Stewardship Blog

The question is not what you look at, but what you see.

I was recently asked by a colleague if I had any photos of birds that appear around feeders this time of year. She was working on a article about feeding the birds in winter.   As I surveyed through my photos I came upon a photo I had taken just the previous week of a bobcat that had just killed a cardinal. "Wow!", I thought to myself, remembering the made for TV moment I had witnessed when I took that photo... and then I thought about something. People forget just how important birds are to the food chain. We always talk about feeding the birds, but remember birds are food too and play an enormous role in the survival of other species.bobcatand cardinal

Setting the Stage - Predator and Prey

An arctic like wind swept across the snow covered fields that January day while hunting with a buddy off Old Mine Road in the Delaware Water Gap. The little thermometer dangling from my field jacket said 17°F, but it felt more like 40 below. Suddenly out of nowhere it appeared, a bobcat slowly sneaking through the little bluestem and cedar succession field. This was the first animal we had encountered all morning -there was nothing moving or flying in this bone-chilling cold. Then from about 20-yards away it saw us and froze in its tracks. It looked at us, just for a second, and then got down low and continued to stalk using the tan colored bluestem grass for cover. When it neared the thorny hedgerow it perked up its ears and pounced fast and hard disappearing behind a tuft of snow covered grass. When it looked up from the grass, flashes of red appeared flapping from its mouth! A male cardinal! The cat watched us there for a full minute, holding the cardinal tightly in its mouth, with almost an expression of relief and satisfaction. I quickly snapped off a few photos and then it turned and as stealthy as it came in, the predator slid off into the underbrush without a sound with its now lifeless prey.

To Be or to Be "Eaten", that is Question

I had previously sent this bobcat photo around to a few friends who I knew would appreciate what I had witnessed in the wild. Predator prey interaction captured by the camera, and a State Endangered bobcat too boot! They all agreed it was very cool to have seen a bobcat, bobcats are a beautiful animal and how lucky I was to be in the right place at the right time. These comments were consistent. But then, they would follow with a comment about the bird and its death. These comments varied in tone and content.

Some felt bad or sad for the bird, or asked why couldn't the bobcat have kill a mouse instead. Some were upset by the bobcat's actions of killing the bird. Some even said how they hated that it was a cardinal that was killed and could it have been some other "less showy bird" to fall to the bobcat. Others cheered the bobcat for finding food in 17 degree weather so it would live another day. While some wondered if it caught the cardinal for food for its young to help the next generation of this species survive through winter. The comments provided very different perspectives on a very natural process - the food chain, the very basis of existence.

Insight From a Friend

One of my friends who responded to my bobcat/cardinal photo email sent me the following:cardinal

"Up yonder I write a monthly poetry column featuring a seasonal poem by a Vermont writer ...check out: 'Red Removed' http://thenewsfrompoems.com/spring/ ...seeing your picture captures the exhilaration /triumph of the capture, not so much the tragedy of the pretty bird."

"That was a interesting response, very insightful," I thought. So I clicked the link and read the poem - "Red Removed'

Beautiful. Very apropos for what I witnessed that frozen day with the bobcat and the cardinal in the wilds of Warren County, NJ.

"That's the wonder of nature", I thought to myself after reflecting on the poem. "Life and death from different perspectives."

hawkBut it's those life and death moments in nature that define species roles in the existence of others. It also magnifies the importance of having quality habitat to provide those critical components to support the existence of a variety of species, ensuring the balance of life remains. A Greek proverb states, "Even a wolf will not stay -Where sounds no bleat to offer of prey."

I am proud to be a part of NJ Audubon because we are a conservation organization focusing our work to conserve the environment and restore critical habitat for the benefits of all NJ's wildlife. How we care for our landscape by stewarding our natural world and simultaneously seeking to engage more people in witnessing the wonders of nature is key to a meaningful, healthy, and enjoyable existence for all species.

Collaboration is the Key to Award Winning Conservation, 2012 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award Winners Announced

Collaboration reduced to its simplest definition means "to work together." This simple concept is powerful tool to effect change. By working within collaborative groups, projects are guided by trust and reciprocity, project actions tend to be more highly adaptive and naturally creative. By working with collaborators towards a common goal, ideas are cross-pollinated and information is gathered collectively and more opportunities for innovation and strong strategies for change are achieved. In the case of three winners of the 2012 Governor's Environmental Excellence Awards, collaboration is the key to conservation.

On January 28, 2013, the 2012 Governor's Environmental Excellence Awards were presented at the New Jersey State Museum. New Jersey Audubon staff were present and is proud to have been part of collaborative efforts for three of the eleven projects honored. Specifically, awards given in the following categories: Healthy and Sustainable Businesses, Healthy Ecosystems, and Land Conservation.

Winners of the awards are judged by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection on the basis of documented environmental benefits, innovation and the long term impact of their projects.

P1280018Category Healthy and Sustainable Businesses
Winner: Mannington Mills, Salem

NJ Audubon Corporate Stewardship Council member, Mannington Mills, is a recognized leader of sustainable practices. Their efforts include solar energy implementation, emission reductions, recycling initiatives as well as reducing water use by converting nearly 30 acres of lawn and agricultural lands to native grasslands and shrub lands, providing critical habitat areas for several threatened and endangered species. New Jersey Audubon, along with the USFWS and NRCS assisted with the design, installation and monitoring of this important habitat in the Delaware Bayshore.

Category Healthy Ecosystems
Winner: Drew University, MadisonDrew U Forest Poster Gov Env Exc

Drew University transformed its campus and adjacent forest preserve in Madison to restore lost ecosystem services, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity. Most significant is the ecological restoration of 18 acres of the Drew Forest Preserve, in synergistic partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and New Jersey Audubon. By restoring this forest ecosystem and planting native species across the campus, Drew University’s habitat restoration efforts directly address many of New Jersey’s needs for ecosystem services and for protection of natural resources and open space. More specifically, this work addresses explicitly articulated objectives for New Jersey: preservation and enhancement of critical wildlife habitat, reduction of invasive vegetation, preservation of open space, natural resource protection, watershed management, water quality improvement, flood control, reduction of soil erosion, filtering of air pollutants, maintenance of water quality, and enhanced groundwater recharge.

P1280001Category Land Conservation
Winner: City of Linden

The City of Linden was recognized for its ongoing development of the Hawk Rise Sanctuary, a 95-acre preserve that reconnects residents to the Rahway River and the Arthur Kill. The Hawk Rise Sanctuary is a blueprint for turning a former landfill into open space and wildlife habitat while providing multiple public uses. New Jersey Audubon has been instrumental in assisting the City with the sanctuary’s new network of trails, viewing stations, interpretive signs and educational programs that connect people with natural areas and wildlife.

“The habitat enhancements and restorations at these project sites are expected to have far-reaching benefits, not just for wildlife, but for their communities as well.” said John Parke, NJ Audubon Northern Stewardship Project Director. "By bringing in talented and passionate collaborators such as dave kittsNJ Audubon and USFWS and working towards a common goal, these award winners solidified a symbiotic relationship with communities to foster environmental awareness while enhancing wildlife and natural systems. They should be seen as models for recognizing the benefits of collaboration when considering restoration, protection and stewardship of open space and natural resource protection."

NJ Audubon's mission promotes the stewardship of New Jersey's wildlife and habitat and promotes a conservation ethic among citizens of the state seeking to conserve. That said, NJ Audubon would like to congratulate Mannington Mills, Drew University and the City of Linden and say thank you for having NJ Audubon collaborate and share in your vision of achieving environmental excellence for your projects! Your incredible efforts to restore critical habitat for many species of wildlife in New Jersey are greatly appreciated!

NJ Audubon would also like to extend our congratulations to the rest of the 2012 Environmental Excellence Award winners and commend them for their efforts to make New Jersey a better place for people and wildlife!

North Helps South - Red Cedar and Snakes Perfect Together

New Jersey's landscape is forever changed by the impacts of hurricane Sandy, with the state experiencing some of the worst storm surge flooding seen inSlide6 modern times. However, while the coastal areas have received most of the press coverage associated with the storm, what many outside New Jersey do not realize was how Sandy's extended period of extremely high wind gusts changed the landscape of New Jersey’s interior forests. Tens of thousands of trees were brought down from one end of the state to the other.

Slide1Although storms may significantly change the woods, the woods are not "ruined". Despite the potential economic impacts, there are ecological benefits. While initially looking "messy", storms help create the "old-growth like" habitat characteristics often lacking in most forests (e.g., cavity trees, downed dead logs, diverse tree ages and sizes). Additionally, these "gaps" in the forests also cause an explosion of biodiversity as plants seedlings and saplings receive more light and space to grow, which in turn provide new habitat opportunities for a variety of wildlife.

NJ Audubon also saw an opportunity from the impacts of hurricane Sandy, to utilize some of the downed wood from the storm in the northern part of the state, particularly eastern red cedar, to create artificial snake hibernacula (dens) in the southern NJ Pinelands.

Although the snakes of the NJ Pinelands, such as the State Slide7Endangered corn snake and State Threatened pine snake, are Slide5certainly capable of excavating their own den, habitat loss has created a need for man-made intervention to assist these species. Dens created at strategic locations within the habitat also help to increase the likelihood of intraspecific interactions and accordingly, help promote gene flow across populations.

With logs from storm damaged eastern red cedar trees, donated by Bob and Harriett Druskin of the McMertry Farm in Somerset County, NJ Audubon was able to salvage this wood to utilize in the construction of these artificial snake dens in the southern Jersey Pinelands. Typically, treated wood such as railroad ties or telephone poles are used in the construction of these dens, however with the use of natural rot resistant red cedar there was no need for chemically treated wood for the project.

Slide2The artificial den is a solid underground structure that mimics, but will outlast, the natural root cavities of trees. Although artificial in name, the design promotes the natural excavation behavior of the snakes as they dig out their den. As the different layers of soil are removed they are separated so that when back-filling begins, the appropriate material is returned to the right location, providing the natural underground conditions Slide4important to a pine snake den. A solid roof prevents cave-in and methodically placed PVC pipes offer ease of ingress and egress.

Beth Ciuzio of US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Bob Zappalorti, Executive Director and Founder of Herpetological Associates,Inc. of Jackson, NJ provided assistance to NJA staff in the construction of the pine snake den. The USFWS Partner’s Program donated the machinery used to construct this den. Bob Zappalorti donated not only his time to oversee construction, but also donated supplies to cap it off. The den design is a proven successful model developed by Bob.

NJA Partners with Newark Watershed to Restore Ecologically Valuable Conifer Stands

imageMany forestland owners in the mid-Atlantic incurred significant tree loss during Hurricane Sandy. One of New Jersey Audubon’s (NJA) Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified land owners, Newark Watershed, was no exception.

In the 1930’s, under President Roosevelt, the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) was formed to offer employment opportunities to young men between ages 18 and 25 during the Great Depression. Among other things, the CCC worked on forestry projects throughout New Jersey with one of the more common activities being the reforestation of abandoned farmland and other cleared areas. Typically, CCC reforestation efforts consisted of planting various conifer species in relatively small plantations. In Northern New Jersey, red pine, Norway spruce and Japanese larch were often used in plantations even though they were not necessarily native to the region. Now, some 75 years later, the unmanaged plantations have reached an over-stocked stage of development where the overall growth has slowed considerably, and the less dominant trees have become suppressed. Overstocked plantations typically have tall, spindly stems with small live crowns ratios. Additionally, they usually have minimal root system development compared to those growing under less crowded conditions. These structural factors can cause a predisposition to wind throw during storm events.

As a FSC certified forestland owner, the watershed has committed to managing the CCC’s exotic plantations in a way that will allow for a smooth transition back to a natural forest with a native species composition. NJA has partnered with Newark Watershed to assist with mitigating the mortality within these plantations. The objective for management following the hurricane begins with a salvage harvest of the wind thrown trees in an effort to ensure that desirable native trees become established in the storm affected areas. Removing wind thrown trees will afford access to the site in order to manipulate future populations of non-native trees and shrubs that may become established.

imageThe area of the Watershed seemingly hit hardest by the storm is located near Oak Ridge. Here, plantation salvage harvests will be conducted in the most easily accessible areas first. Typically, the storm affected areas requiring treatment range from a few acres up to ten acres in size. Each treatment area will be assessed individually with a restoration prescription being submitted to the NJ Forest Service and respective townships prior to soliciting contractors to complete the work. In all cases, appropriate healthy trees will be retained, as well as snags and course woody debris that will serve as prime habitat for woodpeckers, salamanders, beetles and many other species that thrive after a natural disturbance occurs. Following the treatments natural regeneration response will be closely monitored along with deer browse pressure. Invasive species will be treated as required and non-native regeneration will be inhibited with a method deemed appropriate to the species in question. If necessary, a native mixture of conifers may be planted to ensure this ecologically valuable softwood component is retained in the watershed.

Prior to Hurricane Sandy there was very little age class diversity and early successional upland habitat within Newark Watershed’s forests. This disturbance, if managed correctly, will be appreciated and used by many wildlife species that require young forests to live in. NJA is committed to enhancing the ecological integrity of the FSC certified forestlands that are listed under the Group Certificate. While the forestry team has a lot of work ahead, they envision this disturbance not as a problem but instead an opportunity to improve the overall health of the watershed’s coniferous stands and to improve their habitat suitability for those species that call them home. Gap disturbances, whether natural or man-made, enable regeneration to establish, provide critical early successional habitat and most of all ensure that the forests we value so deeply will be conserved for generations to come.

By: Jeremy Caggiano

New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Project Coordinator / Forester

NJ Audubon Corporate Stewardship Council Member New Jersey American Water Wins Environmental Quality Award for Habitat Restoration Project

NJ Audubon Corporate Stewardship Council (CSC) member New Jersey American Water wasawards recently awarded the New Jersey Business & Industry Association's (NJBIA) Environmental Quality Award for its habitat restoration project in conjunction with the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, for its property in the Pottersville section of Tewksbury, Hunterdon County.

With the aid of New Jersey Audubon and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) the project was focused on large scale invasive vegetation removal and 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 both resident and migratory birds and other wildlife by barred owl providing critical foraging and breeding areas.

  "It always gives us great pleasure to recognize the  outstanding achievements of our member companies." said NJBIA President Phillip Kirschner. "Each one of our Awards for Excellence winners has a wonderful story that deserves to be told."

A restored ecosystem provides beneficial natural services well beyond property boundaries. Because restoration generally contributes to public wellbeing, NJ Audubon congratulates NJ American Water for receiving this award and for their commitment to restoring NJ's habitat.

Statewide Bee Species Survey Comes to NJ Audubon S.A.V.E.™ Sunflower and Restoration Fields

In September Databasing Assistant, Hadel Go, of the American Museum of Natural History - Division of Invertebrate Zoology, Slide1visited several NJ Audubon sanctuaries and the nyjer thistle and S.A.V.E.™ sunflower fields of the Liberty Farm of Sandyston, NJ and the Roseline’s Farm & Bakery in Augusta, NJ to survey for bee species.

According to Ms. Go, "The goal of this survey is to comb through NJ and collect bees to supplement the museum and university collections, which comprise the bulk of our data, for our Bees of NJ Checklist.  Some specimens from these collections are over a hundred years old; we want to make sure to include all the species that exist in the state today.  There are nonnative species creeping in and areas that have not been sampled including several NJ Audubon sites."  Currently there is no official reference list for the bees of New Jersey.

Although all bee species are being identified during the survey, it is the wild bees that are of special interest.  Wild bees refers to a very large and diverse group that excludes honeybees.  There are around 20,000 species of bees in the world and North America is home to some 3,500 species.  "The Bees of NJ Checklist so far includes over 300 species," said Ms. Go.

Ms. Go's survey has collected a wide variety of bees, including two NJ state records and some that are not common for this region. "It was exciting to learn that I had collected bees never found in NJ before.”  said Ms. Go.  “Dr. John S. Ascher, Melittologist and AMNH research scientist, identifies all the bees I collect.  He has accumulated most of the data we have and I am assisting him in finalizing this checklist.  Dr. Jerry Rozen, Curator of the AMNH bee collection who resides in Bergen County, has also tremendously contributed to our data with over 60 years of collecting in NJ."

BeesPosterproof_small_forweb"All elements of an ecosystem are important to the function of that ecosystem. If one element of the system is removed, the system makes adjustments. However you may not know what the effect of that adjustment is until after it has happened. That's why finding out exactly what native bee species are present in NJ is so important to the work NJ Audubon is doing, especially with the type of habitat restoration we work on in the agricultural communities of the state," said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of NJA. "Native bees and other pollinators are essential building blocks of our food system, as well as keeping ecological balance in the landscape. NJ Audubon applauds native bee research that provides missing information on these beneficial insects."

According to the USDA's Farm Management for Native Bees, “Over 100 crop species in North America require insect pollination to be productive. Populations of managed non-native honey bees have declined in recent years. While honey bees are still very important pollinators, encouraging populations of native bees can provide 'pollination insurance' during times when honey bees are not available or are experiencing population decline. bee stuffAt the same time, native bees can increase yields for many crops."

Studies in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware indicate, "Native bees will often visits flowers in wet or cold conditions, when honey bees remain in the hive; many native bees forage earlier or later in the day than non-native honey bees, and native bees pollinate several fruit crops, such as apples, cherries, blueberries, cranberries and tomatoes, far more effectively than non-native honey bees on a bee-per-bee basis."

"Anyone can contribute to the Bees of New Jersey survey data by photographing bees (no honeybees please) and posting pictures on www.bugguide.net or sending them to Ms. Go at hgo@amnh.org; clear close-up images that can be identified to species will be useful to the study.  If you have a Flickr account, you can join the study's Bees of NJ group and add your photos.  You can also contact Ms. Go if interested in collecting from your backyard or school."  Said Ms. Go, "It's essential to know what bees we have.  With that baseline information, we can begin monitoring populations, locate and protect important nesting sites, provide food plants, and most importantly appreciate these amazing and beautiful creatures."

Trump National Golf Club Signs 10-Year Agreement for Wildlife Conservation on its Bedminster, NJ Course

Trump National Golf Club (Trump National), has entered into a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the New Jersey Audubon (NJA) to partake in a habitat restoration project on their Bedminster, Somerset County, NJ facility. Through the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, Trump National, NJA and the USFWS, will be restoring natural wildlife communities, that will create important habitat for migratory birds as well as for varioussavannahsparrow  JP pollinator species.

"The Trump National site represents a large tract of open space with a mix of early successional grasslands, scrub-shrub and edge habitat. Foraging and nesting habitat are available on the course to a variety of migratory birds, including bobolink, savannah sparrow, purple martin, eastern bluebird, and eastern kingbird." said Brian Marsh, Private Lands Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The USFWS commends Trump National's interest in creating and restoring wildlife habitat on their property.”

A recent member to New Jersey Audubon's Corporate Stewardship Council (CSC), Trump National, with assistance from NJ Audubon and USWFS, will be implementing the first phase of the restoration plan by performing invasive non-native vegetation removal and control this fall and next spring in designated habitat areas. "The introduction of non-native plants, whether intentional or not, has affected native animals both indirectly and directly." said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for New Jersey Audubon. "Invasive non-native plant species destroy habitat by crowding out the native plants that have evolved with the native animals, replacing them with vegetation that is inferior foraging and nesting opportunities, hence one reason for species declines. Given the landscape type at Trump National, seeing what is currently on-site and knowing what surrounds the property in terms of critical habitat potential, this project will ultimately provide significant ecological uplift to the region's native species, including some of NJ's rarest, the grassland dependent birds."

kestrel banding 2012 After invasive vegetation controls are completed the next phase of the project will be to enhance the course’s value to migratory birds and pollinators by establishing meadows consisting of native wildflowers, warm-season grasses, as well as planting native trees and shrubs around wetland and other riparian zones on the course. Bird nesting boxes will also be placed throughout the property, with a focus to attract North America's smallest falcon, the American kestrel. The large open expanses at the property, offer excellent foraging areas for this raptor species (which was recently designated a State Threatened species).

"I take great pride that the US Fish and Wildlife Service and NJ Audubon recognizes and validates the environmental contribution we have made with the original design of our two world class golf courses in Bedminster. They currently provide for over 200 acres of habitat for indigenous and migratory grassland birds. With this partnership we look forward to their professional guidance in further improving and expanding the habitat at this wonderful property." said course owner Donald J Trump.

"Trump National is demonstrating an outstanding commitment to sustaining native wildlife populations." said Eric Stiles, President for New Jersey Audubon. "They are solidifying a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding community to foster environmental awareness and a conservation ethic while enhancing wildlife and natural systems in New Jersey."

Wildlife Gardens Get a Much Needed Boost

Wildlife gardens beforeWildlife gardens after

Starting in mid-July, the wildlife gardens at NJ Audubon’s Center for Research and Education (CRE) have been receiving much needed attention from NJ Audubon Stewardship Assistant, Alfonso Castro. Alfonso has been removing a number of invasive species and rescuing important host plants for butterflies and other insects that provide food for birds and other wildlife. The once overgrown wildlife gardens are now looking healthy and restored!Volunteer pulling up mugwort

Alfonso is not alone in this important effort- he has been receiving assistance from dedicated volunteers who enjoy gardening and improving habitat for wildlife. On August 4th, a volunteer event was held with the goal of removing invasive species from our wildlife gardens- a tough job, but everyone had fun while they worked! Volunteers are essential to the continued success of the wildlife gardens at CRE and we are so grateful to have their help and expertise! If you are interested in helping with the wildlife gardens at New Jersey Audubon’s Center for Research and Education, please contact Alfonso at alfonso.castro@njaudubon.org.

Written by: Alfonso Castro

Volunteers Help Restore Maritime Forest at Cape May Point State Park


Volunteers came to Cape May Point State Park (CMPSP) in May and June to help hand pull and weed invasive plants like garlic mustard and sweet autumn clematis within the maritime forest restoration site. It’s not easy work, but the dedicated volunteers take pride in knowing they are helping to improve habitat for local wildlife and migrating birds. Many are battling the same invasive plants in their own backyards and bring their expertise in identifying and combating invasives to the restoration site. Volunteers weeding clematis at Cape May Point State Park

This restoration project is especially important since maritime forest, a rare ecological plant community that includes both maritime dune woodlands and maritime uplands, is critical habitat for migrating birds and resident wildlife. The restoration is in its second year, and native plant regeneration can already be seen. Native asters and black cherry and sassafras seedlings are growing in areas once covered in invasive vines. The success we are seeing with native plant regeneration and a reduction in invasive plant growth is due to the hard work and dedication of volunteers who assist with weeding, pulling, and sniping invasive plants.

Hand weeding and pulling invasive plants is an effective control strategy to reduce invasive plant populations, especially when combined with other methods, like mowing and herbicide application. This combination of control treatments is being used by NJ Audubon and CMPSP staff, who are collaborating on the five-acre maritime forest restoration project. At CMPSP, maritime Native asters and black cherry regenerating at Cape May Point State Parkforests are degraded due to numerous invasive plants that dominate these areas, including several invasive vines that threaten the survival of mature trees and impair native plant regeneration. The goal of this restoration project is to reduce invasive plants Volunteers filled the bed of this truck with invasive plants seven times!in the forest understory while leaving mature trees to provide habitat and a seed source to help native regeneration occur. To help increase native plant diversity, deer fencing will be erected to minimize deer browse of native plant species. This is a long-term restoration project that requires careful monitoring of plants and animals to help us achieve our goal of providing healthy maritime forest habitat for migrating and resident wildlife.

If you are interested in volunteering for NJ Audubon on this project or other projects, please contact Suzanne Treyger at 609-861-1608 x 23 or suzanne.treyger@njaudubon.org. This project is made possible through funding from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Atlantic City Electric.

Cruising with the Techs: Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area

The Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area is comprised of 3,282 acres in Sussex and Morris counties. The WMA is owned by the State of NJ and is open clip_image002to the public for hunting and passive recreation. Nestled in the heart of the WMA is the 349 acre NJ Audubon Sparta Preserve. The Sparta Mountain WMA has a rich history. The Edison Mines in the heart of the WMA were built by Thomas Edison in the early part of the 20th century to extract iron. Because of the development surrounding the mines, the area was one of the first in the world to have electricity. Many of the mines are still open and are partially fenced in to prevent accidents. While working the WMA we have stumbled upon several mines as well as ruins from processing buildings, home sites, roads, and railroads.

NJ Audubon Stewardship Team has partnered with the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife to inventory the forests of the Sparta WMA. The NJA Forestry team is comprised of Project Director Don Donnelly, Project Coordinator Jeremy Caggiano, and Forest Technicians Lisa Dunne and Liz O’Rourke. The goal of conducting forest inventory is to find what species comprise the WMA with the goal of eventually creating management plans that will drive sustainable decision making for the next ten years. Inventory is conducted according to Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) national standards. This process involves creating a grid of points where data will be collected and compiled into a database. At each plot, a series of over-story and understory measurements were taken. clip_image004Plots were laid out in a 5x10 chain (330’x660’) grid, or one plot every 5 acres for a total of over 600 plots. All of our points were loaded into a handheld Garmin GPS. Once arrived at the point, a plot center is established in which all of the measurements are based around. In each plot, trees were selected based on their diameter at breast height (DBH) and distance from plot center using a 15 basal area factor prism. Basal area is a term that refers to the surface area that a tree takes up on the forest floor. Tree height, DBH, and percent living crown were measured. In addition, each tree was assigned a most valuable timber product. This includes sawlogs, firewood, and even cull (leave behind). Understory was also taken into consideration. A 1/100 acre plot was laid out (12 ft radius from plot center) and all woody vegetation was identified. Height class and DBH as well as plant origin were recorded. Once the WMA is broken up into discrete forest stands, we will revisit plots to observe and collect data on the herbaceous layer, or the non-woody plants that make up the forest floor. This includes everything from wildlflowers, rushes, grasses, and invasive plants such as Japanese barberry and multiflora rose.

clip_image006The data we have collected will be analyzed using NED2- Northeast Ecosystem Decision Modeling software. The WMA will be stratified into individual forest stands that are distinguished by their species composition. This software is also able to model forest growth into the future. NJA will use the analysis to develop forest management plans specific to Sparta Mountain WMA and the goals of NJDEP.


One of the best perks of the job of a forest technician is the wildlife and plants that we encounter. We spotted a North American Porcupine in our early days at Sparta WMA. It was climbing up a steep ridge just east of the Edison area while we were scrambling down. It waddled away as quickly as it could and climbed an eastern hemlock. Our plot was just a few yards from his perch and he stared down at us while we tallied trees. After a few minutes we realized all the American beeches in the vicinity had had their bark stripped. They no doubt fell victim to this innocent looking bark eater.

Pink and yellow lady slipper orchids have been spotted this spring at Sparta WMA. clip_image010Pink lady slippers are coming up in the timber harvest area, while we stumbled upon the smaller yellow variety deep in the swamps in the heart of the WMA. Black bears have been quite active since the arrival of spring to New Jersey. Usually we only catch a glimpse of a bear or hear it crashing through the brush while it’s high-tailing it in the opposite direction. But a few bears have been curious about what two girls are doing deep in their woods and wandered close, possibly catching a whiff of our packed peanut butter and jellies.

Forest inventory will wrap up this week but work will continue as we run the data through NED2. We will also be back out in the WMA collecting data on the herbaceous layer in the coming months.

Co-authored by: Lisa Dunne and Liz O’Rourke -- Photos by: Lisa Dunne