Stewardship Blog

NJ Audubon and USDA Staff Participate in Northeast Organic Farming Association’s Winter Conference

Written by Brittany Dobrzynski*

NRCS Booth at the NOFA Winter ConferenceDuring the last weekend of January, NJ Audubon and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services staff participated in the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey’s Winter Conference at Rutgers University. The conference spanned two days and offered a wide array of workshops for organic producers throughout the Garden state. Whether attendees were looking to learn more about the history of organic farming, carbon soil sequestration, small scale farm tools or soap making, there was a workshop to fit everyone’s interest.

The lounge at the Douglas Student Center was packed with additional information, vendors and book sales to provide conference participants with many references to take with them. Keynote speaker Jean Martin Fortier amped up the crowd with his secrets to making a six figure income on a one-and-a-half-acre organic vegetable farm in Quebec, ALL WITHOUT THE USE OF A TRACTOR! You could feel the love in the room as he shared his stories of traveling the world to learn his adopted techniques, and tales of the two years he and his wife spent living on the land in a tee-pee when first starting out. I was fortunate enough to follow up with Jean Martin one-on-one and received a personal pep-talk after leaving a workshop titled “Starting the Farm from Scratch” on the last session of the first day. I even got an autographed copy of his book “The Market Gardener” which I am already halfway through reading. 

IBrittany Dobrzynski details NJ Audubons' Healthy Land and Waters Grants focal areas within South Jersey was joined by a number of familiar faces throughout the day; my colleagues with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) manned a table in the lounge, spreading the good word on programs offered to benefit these local organic producers. Organic champion and NRCS District Conservationist Nicole Ciccaglione attended as I joined NRCS District Conservationist John Kluthe in two sessions of panel discussions on USDA funding. These panels included representatives from the Farm Service Agency and Rural Development as well. John described NRCS’ history, originating from the Soil Conservation Service in the Dust Bowl days to today. He shared one of my favorite tales of founder Hugh Hammond Bennett’s impeccable timing appealing to Congress for continued funding for the Soil Conservation Service as a dust storm entered the windows of the Congress. While the dust settled in, covering desks and paperwork in a fine silt, they unanimously agreed to continue funding the Service. Kluthe detailed the conservation planning process that begins with identifying problems and opportunities and results in implementation of a well-formulated Conservation Plan, all with the help of experts on staff.

Farm Service Agency staff presented on the many loan programs available to producers. From business start-up costs to cold storage facilities, the Farm Service Agency has a low interest loan program for just about any materials, equipment and facilities aiding in operations on a farm.

Rural Development program staff offered details on their loans and grant services. These are available to farmers, non-profits, businesses and individuals, not just ag producers. They offer loans for things like expanding small businesses, mortgages, and expanding use of renewable energy.

Rural Development funding opportunities featured in the panel discussion New Jersey Audubon staff presented on programs available through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. In southern New Jersey, agricultural best management practices for soil and water conservation are subsidized through New Jersey Audubon’s Healthy Land and Waters Grant program. Producers farming within certain focal areas of the Kirkwood Cohansey Aquifer are eligible to participate. Those areas include residents in the Upper Salem Watershed, Maurice and Upper Cohansey, Greater Hammonton area and West Cape May Penninsula.

In the northern New Jersey, Audubon offers assistance by technical assistance and materials for restoration projects within the Northern Lopatcong, Lower Musconetcong and Paulinskill watersheds. Materials include, but are not limited to, seed, live stakes, whips, tree and shrub seedlings, even ball and burlap trees. The NJ Audubon programs are made possible thanks to financial support from the William Penn Foundation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

For more information on these New Jersey Audubon programs through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, please contact Brittany Dobrzynski at 609-400-3826 or Brittany.dobrzynski@njaudubon.org.

I would like to extend a big thanks to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey for putting on such a wonderful conference. It is always truly inspiring to meet with so many partner agencies from throughout the state all in one spot and makes me proud to be a member of this agricultural community. Until next year!

* Brittany Dobrzynski is Stewardship Specialist with New Jersey Audubon and is currently working through a cooperative agreement as a Natural Resources Conservation Service Partner Employee.

Photos by Nicole Ciccaglione, District Conservationist

Mannington Mills Improves Water Quality & Soil Health on Working Lands

Volunteers plant trees and shrubs between a spinach field and a wetlandDuring a cold and wintery weekend in early December 2016, over 80 volunteers put on their hats and gloves and came out to help New Jersey Audubon’s Stewardship staff plant 1,320 native trees and shrubs on a working farm in Salem County. The property is owned by Mannington Mills, a member of New Jersey Audubon’s Corporate Stewardship Council. The agricultural land that Mannington Mills owns is managed by a local farmer, who grows peppers, corn, soybeans, and spinach on site. The volunteers helped plant the bare root trees and shrubs along an irrigation pond that eventually connects with Fenwick Creek. This newly planted area will help to proVolunteers place tree guards around trees and shrubstect the waterway by filtering out runoff while providing food and cover for wildlife.

Students from the Salem County Vo-Tech School and Mannington Township School, along with staff from Mannington Mills and Chemours, came out and planted hundreds of trees and shrubs on just the first day. On the following day, the Quinton Boy Scouts, Alloway Daisy Girl Scouts, Salem County 4-H Club, and the Adventure Aquarium’s Community & Urban Science Enrichment Program (CAUSE) came out to finish planting the remaining trees and shrubs.

The project is a part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (http://www.drwi.net/), a multi-state effort designed to improve water quality and quantity throughout the watershed. In support of the DRWI, at this Volunteers plant over 1,320 trees and shrubssame site in Salem County, earlier this year warm season grasses were installed between the field and the wetlands and pollinator habitat was planted along the roadside. Like the trees and shrubs, these strips of vegetation will help protect the waterways by catching eroding soil or nutrients that may runoff from the fields.

The work done on this property is supported by Mannington Mills, the local farmer, and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency. Work within the Delaware River Watershed is supported by the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Bald Eagle Saved at Quail Project Site

An injured immature Bald Eagle had luck on its side yesterday, when employees at Pine Island Cranberry Company (PICC) found it on the ground by chance while working to winterize cranberry bogs at their Chatsworth, NJ site.  After placing one of the worker’s jackets over the distressed bird to keep it calm, PICC staff contacted New Jersey Audubon who coincidently happened to be on site yesterday implementing work associated with PC070009the Bobwhite Quail Translocation Project.

Staff from New Jersey Audubon then transported the bird to the Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center in Medford, NJ for evaluation and treatment.

“After an examination by our rehab hospital staff, no obvious major injuries were detected, aside from a little dried blood on its beak.  Externally, the wings, legs and body appeared to be fine and the bird was alert.” said Kathy Cantafio of Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge.  “The bird has been transferred as of this morning to Mercer County Wildlife Center in Lambertville, NJ for additional evaluation and testing.” 

PC070010In the end, one should remember that it was the unconditional caring efforts of many people that came to the aid of this injured bird.  All for nothing more than to do the right thing. The story is a great example of how collaborative efforts, getting involved and taking action can have not just a positive impact in our personal lives, but also for other species that live with us and the world we live in.

We encourage the public to share in our passion for wildlife, expand your conservation vision, get more involved, take action, volunteer, get familiar with conservation initiatives and issues, support our conservation efforts, become a NJ Audubon member, take advantage of our many education and conservation programs and help us make New Jersey a better place for people and wildlife!  For more information on how you can be a part of New Jersey Audubon click here.

NJ Audubon, sends a warm heart filled thank you to the great staff at Pine Island Cranberry Company and the dedicated folks at Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center for their concerned efforts to come to the aid of this special NJ resident and national emblem of our great Country!

Photos by Kathy Cantafio

Snow Geese Arrive At Wattles Stewardship Center

Snow Geese in Corn Stubble in Warren CountyThe first Snow Geese of the season arrived yesterday (November 29, 2016) at the Wattles Stewardship Center in Port Murray, Warren County, NJ.  The ten radiantly white birds stood out, almost regal-like, among a flock of Canada Geese, as they grazed in the corn stubble of a recently harvested farm field along the Musconetcong River. 

For several years now Snow Geese have been descending upon Warren County’s farm fields each winter, particularly around the areas of Merrill Creek Reservoir, the Musconetcong River valley, Lopatcong Creek, and the Alpha Grasslands, thousands of snow geese flying over Wattles Center in 2013choosing to utilize the region as wintering grounds. Sometimes numbers of these geese are in the 10’s of thousands.

For some “non-birder” types, you may not know that “other” geese species, like the Snow Goose visit New Jersey.  According to the official New Jersey Bird Records Committee, eight different species of goose have been sighted in NJ.  They include: Pink-footed Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose, Brant, Barnacle Goose, Cackling Goose and Canada Goose. (To see the official accepted list of not just the goose species but all bird species in NJ see:  http://www.njbrc.net/)

But for the most part, many New Jerseyans are very familiar with only the Canada Goose since this bird can be found throughout the year in New Jersey in every possible landscape available – from backyards to urban parks and corporate lawns to coastal areas, farm fields, rivers, ponds and lakes.  Canada Geese are everywhere, in fact there are so many, that in some areas of the state they have been implicated as the cause for impaired water quality, human health concerns, airline safety issues and severe crop and natural resource damage.  Water quality however has become the biggest issue associated with high goose populations because of there droppings.  A goose can produce up to ¾ of a pound of droppings per day and depending on sizes of local flocks and waterways, environmental impacts can be quite severe, especially if concentrated in an area.  These stressors to water quality from large geese populations include increased nutrient levels and sedimentation and erosion (because of removal of vegetation at the edge of bank on water bodies due to grazing). Goose manure has also been linked to rising E. coli levels in the water, but the most notable ingredient in goose manure is phosphorous.  Excess phosphorus can lead to algae blooms and low oxygen levels in water bodies.

What is fascinating about our resident Canadian Geese is that about 40 years ago, Canada Geese were considered, more or less, only a spring and fall migrant in NJ.  Although some Canadian Geese were purposely released in areas in NJ in the early and mid 1900’s, many wildlife experts believe that with the large expanses of lawn areas created by suburban sprawl and corporate development of the post-1970’s NJ landscape and changes in weather / temperature patterns over the years is what turned NJ into perfect goose habitat and created a situation where Canada Geese became a common winter resident and then transitioned to reside, nest and thrive here year long.   Because of these changes to NJ’s landscape, many Canada Geese no longer need to undergo the risky process of migration when they can stay here year-round and have all of their life-cycle needs met with ease.  According to the most recent available records (2014) the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife has estimated that there are around 75,000 resident Canada Geese in NJ (this does not count migrants that may winter here or pass through).

blue phase snow gooseNow enter the Snow Goose, which is a medium-sized white goose with black wing tips and a pink bill, that nests in the Arctic tundra but is considered a common migrant in NJ and winters here. Snow geese although usually white in color can sometimes have dark plumage which is known as the “Blue Goose”.  This color variant in a Snow Goose creates gray-blue body feathers and a white head (sometimes white belly feathers are also exhibited).  This color phase is controlled by a single gene that makes dark colors partially dominant over white.

In the past, Snow Geese wintered on the salt marshes and farm fields of southern NJ along the Atlantic coast and Delaware Bay shores.  But over the last 20 years or so they have become increasingly common throughout the state in winter, including large flocks spending time on various inland reservoirs, freshwater lakes, agricultural fields and park or corporate lawn areas in Central and North Jersey.

A strong flyer and swimmer, Snow Geese are also strong “long-distance” walkers.  At home in the tundra, Snow Goose goslings have been known to walk up to 50 miles with their parents to look for more suitable rearing areas within the first three weeks of hatching!  In the arctic it is mostly the Snow Goose goslings that have a plethora of predators to contend with, from raptors, gulls and jaegers to bears, wolves and arctic foxes.  Here on their NJ wintering grounds its foxes, coyotes and eagles that are the main predatory concerns for the adults.  However Snow Geese have a defense in which they call out to the rest of the flock when a predator is sighted, whereupon the entire flock takes flight causing a “whiteout” of sorts to confuse the predator from concentrating on attacking a single individual.

Thousands of Snow geese next to Musconetcong River, Warren County, NJ 2008Snow Geese are voracious eaters, with females being noted to forage up to eighteen hours a day.  They are vegetarians that eat grasses, rushes, sedges, forbs, small shrubs and even small willows. Studies show that a Snow Goose will eat almost any part of a plant including its seeds, stems, leaves, tubers and roots.  They do this either by grazing the tops of new growth, shearing off plants flush to the ground or ripping the entire plant from the ground.  They are also known to eat grains, berries and young stems of farm crops (such as winter wheat) in winter and during migration.  As one would expect, with this high fiber diet of plant material, food passes through a Snow Goose’s system in only about an hour or two.  According to research this equates to a Snow Goose generating six to fifteen droppings per hour.  The same study indicates that its defecation rate increases when a Snow Goose is searching for roots with its bill because it inevitably swallows mud.

Because of their insatiable appetite in many areas of the arctic, the increased numbers of snow geese now surpass the ability of the arctic grass/sedge habitat there to support them.  As the more productive forage areas are overgrazed and ruined, snow geese move on to find new areas that most likely are less productive and more prone to being destroyed. This habitat destruction impacts not only the Snow Goose, but other bird and wildlife species that depend on that type of vegetation for breeding, foraging and nesting. Also by overgrazing and removing the ground cover from the arctic soils, the soil is then more exposed and prone to evaporation.  Thus with less moisture in the arctic soils, salinization (salt build-up) takes place in the soil.  With increased salt build up in the arctic soils, scientists have documented numerous native arctic plants not growing back to these areas destroyed by Snow Geese overgrazing.

Thousands of snow geese land in a farm field adjacent to the Musconetcong RiverWhen you consider that Snow Goose numbers have grown quickly since the mid-twentieth century on their nesting grounds (in some cases by a factor of 25), and that they now have caused serious vegetation destruction to their historical nesting grounds (over grazing and denuded soils) causing them to expand their range in search of new suitable breeding/foraging areas and that they learned to exploit human-created food sources along their migration and wintering areas, is it possible that like its cousin, the Canada Goose, it too will ultimately take up permanent residence in the Garden State?  Only time will tell.

Native Tall Warm-Season Grass Field planted at Merrill Creek Reservoir in Lopatcong Creek WatershedA common solution to help deter geese from congregating in and around water bodies is habitat modification.  By reducing low open areas such as lawns and/or maintaining or installing trees, shrubs or tall grasses (such as native warm-season grass) along water bodies, geese are more likely to avoid these areas because the taller vegetation can conceal predators and encumber a goose’s ability to fly for a quick escape.  Not only does maintaining a dense vegetative buffer between a goose's “food” source (i.e. a lawn, crop fields, etc.) and a water body (an escape route) effectively help reduce and/or eliminate large flocks of geese from gathering around water bodies, these buffer areas provide habitat for many other native species of wildlife, as well as, provide water quality benefits by absorbing excess nutrient run-off and help control soil erosion and sedimentation.   NJ Audubon is currently working in the NJ Highlands Region as part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI) to help improve water quality, while also seeking balance for habitat needs for numerous wildlife species.  Through funding from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, 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 free native plant materials (trees, grass, etc.), especially for riparian and wetland restorations. 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 Creek and the Upper Paulin's Kill sub-watersheds) and must exhibit a degree of ecological impairment, this includes impairment linked to geese.  For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org

All photos by John Parke


Fleming, R, Eng, P., Fraser, H. 2001, The Impact of Waterfowl on Water Quality, University of Guelph
Ridgetown, Ontario, Canada

NJDFW 2014-2015 Migratory Bird Season Information and Population report

Unckless, R., Makarewicz, J. 207, The Impact of Nutrient Loading from Canada Geese (Branta
canadensis) on Water Quality, a Mesocosm Approach
, Hydrobiologia (2007) 586:393–401
DOI 10.1007/s10750-007-0712-8

USFWS, US Waterfowl Population Status Report 2016

NJA Wattles Center and Old Farm Preserve Receive Recognition from National Geographic

The New Jersey Audubon Wattles Stewardship Center and the NJA Old Farm Preserve, (both located in Warren County),PB140024 have received recognition by National Geographic as Geotourism destination areas under the Scenic, Wild Delaware River Geotourism Program. The program, lead by National Geographic and the National Parks Conservation Association, identifies places throughout the Delaware River Watershed for their valuable contribution to Geotourism.  Geotourism is a kind of travel that sustains and enhances the unique geographic character of a region by involving a community, benefiting local residents economically, conserving resources, respecting local traditions and culture and supporting integrity of place. All destination areas under the program, approved by National Geographic for the Delaware River Region, are selected because of their commitment to aesthetics, culture, environment, heritage and the well-being of the regions’ residents.

“We are very happy that two of our properties are now part of National Geographic’s Geotourism Program,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of NJA. “The program is a good way to not only inform people of the importance of the region, but hopefully it will help get folks out to experience the beauty of the Delaware River Watershed and also recognize that they too can help protect this magnificent land and the natural resources it provides.”

P8080316Since 2013, NJ Audubon and other groups have been working in the region to protect, enhance and restore areas for water quality and habitat improvements under the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI). The initiative and associated funding was provided by the William Penn Foundation in an effort to bring attention to the significance of the Delaware River Watershed.  The Delaware River Watershed covers more than 13,500-square miles spanning New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Although it comprises only four-tenths of one percent of the total continental U.S., about five percent of our nation’s population—more than 15 million people—rely on the Delaware River watershed for drinking water. Additionally, the watershed supports an array of water-related economic enterprises valued at $25 billion per year, as well as significant habitat.  However, poorly planned development, deforestation, agricultural and stormwater runoff severely threaten the health of the watershed.

For more information on the Scenic, Wild Delaware River Geotourism Program go to DelawareRiver.NatGeotourism.com

If you are a farmer or rural landowner in the Lower Musconetcong River, Upper Paulin’s Kill River and Lopatcong River Sub-Watersheds in the Highlands Region of the Delaware River Watershed contact John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org for more information about the DRWI and to see if you are eligible to receive funds or technical assistance.  For farmers and rural landowners in the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer region of southern NJ please contact Kristen Meistrell at kristen.meistrell@njaudubon.org for DRWI program eligibility and technical assistance.

Photos by John Parke 


NJ Bobwhite Quail Translocation Project Gets Exposure on National Level

University of Delaware graduate research students, Kaili Stevens (MS research assistant) and Philip Coppola (Ph.D. research assistant), who are working with NJ Audubon at the Pine Island Cranberry Bobwhite Quail translocation study site, recently presented project overviews and related studies associated with the project at two national conferences.

In October 2016, Kaili presented information on the study: “Winter Survival and Habitat Selection of Translocated Northern Bobwhite in the Mid-Atlantic” at The Wildlife Society’s 23rd Annual Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. This study, in relation to the overall translocation project initiative, will help identify the viability of translocating bobwhite into northern managed pine systems versus managed agricultural areas, as well as, aid in identifying the effect of pine management on wintering (Oct-March) northern bobwhite survival and habitat use.

LLA_Poster_FINALIn November, Kaili and Phil will be both presenting at the 2016 Longleaf Alliance Biannual Regional Conference in Savannah, Georgia on “Evaluating the Efficacy of Using Translocation to Recover Bobwhite Populations in the New Jersey Pine Barrens”.  

Congratulations to Kaili and Phil, and to our project partners, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, the University of Delaware, Pine Island Cranberry Company and the NJDFW.

For more information on the overall Bobwhite Quail translocation project and how you can help support the project click here

Bobwhite Quail Still Going Strong at Pine Island Cranberry Study Site

While performing mammalian predator abundance surveys at the Pine Island Cranberry Bobwhite Quail Translocation Study Site this past week, John Parke of NJ Audubon joined University of Delaware Quail Project Researcher Kaili Stevens to assist with macrohabitat vegetation surveys and also got to tag along on radio telemetry tracking.

Currently, the Northern Bobwhite Quail are beginning to group together into coveys at the study site. However, during telemetry work, an exciting pine snake in Pine barrens with cone (PARKE)discovery took place. Quail without radio collars were observed with collared birds released this past Spring, indicating we still have surviving individuals from 2015 and/or some nests and hatchlings went undetected during this year’s breeding season!   (Note: of the 13 active nests we did find in 2016, all eggs were eaten by Northern Pine Snakes (this was confirmed with the use of trail cameras on the nests – also note that the Northern Pine Snake is a NJ State Threatened species that also benefits from the quality habitat produced by the active forest management at the site).

The methodology used to detect these additional uncollared birds is to first locate a collared bird via radio telemetry and then use a dog to flush it. Since Bobwhite are forming coveys at this time, any additional birds gathered round a collared bird would also flush. “Pointing and flushing dogs are valuable to wildlife scientists as tools for detecting abundance, different sex and age classes of various birds (e.g., Wight 1930, Bergerud and Mercer 1966, Ratti et al. 1984, Jamieson 1985, Hines 1986, Stinnett and Klebenow 1986). By reducing human biases and increasing sample sizes, dogs (Canis familiaris) can improve the quality of research (Zwickel 1980).”

quail in grass (Parke)With the help of Kaili’s Springer Spaniel, “Watson”, quail are flushed after a collared bird is located and then the observers are able to get a count of individuals in the covey. (click here for link to video). Last week alone, 9 additional uncollared Bobwhite quail were confirmed with collared individuals on site!   

To see a video of a Bobwhite covey being flushed on October 14, 2016 at the Pine Island Cranberry study site by researchers click here.

“This is very exciting and encouraging to find these additional birds,” said John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “Finding these uncollared Bobwhite on the study site is a testament to how active management and stewardship to produce quality habitat is ultimately the key to species recovery.”

Telemetry work, surveys and counts of the Bobwhite Quail will continue at the study site through the fall and into the winter; preparations are also underway for the 2017 release.

All photos and video by John Parke


BERGERUD, A. T., AND W. E. MERCER. 1966. Census of the willow ptarmigan in Newfoundland. J. Wildl. Manage. 30:101-113.

HINES, J. E. 1986. Social organization, movements, and home ranges of blue grouse in fall and winter. Wilson Bull. 98:419-432.

H.M. WIGHT, 1930. Michigan's game dog. Am. For. 36:620-623, 637.

JAMIESON, I. G. 1985. Behavior of yearling male blue grouse and its relation to delayed breeding. Wilson Bull. 97:71-77.

RATTI, J. T., D. L. MACKEY, AND J. R. ALLDREDGE. 1984. Analysis of spruce grouse habitat in north-central Washington. J. Wildl. Manage. 48:1188-1196

STINNETF, D. P., AND D. A. KLEBENOW. 1986. Habitat use of irrigated lands by California quail in Nevada. J. Wildl. Manage. 50:368

ZWICKEL, F. C. 1980. Use of dogs in wildlife biology. Pages 531-536 in S. D. Schemnitz, ed. Wildlife management techniques manual. Fourth ed. The Wildl. Soc., Inc., Washington, D.C. 686pp.

Stewardship Staff Join NRCS Partners in Training

The New Jersey Audubon Stewardship South team headed North earlier this month to participate in a two-day partners training held by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, created originally as the Soil Erosion Service (SES) in 1933. The SES was formed with temporary funding to address soil erosion by providing practical information on how to protect the land, and expanding important research to find these answers.

View from the top; Terraceland Farm.Less than a year after the formation of the SES, the Dust Bowl brought suspended dust particles from the Midwest all the way to Washington, D.C. With soil clouding out the sun on capitol hill, founder Hugh Hammond Bennett had the perfect case to appeal for long term funding. NRCS has since grown to a nationwide federal agency with field offices in all 50 states and 8 US territories. They are the go-to technical assistance agency for agricultural producers and private landowners interested in employing conservation practices and as an agency allocate millions of dollars in financial assistance every year.

NRCS’ partners training brought together organization, agencies and private entities from all over our great state. Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, Cape-Atlantic Soil Conservation District, US Fish and Wildlife Service, NJ Department of Agriculture, Trout Unlimited, Northeast Organic Farming Association and NJ Resource Conservation and Development were just a handful of those in attendance. The first day of classroom training covered topics including the history of NRCS and its roots as the SES, land use classifications, tips on preparing for site visits, and NRCS’s nine step planning process. This information has already proven very useful in the way NJA Stewardship staff plan for visiting private property to advise landowners, which we do often.

The second component was field training at Terraceland Farm in Hunterdon County. This property is a shining example of the collaboration needed to create a successful, cohesive conservation plan. We spent the day touring the site and meeting with NRCS staff members who all played a different role in the planning process. State Soil Scientists outlined the soil types in the region and demonstrated how to classify each horizon in a soil pit from identifying different properties to using a Munsell soil guide. NRCS engineered water management holding area for stormwater runoff through a concrete feed lot.

The State Agronomist defined erosion issues that presented themselves on the crop fields, and how they were remedied with terracing on this parcel with a 17% slope. To us South Jersey folks, this was perhaps the most striking. Working in a region of primarily flat land, we don’t inherently have to consider the issues arising from a field with such a steep slope. At the base of each terrace was a diversion, redirecting runoff from cascading down crop fields and taking sediment along with it. This property could have looked very different if these practices were not employed to protect the soil!

In addition to correcting erosion issues, NRCS Engineers addressed manure storage in an innovative way by separating clean rainwater and redirecting contaminated runoff from a concrete feed lot. By utilizing underground systems, Terraceland Farms can now move their “dirty” water into a crop field to infiltrate through the ground, thereby cleaning the water before it reenters the water table. Essentially they have created a septic leach field to help deal with animal waste. The farmer gained technical assistance with the beginning of the animal waste process as well, working with grazing specialists to score pasture conditions and devise a plan to ensure a healthy, balanced diet for his livestock.

Clean water lake on Terraceland Farm. Clean stormwater is diverted hereState biologists emphasized the importance of unifying wildlife conservation with the producer’s objectives. Considering the potential impacts of planned practices on the plants and animals of the area is never overlooked, and is something that we at Audubon are passionate about. By utilizing spatial data, visiting the site and asking the right questions, you can learn a lot about the wildlife in the area and the farmer and or the landowner’s interest in implementing different conservation practices. Having this knowledge can better align project goals and can warrant tweaking the plan to allow for more habitat in some situations.  NJA Southern Stewardship Staff. Brittany Dobrzynski, Wills Hassler, Trisha Pitcher and Kristen Meistrell.

New Jersey Audubon staff came away from this training with new knowledge and practical skills for working with landowners and farmers, and a fully charged morale for putting more conservation practices on the ground. We would like to thank NRCS and participating partners for organizing and attending this training. It was very helpful to see the collaboration and consider all of the discussions that have gone into making this farm a showcase for conservation. 

We have gained new skills that will benefit us in working on NJA’s Healthy Land and Waters Grants, an initiative in the Delaware River Watershed that works closely with NRCS to provide additional technical and financial assistance to farmers and producers in southern New Jersey. We are now better equipped to work with our partners to the full extent and to consider all these aspects of planning. Together we strive to reduce water use, protect water quality, and reduce soil loss on agricultural lands, all while improving habitat and safeguarding wildlife and natural resources. For more information please contact Brittany Dobrzynski at 609-400-3826 or Brittany.dobrzynski@njaudubon.org.

By: Brittany Dobrzynski

Tales from the Tech

Hello All,  

Wills Hassler in the field!I am excited to be writing my first blog of the season! I’m Wills, the new summer/fall seasonal land steward with New Jersey Audubon. I have the exciting opportunity to work at several different private and public lands throughout Southern New Jersey, making my job extremely variable given the day and what’s on the agenda.

The first site I will be talking about is New Jersey Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May (the Nature Center), which is, in my personal opinion, a hidden gem. The Nature Center is located in New Jersey’s southernmost beach community on Delaware Avenue, just up the road from the U.S. Coast Guard base. It sits on Cape May Harbor, and is only minutes from all of the excitement of the boardwalk, arcades, and restaurants in Cape May City and Wildwood. If you find yourself East of Lafayette Street, I would recommend stopping into The Nature Center to walk around the trails, check out the visitor’s center and backyard habitat gardens, and take in the views from the 2nd story observation deck, to take in Cape May’s natural beauty.

Wildflowers at the Nature Center of Cape MayThe Nature Center was the site of my inaugural day with New Jersey Audubon. Upon arrival, I met Gretchen Whitman, the director, and her fantastic group of staff and volunteers. I surveyed the property with Trisha Pitcher, a Stewardship Technician for New Jersey Audubon. Trisha heads the restoration project taking place at the Nature Center, and works on projects eradicating non-native invasive plant species throughout southern New Jersey. Returning to the mid-Atlantic after four years at school in Florida, I was new to invasive plant removal and some of the plant species growing in the region. I realized immediately that there were some plants that seemed more prevalent than others on the landscape. Unfortunately, these were the non-native invasive species. It was apparent by their large numbers and habits of growing over and choking out native vegetation that they had to go.Insects on milkweed

Habitat restoration and ecosystem health will continue to be the major goal that we hope to achieve at the Nature Center. A list of the invasive plant species that run rampant in Cape May include porcelain berry, common reed (Phragmites), English ivy, mimosa tree, Japanese honeysuckle, weeping love grass, and autumn olive. Both Trisha and I spent countless hours wrestling through vine-ridden terrain, not uncommonly falling trap to thorns, and even worse - ticks. What is that they say, “It’s not a good hard day’s work if you didn’t give it your blood, sweat, and tears?” I think it’s safe to say that I had all of that! Ok… maybe not the tears part, but it is a dirty job. Wills removes invasive vines from the Nature Center of Cape May

After two months of hard intensive labor, dense covered brush gave way to more open areas. Native trees and shrubs, such as sassafras and oak that had once been covered completely by porcelain berry have finally become visible. Milkweed could be seen in sections that were primarily Phragmites and mugwort. It even seemed as though the birds were starting to forage more throughout the restored areas, meaning more resources have already become available. The process was not short, but it was well worth seeing our progress.

Stay tuned for more!

Till next time,


Restoring Land for New Jersey’s Rarest Turtle

Bog TurtleNew Jersey Audubon’s Stewardship staff have been working with the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to improve wetland habitat for New Jersey’s rarest turtle. The bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) is a small (4 inches in length), secretive reptile that inhabits open, mucky freshwater wetlands throughout the state, but its population has declined in recent decades.

As a federally threatened, state endangered species, the bog turtle and its specific habitat needs have been getting quite a bit of attention. In amongst the vast acres of cropland and pastureland in Salem County resides a bog turtle population nestled within a small, open wetland. Although these turtles have persisted here for quite some time, NJ Audubon and NJ DFW’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) have been working tirelessly to learn more about this population in order toKristen Meistrell, NJA, tracks bogs turtles enhance and improve their habitat.

This year, May and June were very busy times for both the staff and the turtles. The beginning of the active season started with survey efforts to locate turtles and outfit them with radio transmitters. Despite one survey conducted during a cold (~50F) rainy day, these efforts turned up one new adult female, as well as a few old friends (two female turtles and two male turtles). Because of these efforts, the total head count of marked turtles reached ten – a seemingly small number, but a huge feat for a species that is slow to reproduce, lives for decades, and can be very difficult to find.

The end of May proved to be just as exciting as the beginning of the month for this population. After a long Memorial Day Weekend, staff from NJ Audubon, along with ENSP worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society from the Bronx Zoo to conduct comprehensive health assessments for individual bog Wildlife Conservation Society staff preps samples in the fieldturtles. The veterinarian team took each turtles’ weight and measurements, along with a few swabs of the mouth and a blood sample. These samples will then go back to the lab for analysis to determine the presence of certain diseases. The team tests for diseases such as ranavirus, a group of viruses that is most often fatal to amphibians, but is also known to negatively affect reptiles.

As May turned to June, both female bog turtles with radio transmitters were found to be “gravid,” meaning they were carrying eggs. This afforded NJ Audubon and ENSP staff a rare opportunity to follow the turtles to their prefeBog turtles typically select elevated tussocks in sunny spots for nestingrred nesting sites. After countless hours of surveying and observing, the turtles finally nested in mid-June, which provided staff with intriguing and important information that will guide future land management efforts.

On the restoration front, NJ Audubon staff continued to work towards removing Phragmites from parts of the wetland. This invasive reed often out-competes native vegetation and reduces the amount of sun exposure that is so important for turtles to bask, forage, and nest.

This bog turtle habitat restoration project is a part of a multi-partner, long-term effort to improve habitat for both bog turtles and other plant and wildlife species. Funding for this project has been graciously provided by US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, and Atlantic City Electric.

By Kristen Meistrell

Photos by Kristen Meistrell and Brittany Dobrzynski