnel to more easily control any wildfires that may occur.

In addition to contributing to public safety, there are several ecological benefits of prescribed fire that improve habitat for plants and wildlife. One of the biggest benefits prescribed fire can have to an ecosystem is its ability to set back natural succession. As the years pass, woody vegetation begins to grow up in a meadow or grassland, altering the structure of the habitat. Managers can use a prescribed burn to help maintain a meadow and allow it to continue supporting the unique species that require meadow habitat. This young habitat is rapidly shrinking in New Jersey, as the forests throughout the state are mostly middle-aged and grassland habitats tend to be easy targets for development. Prescribed burning allows for the regeneration of plants by opening up areas to more sunlight, naturally fertilizing the soil, and helping seeds to come out of dormancy. 

Careful consideration and thought go into the timing of any prescribed burn, as favorable weather conditions are necessary for the success and safety of an activity like this. Temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and wind direction are all important factors to consider before beginning a prescribed burn. To assess how a fire will burn and ensure the safety of others, fire wardens must be aware of each condition by communicating with weather stations and several fire towers stationed throughout the southern region. 

This is the second time the CRE has been burned since 2014, and we anticipate using fire here every few years. As the season progresses we expect to see great regeneration of our native warm season grasses and wildflowers, as well as an abundance of wildlife on the property.

 

 

 

 

 

 Written by Brittany Dobrzynski and Jean Lynch

Photographs by Don Freiday

 

 

 

 

Uncommon Oak Defoliator in Warren County

While doing some work in front of my barn I noticed small caterpillars falling onto my project from an overhead chestnut oak. I didn’t recognize what type of insect they were, but since they didn’t appear to be causing too much damage to the tree, I went back to my work and forgot about them. Then later that same day, I headed back into my woodlot to check on something and noticed that quite a few of my white and chestnut oaks were almost completely defoliated.

 My first thought was gypsy moth, but I also noted that the red and black oaks appeared untouched, which didn’t seem to make sense. I looked around for a while and could find no evidence of gypsy moth. After returning to the house, I gathered a few of the caterpillars and started looking for them in reference materials – then on the internet. It turns out that the caterpillars damaging my white oaks are a relatively little known species native to the eastern half of the country from Ontario to Georgia, called the Black–dotted Brown Moth Cissusa spadix. This particular caterpillar is relatively unknown because it is almost never considered a pest. However, according to articles on the internet, there has been an unexplained population explosion of the insect in several southern states, which occurred last month. Given the seasonal difference between here and Georgia, an outbreak occurring in New Jersey a month later makes sense. It might be good for landowners to be aware that oak defoliations this year may be caused by something else in addition to Gypsy Moth. 

Staghorn Sumac: Small Tree but BIG Benefits to the Landscape

mixed flock in Staghorn sumac 2014 (PARKE)As I watch the birds consume the berries of the Staghorn Sumac trees over the cold snow covered landscape, I thought to myself how this tree is often thought of as a “weed” of roadside and urban areas. I also thought how many times I have had folks mistake it for its cousin Poison Sumac, or the non-native invasive look-a-like Tree-of-Heaven. It is with this information in mind that I present to you Staghorn Sumac: a very underrated and important native plant to NJ’s landscape.

The largest of the North American sumacs, Staghorn Sumac is wide spread in the northeastern US. Resembling a small tree, Staghorn Sumac is very fast growing and forms “thicket colonies” in the wild via self-seeding and root suckering. These sumac “tree colonies” also provide nesting and shelter sites for many bird species. Staghorn sumac is generally pest-disease free, it’s drought tolerant and does very well in full sun to partial shade and in average, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soils. They are very tolerant of a wide range of soils, except for wetland type soils (i.e., poorly drained).

Staghorn Sumac is very important to habitat restoration because of its ability to grow in harsh conditions, especially on dry nutrient poor soil areas, thin soils, embankments and impossible slopes where even red cedar struggles. It is a very valuable plant for soil erosion control because of its shallow red-banned hairstreak (PARKE)spreading root system and therefore is frequently used in mine reclamation sites, landfills, buffer strips to waterways in agricultural fields and windbreaks on farm fields that are on slopes.

What many people don’t know about Staghorn Sumac is the tiny greenish-yellow flowers which bloom in the spring are very important source of nectar for several butterfly species, including banded and striped hairstreaks. It is also a larval host of spring azure butterfly. According to the The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Staghorn Sumac is rated as a plant of “Special Value to Native Bees”. In fact, it is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of native bees for its pollen and nectar as well as the plant provides nesting materials/structure for native bees Furthermore, Staghorn Sumac encourages biological control as it attracts predatory or parasitoid insects that prey upon pest insects.

Staghorn sumac (PARKE)But by far it is the fruits of the Staghorn Sumac that really make it special! The red cone-shaped cluster panicles of hairy berries ripen in autumn and gradually turn dark red as they lastRobin on snow eating sumac and black haw (PARKE) through the winter. These berries offer exceptional food for wildlife, especially in winter. American Crow, Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, Eastern Bluebird, and approximately 300 other species of songbirds incorporate the Staghorn Sumac fruit into their diet. It is also known to be important winter forage for game birds such as Ruffed Grouse, Ring-necked Pheasant, Northern Bobwhite, and Wild Turkey. Squirrels and cottontail rabbits will also consume the berries, but will also eat sumac bark.

NJ Audubon promotes the use of native plants for landscaping and wildlife habitat restoration, but we also promote the use of native plants in connection with agricultural practices and farming. According to a 2014 United Nations report Agriculture takes up 1/3 of the land on earth and 38% of that arable land has become degraded. Land is a finite resource, we need to become more efficient in the ways we produce, supply and consume." With this concept in mind NJ Audubon supports our friend Ms. Tama Matsuoka-Wong’s efforts of creating a “Wild Farm” using Staghorn Sumac as a test crop. For more information about Tama’s “Wild Farm” project please see https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/421744326/the-wild-farm-producing-local-sumac-spices

Why A Duck (Stamp)?

A guest blog to Stewardship by NJ Audubon volunteer Bonnie O'Connor

No, this isn’t about the famous Marx Brothers routine; the intention is to lift the basket off a very bright light. I am referring to the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp or the Duck Stamp as it is affectionately called. It is one of the most successful conservation programs ever initiated.

My introduction to the Federal Duck Stamp program occurred when my profession as an Art teacher and my avocation as an avid birder collided. In an effort to inspire my sixth grade drawing class, I discovered the Junior Duck Stamp contest. The contest is open to all students grades kindergarten through 12th grade in all 50 states and U.S. territories. The program incorporates learning about conservation, science, and nature through artistic expression. As the young artists worked on their drawings, they learned about the fascinating story of the Federal Duck stamp including history, politics, artists, and wildlife. Most of all they image_thumb3learned the importance of conserving our natural environment, and then there were the ducks! Waterfowl mounts obtained from the Newark Museum combined with a myriad of visuals assisted the students in honing their drawing skills while observing the beauty and habitats of their subjects. The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor is the official site for Junior Duck Stamp entries and judging in New Jersey.

The Federal Duck Stamp contest is the only federally legislated Art competition in the country. The first Federal Duck Stamp was designed by Jay “Ding” Darling, a political cartoonist in 1934 at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It depicts two mallards about to land on a marsh pond.

THE FACTS

image_thumbOn June 28th the 2013-14 Migratory Waterfowl Hunting and Conservation Stamp went on sale. It is a non-postal stamp that can be purchased at U.S. post offices, national wildlife refuges and at some sporting goods stores. It can also be purchased on line at www.duckstamp.com. The cost is $15.00 dollars. Hunters sixteen years or older must purchase the stamp for their hunting license. The Duck Stamp also serves as a “season pass” of entry to the 560 National Wildlife Refuges in the U.S.

Perhaps the most commanding reason to purchase a Duck Stamp is that 98% of the proceeds are used to invest in the conservation of wildlife habitat. Since 1934, sales of the Federal Duck Stamp have generated more than $850 million dollars, which has been used to purchase or lease over six million acres of wetland habitat in the U.S. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversee and manage these lands. Waterfowl are not the only wildlife to benefit from the sale of Duck Stamps. Numerous other birds, mammal fish, reptile and amphibian species that rely on wetlands have benefited. An estimated one-third of the nation’s endangered and threatened species find food and shelter in refuges established using Federal Duck Stamp funds. In New Jersey, the Fish and Wildlife Service has acquired 51,317 fee acres and 2 lease acres for the National Wildlife Refuge System using Duck Stamp dollars. This accounts for approximately 67% of all refuge land in New Jersey.

See Chart

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Identity Crisis?

The Duck Stamp is a treasure at risk. The number of people who hunt waterfowl in the U.S. has declined since the mid 1990’s. This has resulted in a reduction of the number of Duck Stamps sold. The drop in revenue could mean a possible reduction in the protection and conservation of wildlife habitat. Although the Stamp is mandatory for a hunting license, each year it provides 25 million dollars in funds to protect wetlands habitat in the national wildlife refuge system for the benefit of wildlife and recreation. A 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counted 71.1 million wildlife watchers in the U.S. and bird watching has been documented to be the fastest growing leisure activity. The population of non-hunters including wildlife enthusiasts, photographers, hikers, artists and stamp collectors represents a powerful force. The support of this community could insure continued success of the Duck Stamp program in the future.

Buying and displaying a Duck Stamp would be a symbol, a “badge of honor” of one’s respect for the conservation of the natural environment we all cherish.

As a member of several nature and wildlife organizations both national and local, I have yet to encounter advocacy for the Duck Stamp program. There are certainly numerous venues to raise awareness. Nature centers, workshops, field trips print ads in nature magazines to name a few. People are more inclined to support and protect what they love. I am confident that if more people were informed and understood what a $15.00 investment could do for conservation of these precious resources the likelihood of their support would increase substantially. Isn’t time we lift the basket off this bright light. Why a Duck Stamp? WHY NOT!

Resources

The Duck Stamp Story- Eric jay Dolin and Bob Dumaine 2000

The Wild Duck Chase- Martin J. Smith 2012

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service www.fws.gov

Healthy Forest Act - New Jersey Audubon and a Clarification

Some have suggested as a result of the editorial focused on the Healthy Forest Act that was posted in the Star-Ledger (http://bit.ly/1949A92) and Asbury Park Press (http://on.app.com/17jurmx) on 7August 2013 that New Jersey Audubon stands to gain financially as a result of passage of the Act. These suggestions are not true or well founded, and are attempts at weakening support for the Act and the efforts that many have made to restore New Jersey’s forests to a healthy condition. forested wetland -highpoint

New Jersey Audubon holds a Forest Stewardship Council Group Certificate, and has not generated profit while helping partners meet the FSC standards on their land under our certificate. New Jersey Audubon is a nonprofit and therefore all the money that the organization raises is used to support the implementation of conservation projects and programs. New Jersey Audubon staff raised the money to pay for FSC related audits and certification costs, covering New Jersey Audubon property and the state’s Sparta Wildlife Management Area. The funding sources come from competitive grant programs and private individuals who believe in and financially support the work that we do.

Regarding certification, New Jersey Audubon does not have a monopoly on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification in NJ. Anyone or any group can go through the process to obtain a FSC Group Certificate or FSC Certification. The Nature Conservancy is a FSC Group Certificate holder, but they have chosen not to engage in FSC Certification in NJ, at least to date. The State of NJ could choose to obtain FSC Certification directly and pay for their own audits, as has been done by the State of Pennsylvania. Most state entities that are FSC certified have their own certificate. We don’t expect that the DEP would look to NJ Audubon or other NGOs to handle the certification process for state lands. Even if the state wanted to partner on FSC Certification, we at New Jersey Audubon don’t envision taking on FSC Certification at the scale of all state forest lands. The inclusion of the Sparta Wildlife Management Area in NJ Audubon’s group certificate was done as a demonstration project in order to provide the state with some experience and understanding of the FSC process.

New Jersey Audubon continues to support the Healthy Forest Act and efforts to improve the condition of New Jersey forests. We hold this position because it is the right and necessary thing to do to protect and conserve wildlife habitat, air quality, water quality, mitigate against climate change, as well as and in addition to providing numerous recreation opportunities for the citizens of the state. New Jersey Audubon’s mission is to foster environmental awareness and a conservation ethic among New Jersey's citizens; protect New Jersey's birds, mammals, other animals, and plants, especially endangered and threatened species; and to promote the preservation of New Jersey's valuable natural habitats.

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