Stewardship Blog

Category: Stewardship in Action

Current projects and activies for land stewardship

New Jersey American Water Partners with NJ Audubon and USFWS to Improve Wildlife Habitat in New Jersey

New Jersey American Water initiated its first habitat restoration project as part of their participation in NJ Audubon's Corporate Stewardship Council. This spectacular event took place on New Jersey American Water property in the Pottersville section of Tewksbury, Hunterdon County. The habitat restoration was focused on improving native understory plant communities in a riparian area along the Lamington River (a Category One Waterway - designated as such for its ecological importance). Ultimately this habitat improvement will benefit migratory birds and other wildlife by providing critical foraging and breeding areas.

Late in 2011 New Jersey American Water entered into a contract with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and New Jersey Audubon through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program and performed extensive invasive non-native vegetation removal and control at the site. Prior to the invasive controls, the site was overrun with non-native invasive vegetation that included common reed, mutiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, tartarian honeysuckle and Japanese barberry. These types of non-native vegetation outcompete native plants and in many cases shade out new growth providing little to no benefit to wildlife. On April 12, 2012, over 800 native trees and shrubs were planted at the site by NJ American Water employees, volunteers, and staff from USFWS and NJ Audubon just in time for the spring migration of birds and other wildlife.american water employees and Nj Audubon and USWF staff  planting native trees and shrubs at the Tweksbury site

"The most significant improvement of the property comes as a result of the removal of invasive vegetation allowing the soils at the site to be exposed to thetrout-lilly in bloom sun for the first time in years. This has lead to an explosion of growth by native herbaceous plants seeds lying dormant in the soil.", said NJ Audubon Stewardship Project Director John Parke. "Skunk cabbage, spring beauty, trout lily, dog-tooth violets and cut-leaf toothwort were just some of the native plants we found to be growing on the site where they were not noted the year before. Having these native wildflowers back on the landscape will provide early pollen sources for beneficial insects."

"This project provides a great example of how a corporate landowner can take the initiative to improve wildlife habitat through relatively simple voluntary restoration measures and through partnering.," said Brian Marsh, Private Lands Biologist with USFWS. "The USFWS commends NJ American Water for their interest in partnering to restore wildlife habitat and hopes their efforts will motivate other landowners to perform similar measures."

Photos 028The habitat restoration at the Pottersville facility is also the same location that was recognized by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2011 for New Jersey American Water's voluntary and proactive measures taken to go beyond compliance in an effort to improve the environment and ensure a sustainable future, which included a $3 million upgrade of the wastewater facility. “We are committed to delivering innovative and environmental friendly solutions to better serve our customers - whether it is the treatment of wastewater or restoring an environmentally sensitive site. The work we’ve done with NJ Audubon and USFWS at our Pottersville Wastewater Treatment Plant is an example of such commitment,” said Suzanne Chiavari, Vice President of Engineering at New Jersey American Water.

Cape May Residential Community Rallies Together to Improve Wildlife Habitat

The Meadows at Cape Island condominium development is located right next to Cape Island Creek – a tidal creek and marsh that provides important habitat for our migratory and resident birds and other wildlife. Occupying about 13 acres within the Cape Island Important Bird Area, this development has several natural areas on the property, including important buffers between the condos and the marsh. These buffers, made up of a variety of grasses, shrubs, and trees, serve a key function to the marsh and creek by helping to filter water runoff that may contain pollutants.

While residents here enjoy the natural surroundings of this development, they were concerned with the growing number of non-native invasive plant species that were smothering the native plants. Invasive plants at the Meadows include privet species, porcelain berry, Japanese honeysuckle, English ivy, multiflora rose, Norway maple, and Phragmites. Cape Island Habitat Restoration Task Force volunteers plant native shrubs and grasses to create habitat for wildife on Cape Island

Concerned with what might happen to the diverse mix of native plants that provide great habitat for wildlife, the residents at the Meadows decided to take action by contacting NJ Audubon’s Cape Island Habitat Restoration Task Force (CIHRTF) for technical assistance. After a site visit or two we decided to focus invasive plant control efforts in two key locations and saw an opportunity to create wildlife habitat at another location – a drainage basin that holds standing water throughout much of the year. This drainage basin can support a number of native wetland plants and can provide valuable wildlife habitat. This site can also be considered a rain garden or a wet meadow, and provides an additional buffer between homes and the marsh.

CIHRTF and the residents at the Meadows partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, who generously supported these habitat projects by providing native grasses and shrubs for the wet meadow planting and will also provide technical assistance and additional native plants for future plantings. A large volunteer planting day was held in fall 2011 in the wet meadow habitat site with many residents from the Meadows coming out to help. In addition to planting native grasses and shrubs within the wet meadow, volunteers also planted beach plum plants in upland areas in the development and helped to remove invasive vines from native shrubs and trees.

Cape Island Habitat Restoration Task Force volunteers planting native grasses to create wildlife habitat

Besides planting native species and removing invasive plants at the Meadows, residents have also put up a bat house and a kestrel box near the Cape Island Creek marsh, hoping to entice some new wildlife occupants. Residents at the Meadows hope to eventually certify their property as wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. This year we are planning several more volunteer days aimed at reducing invasive plants and providing better habitat for wildlife.

Replacing the Corporate Lawn Look of the 20th Century, One Corporate Campus at a Time

NJ Audubon Corporate Stewardship Council Member Verizon takes on Second Major Project

to Benefit Wildlife

With the success of their habitat restoration efforts on their Basking Ridge, NJ campus that earned Verizon the Governor's Environmental Excellence award in 2007 and their involvement with NJ Audubon's Corporate Stewardship Council, Verizon has once again partnered with New Jersey Audubon and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to transform another one of its corporate campuses into an area beneficial to wildlife and to the community at large.

Early successional habitat restoration was the main focus on Verizon’s 22-acre central utility plant in Freehold, with NJ Audubon and USFWS assisting in invasive non-native vegetation removals, installation of nesting boxes and more than 1,000 native trees and shrubs planted in riparian areas. The project also included the conversion of the 'corporate lawn' into a wildflower and native grassland meadow to benefit bird and pollinator species. By encouraging the growth of native vegetation, the property draws pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, which in turn helps local agriculture so this habitat is benefitting neighboring farms. In addition the plantings help to improve water quality by providing a buffer between the roads and the waterways on site to help filter run-off.

Verizon Before 2010Early successional habitat (grasslands and shrublands) is one of the mostverizon after 2011 endangered ecosystems in the United States, and they also contain higher proportions of state-listed butterflies and moths than other natural community types. It is important that landowners take an active role in managing these habitats for the variety of plants and animals that inhabit them. The vegetative make up of early successional habitat is variable and dynamic depending on the length of time since abandonment, management history, and other factors that can affect the long-term stability and composition of plants that occupy the site. The management of the restoration areas at Verizon will be the use of management mowing techniques to increase the longevity of the habitat patch so to increase the length of time that early-successional wildlife species will occupy the area. verizon building and meadow

“Corporate giants like Verizon don’t have to leave enormous footprints on our environment,” said Samuel Delgado, vice president of external affairs for Verizon New Jersey. “In fact, Verizon’s goal is to make the least possible environmental impact and to thoughtfully recreate a natural habitat at our facilities for native vegetation and animal species.”

“The New Jersey Audubon Society applauds Verizon as a national leader showcasing real, meaningful wildlife conservation on private lands,” said Eric Stiles, President Elect of New Jersey Audubon. “Native grasslands and monarchs are replacing the industrial chemical cocktail lawns of the 20th century. We hope other companies take notice and follow suit on their corporate campuses. It would be good for the environment and healthier for their communities. It also lowers their operation costs and its fun for their employees,” Stiles said.

Nature Doesn’t Recognize Ownership Boundaries

On October 1, 2011, NJ Audubon and our wonderful volunteers completed the final steps in a multi-year habitat restoration project on 110IMG_0109 acres of private land in Elsinboro Township, Salem County.

Through this exciting project we were able to work with three neighboring large landowners to restore 110 acres of brackish marsh that had been taken over with invasive Phragmites australis, a very common, tall invasive grass. The Phragmites had converted a diverse native brackish marsh into a monoculture of dense, non-native vegetation with reduced wildlife habitat quality. We spent several years working on getting control of the Phragmites, monitoring regrowth of native plants, and planting thousands of native wetland plants to reestablish diversity within the marsh.

New Jersey Audubon developed and organized the project, which was completed in two phases. Sixty acres were restored in the first phase and 50 in the second. Funding and on-the-ground help were provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service’s Coastal Program and Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and the USDA Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) provided further funding and technical assistance for improving water quality by taking some of the wetland buffer out of crops and planting it in native vegetation. The William Penn Foundation provided essential financial support.

IMG_0111Nature doesn’t recognize ownership boundaries, and that is one reason why NJ Audubon, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S.D.A. all support and encourage private landowners who wish to be great stewards of their land. We appreciate the landowners who work with us and the many volunteers who have helped us with restoration work on private land. When a private landowner improves habitat for fish and wildlife, we all benefit, whether from stronger fish and wildlife populations, cleaner water, increased biological diversity, or other benefits.

Written by: Jean Lynch, Stewardship Project Director, South Region


NJ Audubon Helps School and Farmer Take Action to Provide Important Habitat for Bird and Pollinator Species

Allamuchy, NJ – A unique collaboration between the Allamuchy Elementary School, a neighboring farmer, the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), NJ Audubon Society (NJAS) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has formed to established critical habitat for native wildlife species on the school's ground that also retains agriculture, provides the community with ecological resource benefits, as well as an "outdoor" class room for students.

The Allamuchy Township Elementary School property is located within an ecological and agricultural area of significance in the Highlands region of Warren county. Working with NJ Audubon, the school and the neighboring farmer, Larry Freeborn of Tranquility Farms, enrolled a portion of an agricultural field on the school's property that according to Mr. Freeborn was a "wet" field that had marginal production, into the USDA-Farm Service Agency's State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (S.A.F.E.) Program. SAFE is a voluntary sign-up program through USDA that provide cost share funding for specific conservation practices on land to improve, connect or create higher-quality habitat to promote healthier ecosystems in areas identified as essential to effective management of high-priority species. With the enrollment into the SAFE program, the school then entered into an agreement with the USFWS under their Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to obtain, for no cost, all native warm-season grass and wildflower seed for the project, as well as several bird nest boxes and native trees and shrubsP7110038 for installation on the grounds.

The main portion of the project consists of planting a 2-acre native meadow consisting of native wildflowers and warm-season grasses, adjacent to Farmer Freeborn's production fields on the school grounds. With the addition of native wildflowers into the meadow planting, the constructed meadow area becomes an important refuge for native pollinators which provide immeasurable value to agriculture, as well as, keeping local plant communities healthy and productive.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, close to 75% of the flowering plants on earth rely to some degree on pollinators in order to set seed or fruit. From these plants comes one-third of humankind's food and even greater proportion of the food for much of our wildlife. Yet now pollinators are in risk due to loss of habitat. Types of habitat that they need, such as early successional grasslands, also are habitats for many other species that are in decline -like the Bobolink.bobolink at Richard's property in Bedminster -grassland enhancement project

“This project is a wonderful compliment to our educational philosophy in Allamuchy – to get students involved in authentic, experiential learning projects that they will remember for the rest of their lives. These projects combine all the best principles of environmental education and stewardship and help our students understand and appreciate the very special environment in which we live. Special thanks go to the Larry Freeborn, USDA, the USFWS, and especially to the NJ Audubon Society for working together to make this happen.” said Timothy Frederiks, Superintendent of Allamuchy School District.

"The Allamuchy School District and Larry Freeborn of Tranquility Farms are demonstrating an exceptional commitment to protecting natural resources in the region." said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for New Jersey Audubon. "I am fully confident that this project will help the students, and the community, better realize how important both habitat and agriculture are to the region. The fates of farming and habitat in New Jersey are inseparable. So if they are to survive here, the farming and conservation community must work together to develop innovative strategies to promote economically viable farm communities and conservation goals. This project is a outstanding example of this concept".

Photos by John Parke

Volunteers Help Remove Invasive Plants at the Cape Island Important Bird Area

Two volunteer workdays took place last week at the Cape Island Important Bird Area (IBA) - both aimed at reducing invasive plants that are overtaking habitat. Located at the very tip of NJ, the Cape Island IBA is about 15,000 acres in size and includes a variety of habitat types. This IBA serves as a major migratory stopover site- millions of birds utilize Cape Island during spring and fall migration. Controlling invasive plants to increase and enhance suitable habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife on Cape Island is a stewardship priority for NJ Audubon.

On Thursday, volunteers removed invasive vines like porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), sweet-autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) and field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) from young, native trees at a maritime forest restoration site at Cape May Point State Park. This restoration project is a cooperative effort led by NJ Audubon and NJ DEP Division of Parks and Forestry to control invasive plants and support the growth and regeneration of native vegetation.

The focus for Friday: purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and mile-a-minute (Persicaria perfoliata) at the Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows. Volunteers carefully snipped and bagged the flower heads of purple loosestrife plants before they develop seeds and spread further, while folks with thicker gloves snipped and pulled mile-a-minute, which has a prickly, thorny stem. Mile-a-minute is an emerging invasive plant in Cape Island, which means it is not yet established and widespread, and is found in small patches in the area. In addition to mile-a-minute, kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata) is another emerging invasive plant found on Cape Island. We employ an Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR) strategy to eliminate the emerging plants immediately to lessen the likelihood that they will become widespread and established.

Cape Island has its fair share of both emerging and widespread invasive plants, and Cape May County has the highest number of reported invasive species in the state- 365 total. To address this growing threat to migratory bird habitat, NJ Audubon organized the Cape Island Habitat Restoration Task Force (CIHRTF). CIHRTF is a newly formed Coordinated Weed Management Area (CWMA), and our partners include NJ state chapter of the Nature Conservancy (TNC), NJ DEP Bureau of Land Management, the NJ DEP Division of Parks and Forestry, and the NJ Invasive Species Strike Team (NJISST). The mission of CIHRTF is to identify, control and monitor invasive plants, restore and improve wildlife habitat, and provide outreach and education to the community of Cape Island. CIHRTF will be hosting more volunteer events and educational workshops throughout the year- please check our webpage for the latest information!

These projects are made possible through the support from: the William Penn Foundation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Atlantic City Electric.

Salem River Wildlife Management Area

Suzanne and I left Cape May County well before sunrise for our bird surveys at Salem River Wildlife Management Area. We’re working at three sites with funding from a number of sources, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Corporate Wetland Restoration Program, and the Wildlife Management Institute, and DuPont. Of course, the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife is our main partner on these projects.

Stop 1 (or stop 2, if you count Wawa) was the former dairy site right beside the Salem River in Pilesgrove Township. Shortly after we arrived, we flushed a female turkey and her young—one of whom flew up and landed, looking confused, in a tree. There’s a big kingbird hangout up the hill, near the entrance to the large open field, and we see lots of Fowler’s toads and plenty of mammal scat, too. 193[1]

We’ve seen a lot of the major grassland birds in the large field—kestrels, grasshopper sparrows, meadowlarks, and more. This site already has a nice grassland component, but we’re working with NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife to expand the size of the grassland. Many grassland species require very large grassland areas to nest, and here we have an opportunity to manage more than 80 acres for grassland-dependent wildlife. Bobwhite quail should benefit from this project as well. 153[1]

Stop 2 was a former commercial tree nursery that is now part of the WMA. I love this spot because it’s so strange—creeping junipers, ornamental cherries, arborvitae, and a whole mishmash of native landscaping trees or their cultivars keep company with species they wouldn’t normally hang out with. This is one natural area where the normal plant associations do not apply, and as long as the plants in question are not invasive, that can make a site visit different and fun.

Common milkweed in flowerOf course, some of them are highly invasive, and for those ones we’re working on reining them in. We just did an enormous job removing about 15 acres of autumn olive from the fields, and now we’re following up to keep the autumn olive and honeysuckle from taking the fields right back. My favorite part of this stop this week was watching six monarch caterpillars do a number on a cluster of 14 milkweed plants. Some of the plants had been completely stripped of leaves and some leaves were just half-eaten. These were very hungry caterpillars. 168[1]

We made a couple more stops that day—to another WMA site that we are converting to native grassland, and to a large riparian buffer project on private property. All the sites look good, all will have more work done to them, and their habitat value will just keep getting better and better.

All photos taken at the Salem River Wildlife Management Area by Jean Lynch.

Posted by Jean Lynch, Stewardship Project Director, South Region

Reforestation and a Partnership Grows at Drew University

On April 15, 2011 the last piece of a four year long forest restoration project was completed on the campus of Drew University in Madison with the Reforestation_0009installation of over 1,100 native trees and shrubs by Drew students, faculty, community volunteers, volunteers from Pfizer (a member of NJA's Corporate Stewardship Council), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and New Jersey Audubon staff. The project was the vision of Drew Professor of Biology Dr. Sara Webb, who recognized, while conducting classes and research in the 80-acre forest preserve, that the forest conditions were degrading rapidly, thanks to overabundant deer in the preserve.

With no method of deer control little native undergrowth/regeneration remained to collect runoff and prevent erosion; or provide suitable habitat for forest interior species. To add insult to injury, invasive wisteria and Asiatic bittersweet vines were thriving in these conditions choking and toppling dozens of native trees each year which in turn lead to forest gap openings that were only being filled by other non-native invasive vegetation that the deer would not browse. Only with intervention would this ecosystem regain the structure and diversity that could again provided suitable habitat for native species and maximize groundwater replenishment, minimize sedimentation of receiving surface waters. (NOTE: the Drew Forest Preserve, which includes the Zuck Arboretum and the recently named Christine Hepburn Forest Restoration Area, is critically important for groundwater recharge and runoff reduction within the Passaic River watershed and the Buried Valley aquifer area.)

Though the USWFS' Partners in Fish and Wildlife Program, Drew, NJ Audubon and USFWS entered into an agreement to remove invasive vegetation and reforest the area. But it wasn't until a generous gift from former Madison residents and NJ Audubon Life Members, Christine Hepburn and her husband Ken Martin, that the project really came together with the installation of fencing around the entire 17-acre restoration area, thus excluding deer but allowing for movement of other wildlife though the small openings of the fence material.

"I am so excited; this is a long-held dream come true." said Christine Hepburn about the project. "For many years, the Drew woods provided me with Pileated Woodpeckers, Wood Thrushes, and other delights. This patch of woods brought me peace and joy but also sadness and frustration from seeing virtually all of the native understory mowed down by the deer again and again. I'm anxious to see how wonderful these woods become now that so many different new plants will be able to grow."

Brain Marsh of USFWS echoed Hepburn's remarks, "This project will reverse serious degradation of the Drew University Forest Preserve, thereby improvingToad at Drew the forest’s capacity for hydrologic stabilization while also enhancing habitat for the native flora and fauna, including migratory birds and aquatic habitat species associated with the preserves' ponds and vernal pools.

"It is thrilling see ecological integrity and biodiversity returning to these woods. The rescue of this forest required intensive intervention that could not have happened without support and expertise of New Jersey Audubon, USFWS and environmentalist Chris Hepburn. My hope is that this project will inspire our university students and to inform the broader community about the value and complexity of natural ecosystems." said Professor Webb.

All photos taken at Drew University Project site.  Photos by Lynne Delade and John Parke

Eagle Ridge Golf Club Takes Action to Provide Important Habitat for Bird and Pollinator Species

Eagle Ridge Golf Club (Eagle Ridge), assisted by the New Jersey Audubon Society (NJAS), has entered into a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to partake in a habitat restoration project on their Lakewood, Ocean County, NJ facility. Through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, Eagle Ridge, NJAS and the USFWS, will be restoring natural wildlife communities, that will create important habitat for migratory birds as well as for various pollinators, such a butterfly species.

"The golf course lies within the Service’s Atlantic Coastal Bay focus area of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. The golf course represents a large tract of open space with a mix of early successional and edge habitat. Foraging and nesting habitat are available on the course to a variety of migratory birds, including purple martin, eastern bluebird, and eastern kingbird." said Brian Marsh, Private Lands Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The USFWS commends Eagle Ridge's interest in creating and restoring wildlife habitat on their property.”

Earlier this spring Eagle Ridge and USFWS installed numerous nest boxes throughout the property for purple martin, bluebird and American kestrel, all of which became fully occupied by mid May.   "My love of wildlife, in particular birds, has caused me to really focus my attention on the environment. I am encouraging nesting for the native wildlife at Eagle Ridge in hopes of increasing species populations, and I believe it is working. Golfers are coming up to me saying they have never seen so much wildlife here at Eagle Ridge compared to other courses. It is a labor of love for me." said Jerry Kokes, President of Eagle Ridge.

The site is very interesting in that it’s not your typical golf course -care was given to protect and support a diverse array of native plant life.  An example of this is the abundance of the native wildflower species Pink Lady's Slipper orchid at the site.  100_3906However, as with all areas in NJ, Eagle Ridge and USFWS still had to implement removal/controls of invasive non-native herbaceous vegetation that included, non-native grasses, spotted knapweed, and mugwort, from areas of the property. Non-native invasive vegetation invade areas, shading out and killing off existing native plants thus creating a simplified ecosystem that will not support a diverse set of native animal. In an effort to enhance the course’s value to migratory birds and pollinators the partners are establishing a native meadow consisting of native wildflowers and warm-season grasses on the several acres that received the invasive vegetation removals. Warm-season grasses are ideal cover for land managers and wildlife because they do not require fertilization or irrigation, provide erosion control, are drought tolerant, grow mostly in the middle of the summer when other grasses are dormant, add color and texture to the landscape, remain upright during winter, and provide foraging and nesting cover to migratory birds. Additionally their extensive root systems soak up excess nutrients, thus aiding in water filtration as well as allow them to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground. Warm season grasses are highly effective carbon “sinks” — they are, in fact, called “C4” grasses because they absorb an extra molecule of carbon while cool season grasses are labeled “C3.”

"Eagle Ridge is demonstrating an outstanding commitment to sustaining native wildlife populations." said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for NGrasshopper Sparrowew Jersey Audubon. “What is really exciting is the amount of grassland dependent bird species that are using the restoration areas, like grasshopper sparrow and meadowlark. Congratulations to Eagle Ridge for solidifying a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding community to foster environmental awareness and a conservation ethic while enhancing wildlife systems in New Jersey."

All photos shown here were taken at Eagle Ridge Golf Club.