The Highlands region of New Jersey provides drinking water for 5.4 million New Jersey residents, and while many forests and freshwater systems in this watershed are in relatively good condition, substantial water quality impairments associated with non-point source pollution--such as increased nutrients, fecal coliform, and elevated water temperatures, do exist and could worsen over time.
Additionally not only are sub-watershed focal regions of the Highlands extremely important for drinking water and fish species (including trout and diadromous fish), but they are habitat for numerous wildlife species including state listed species such as long-tail salamander, wood turtle, several dragonfly and freshwater mussel species that are dependent on high water quality for their survival.
Beginning this past April, through a grant from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), NJ Audubon kicked off a series of large scale riparian restoration efforts associated with native vegetative plantings in two sub-watersheds of the Highlands, specifically the Lower Musconetcong and Lopatcong watersheds.
Providing native plant materials at no cost to eligible landowners in the sub-watershed, the focus of the native plantings is to stabilize the stream banks, prevent soil erosion into the stream, provide shade to the water to address thermo pollution and increase stream ecosystem and processing capacity for habitat for wildlife. This was done using live-willow stakes and/or plantings of large caliber streamside shade vegetation buffers (ball/burlap native trees between 9-14 feet tall). All willow stakes were obtain from Ernst Conservation Seed and all native trees were obtained from Diaz Nursery, which is a local nursery in the region.
Additionally the project addresses nutrient removal via implementation of alternative technologies that are being used elsewhere in the U.S., specifically, phytoremediation. At some sites, vegetation cover using plants such as green bulrush, cattail and warm-season grasses were provide free of charge by NJ Audubon and were installed as part of phytoremediation measures. These particular plant species exhibit phosphorus removal on the order of 80%.
Although NJ Audubon was able to provide all plant materials to eligible landowners in the watershed for no cost to the landowner, landowners receiving the trees had to be able to plant all large caliber trees at their own expense.
Other plantings, such as live willow stakes installation and phytoremediation work, planting labor was provided free of charge by NJ Audubon staff, along with volunteer help from other organizations such as Musconetcong Watershed Association, North Jersey Resource Conservation & Development and the NJ Youth Corps of Phillipsburg.
Over 2,500 willows stakes were planted in the region to address over 5,700 linear feet (1.07 miles) of Category One trout production water along the Musconetcong River and over 280 large native trees have been planted throughout the region along the banks of the main rivers corridors and their tributaries. Coming this May, over 30 acres of native warm season grass will be established by a local farmer at Merrill Creek Reservoir as part of NJ Audubon’s regional restoration efforts to help improve water quality and critical habitat in the Highlands.
NJ Audubon is looking to engage more landowners for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for forestry/agricultural Best Management Practices, 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 Lower Musconetcong, Lopatcong and the Upper Paulins kill sub-watersheds) and must exhibit a degree of ecological impairment. For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by John Parke & Chris Neff