Stewardship Blog

Second Year in a Row of Successful Nesting of Wild Northern Bobwhite in New Jersey Pinelands

bobwhite quail nest at Pine Island Cranberry study site 2016 (Phil Coppola)For the second year in a row researchers associated with the Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative, lead by New Jersey Audubon (NJA), have confirmed active Northern Bobwhite quail nests in the New Jersey Pine Barrens!

University of Delaware graduate students, Phillip Coppola and Evan Drake, contracted by NJA, discovered six active nests at the Pine Island Cranberry Bobwhite Quail translocation study site while conducting their Quail Project Researcher Phil Coppola implementing raido telemitry for quail at Pine Island Cranberry Study site(Evan Drake) weekly radio telemetry surveys on the quail.

The nests are surprisingly hard to find,” said Quail Initiative Researcher Evan Drake. “Even when the telemetry equipment leads you right to them, the nests themselves are remarkably well camouflaged.” The nests consisted of a small bowl-shaped depression on the ground covered with grasses and pine needles to form a “dome”. Bobwhite quail lay an average of one egg a day and the average clutch size is between 12-14 eggs. Once all the eggs have been laid, either adult will incubate the nest.

Not only is it very exciting to find these nests, but one nest is occupied by a collared bird from this year’s release that has paired up with an un-collared bird which means that bird is from last year’s offspring,” said Quail Initiative researcher Phil Coppola. “Nesting by individuals that were translocated only months ago reaffirms the effectiveness of this tool for augmenting Bobwhite breeding populations. This is a major step in the overall reintroduction effort for this species here in the New Jersey Pinelands.”

2016 female bobwhite quail with radio transmitter at Pine island cranberry (PARKE)Earlier this year a total eighty one birds, (37 females and 44 males) were release at the Pine Island Cranberry study site by NJ Audubon and initiative partners, Pine Island Cranberry Company, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Delaware. This was the second of three scheduled translocations of wild Bobwhite Quail captured in Georgia by project collaborator, Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, and released at the Pine Island Cranberry study site. In 2015, 80 wild birds were also released on site and through the use of telemetry; researchers were able to confirm 15 nests, 127 eggs laid; and 66 chicks hatched in 2015. Many of which were confirmed to have overwintered at the property and were onsite when the second release of new wild birds occurred.

We were very excited about this second release because the new birds were released into areas that already have Bobwhite from last year’s release, as well as, the young that were born here last year,” said John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “Having those birds successfully nest, raise young that overwintered from last year and are still present and are now mating with the new birds this spring only helps increases the likelihood of survival of the new birds in the wild, as well as, adds genetic diversity to this year’s mating season.” added Parke.

In New Jersey the Northern Bobwhite quail is believed to be functionally extinct with the possibility of some birds stillOne of the Forest Cut areas at the Pine Island Site existing in southwestern NJ. The decline of Bobwhite, not just in New Jersey but across its entire range, is attributed to the shortage of quality habitat. “With the lack of quality habitat being the most important limiting factor for Bobwhite survival, the Pine Island Cranberry study site provides proof that active management is the key to species recovery,” said Jimmy Sloan, Upland Habitat and Wildlife Biologist with NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife. “Recruitment is important to the long term sustainability of a Bobwhite population so these new nests are a great sign that the Bobwhites on the property are thriving and continue to benefit from the forest management being performed on the property,” added Sloan.

The Pine Island Cranberry site in New Jersey was selected to be part of a multi-state initiative to re-establish Northern Bobwhite in the Mid-Atlantic States because of several factors, however it was a State Approved Forest Stewardship Plan outlining long-term management goals and the extent of existing quality habitat already onsite from years of active forestry work, prescribed burning and agricultural best management practices that made it stand out above other sites in the region. As part of the project, New Jersey has the unique focus of releasing (translocation) wild quail to the Pine Island Cranberry Property for study. Other aspects of the multi-state initiative include evaluating methods of raising captive bred wild parent reared quail; however no captive bred quail will be release in the NJ study.

This is great news; if the quail are thriving, then we’re taking care of the land just like we’re supposed to,” said Bill Haines Jr. owner and CEO of Pine Island Cranberry Company. “Thanks to the hard work from NJ Audubon and everyone else involved with this project, we’re seeing some real progress on bringing the Bobwhite quail back to New Jersey, and I couldn’t be more pleased.”

For more on the Quail Project and how you can support the initiative see NJ Audubon's Quail webpage

Photos by Phil Coppola, Evan Drake and John Parke

NJ Audubon CSC member Pfizer Plants Trees to Support Forest Health Initiative

Colleagues from Pfizer, a member of the New Jersey Audubon's Corporate Stewardship Council (CSC), recently volunteered their time – Pfizer empolyee planting native trees at Peapack-gladstone campus (John Parke)working with the New Jersey Audubon (NJA) – to plant several species of native trees including Sugar Maple, White Pine, American Sycamore and Red Oak at Pfizer’s Peapack  campus. These trees are all native to the region and support a multitude of local wildlife species.

Pfizer has been working in support of a forest management plan, written by local professional forestry firm Gracie & Harrigan, since 2014. It is focused on improving the quality, health, diversity and vigor of the local forest. To accomplish this, the plan addresses reducing the quantity and colonization of non-native and invasive plants, as well as improving native plant re-generation. Pfizer and its colleagues are committed to sustainability. Active conservation management, including the native tree planting, is part of a larger environmental sustainability initiative Pfizer is integrating into its business and supplier network.

Black and white warbler“New Jersey’s forests are facing many threats that are outpacing the ecosystem’s natural ability to adapt to them,” said John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “The state of New Jersey’s forests, as shown in numerous scientific reports by the US Forest Service and others, indicates our forests lack diverse age class distribution. This means that because the majority of New Jersey’s forests are the same age, they are more susceptible to disease, pest infestations, invasive species, natural disturbance events, like a hurricane, and are no longer providing habitat for many wildlife species that had previously thrived. Pfizer taking a proactive approach to managing its forest shows their commitment to improving the forest’s future and the wildlife that depends upon it.”

The recent work at the Pfizer campus will provide important habitat to a variety of wildlife including at-risk migratory birds and other species. Work done to date has included large-scale removal of invasive non-native vegetation, timber stand improvement by selective thinning, as well as native tree planting.

All photos by John Parke

New Jersey Audubon’s Wattles Stewardship Center Certified as River-Friendly Farm

The Wattles Stewardship Center, owned and operated by New Jersey Audubon, has been certified as a River-Friendly Farm; recognized for following River Friendly Farm Certification to NJAbest management practices that focus on protecting water quality.

The River-Friendly Farm Certification Program is a voluntary program designed to recognize farms that protect our shared natural resources through responsible land management. River-Friendly Certified Farms have demonstrated a commitment to reduce soil loss, decrease pesticide run-off, and prevent manure and fertilizer pollution by implementing practices such as vegetative stream buffers to slow and absorb water before it reaches waterways, reducing bare soil areas on the farm through use of a cover crop, and managing livestock and reducing their access to ponds and streams.

native warmseason grass buffer planted at Wattles Center adjacent to C1 WaterNestled along the Musconetcong River, the NJ Audubon Wattles Stewardship Center is a 51-acre farm that produces corn, beans, and sunflowers with forested land and a native warm-season grass meadow habitat sprinkled throughout the landscape. “The Wattles property was designed to be a working conservation model farm,” said John Parke, NJ Audubon Stewardship Project Director. “Working with our farmer, Roger Woolf, and the staff of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to utilize a multitude of their conservation programs at the property certainly made it easy to meet the criteria to become a River Friendly Farm,” Parke added. “I highly recommend others in the region take advantage of the free technical assistance and USDA conservation services that are out there and apply for this fine recognition program offered by North Jersey RC&D.”

The cropland at the Wattles Center is farmed by lifetime Warren County resident, Roger Woolf who was very proud to have the property certified after all his hard work stewarding the production land over the years. He said, “We want to maintain soil health. Without good soil we won’t be farming. Healthy soil means healthy plants, healthy streams, and healthy wildlife. [Conservation] is part of the farmer’s job and working with good partners, like NJ Audubon, to achieve shared goals is important.”

For more information on River-Friendly Farm Certification, please contact Kara Hasko at North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development (NJRC&D), (908)852-2576 ext. 126. North Jersey RC&D is seeking more River-Friendly Farm applicants and is available to speak with any interested group or individual about the program.

North Jersey RC&D presented the River Friendly Certified Farm to NJAAs part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, NJRC&D and NJ Audubon are also looking to engage more landowners/farmers for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for conducting conservation practices on their land; in some cases free plant material may be available. For more information please contact NJRC&D at (908) 574-5368 or NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org

Photo: Kara Hasko of North Jersey RC&D presented the River Friendly Certified Farm sign to (From Left to Right): NJA Wattles Staff: Lindsay Gafford, John Parke, Roger Woolf (Farmer), John Cecil, Gylla MacGregor, and Don Donnelly

Conservation Partners Help Improve Your Water Quality in Northern New Jersey

Free native plants and labor were the words of the day last week as New Jersey Audubon (NJA), the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority/Wallkill River Watershed Management Group (SCMUA-WRWMG) and the NJ Youth Corps of Phillipsburg partnered up to work with private landowners in the Highlands region to restore habitat and improve water quality.

With funding associated with the Delaware River Watershed Initiative from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation the groups worked together and planted over 10,000 native plants along streams at farms in the region at no cost to the landowners. 

dark green bulrush“The type of plant we are using is dark green bulrush,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of New Jersey Audubon.  “Not only is the dark green bulrush a native plant that helps prevent soil erosion when planted along the banks of a stream and provides important food and cover for wildlife, but dark green bulrush helps remove phosphorus on the order of 80% from water.”

Excess phosphorus is a major part of nutrient pollution, which according to the US EPA, is “one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems.”  Although, phosphorous is a natural and essential part of ecosystems, too much can pollute the water by leading algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle.  Excess algae can harm water quality by decreasing the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive.  Additionally significant increases of algae in our water can also impact human health, food resources, and thus impact a region’s economy.Youth Corps installtion green bulrush along tributary with NJA and SCUMA (PARKE)

“The restoration work day conducted by NJ Audubon, SCMUA-WRWMG, and the New Jersey Youth Corps successfully created a new chapter for the awesome conservation and stewardship story that continues to grow at farms like the Jorittsma Farm and Summer Solstice Farm in the Delaware River Watershed," said, Nathaniel Sajdak, Watershed Director with the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority /Wallkill River Watershed Management Group. “With NJ Audubon bringing in the NJ Youth Corps as an on-call labor force for the initiative and knowing that the students are trained in the Waders in the Water program and have experience in on-the ground conservation work, it gives us another tool in the toolbox to get the work done efficiently, cost effectively and move the initiative forward,” added Sajdak.

John Parke of NJA working with NJ Youth Corp members on restoration projectNJ Audubon has recently partnered with NJ Youth Corps of Phillipsburg and is providing the Corps with service learning projects in support of the Delaware Watershed Restoration Initiative. These are projects conducted in partnership with landowners and farmers in three sub-watersheds of the Highlands region: the Lower Musconetcong, Lopatcong and Upper Paulin’s Kill. These projects will help the overall watershed initiative, increasing the pace of project implementation in the field, and the projects will also provide Corps members with valuable employment skills.

“Working on farms in the Delaware River region has been challenging,” said NJ Youth Corps Member, Stacy Leisner (Age 21).  “But it means a lot to me, because I’m one of those people that love animals and the environment, and I want to do what I can to make those habitats and the water better. I don’t want to see our environment go down the drain.”

NJ Audubon and SCMUA-WRWMG are looking to engage more landowners for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for conducting conservation practices on their land, 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 Paulin's kill sub-watersheds) and must exhibit a degree of ecological impairment. For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org or SCMUA-WRWMG Watershed Director Nathaniel Sajdak nsajdak@scmua.org.

What is a watershed?  A watershed is an area of land that catches rain and snow and drains or seeps into a marsh, stream, creek, river, lake or groundwater. Homes, farms, forests, wetlands, small towns, big cities and more can make up watersheds.  They come in all shapes and sizes and can vary from millions of acres to a few acres.

Photos by John Parke and Nathaniel Sajdak

World Series of Birding Highlights for the NJA Stewardship Department

Ruffed Grouse in Stokes State Forest WSB 2016The NJA Stewardship Department World Series of Birding team, The Fight'n Femelschlagers, had a great day out in North Jersey racking in 105 species of birds!  Bald Eagle, Eastern Screech Owl, Whip-poor Will, Bobolink, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Spotted Sandpiper, Cerulean Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Prairie Warbler were just some of the species we came across on our trek though different habitat types searching for birds. The highlight by far was a Ruffed Grouse encountered in Stokes State Forest that hung around for 10 minutes while we took photos of it from the car!

Timber Rattlesnake WSB 2016The birding was great, but we also encountered many other species of wildlife throughout the day, such as Porcupine, Timber Rattlesnake, Five-lined Skink, Pickerel Frog, American Toad and Snapping Turtle, which just goes to show how important it is to remember that it’s not just about the birds when we think conservation. Habitat restoration and stewardship of those lands are important for a variety of species. What makes the NJ Stewardship Department so unique in how we get significant meaningful work done is, although our work is grounded in science, the professional staff at the Stewardship Department consider other factors then just a single target species or resource concern. Meaning, impacts for other species and numerous ecological resources, as well as social, cultural and economic factors are looked at and planned for in order to make a project and the resource we are focusing on a sustainable project with lasting results.

The World Series of Birding (WSB) is an important fundraiser for the NJ Audubon Stewardship Department, raising funds vital to support our Department’s conservation work on behalf of declining wildlife species Femelschlagers helping a Snapping Turtle cross the road WSB 2016and habitat in NJ. Please note that your pledge/donation to our team goes directly to funding our Department’s work here at NJ Audubon, specifically for habitat restoration in NJ such as: the Bobwhite Quail reintroduction project in the Pinelands, conservation innovation projects with agricultural producers, sustainable forestry projects throughout the State, native grassland restoration projects, bog turtle habitat restoration projects, snake fungal disease survey projects, Ruffed Grouse restoration and population recovery projects, vegetation management projects for early successional species, water quality and habitat improvement projects in the Highlands and Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer regions, invasive species control projects, the S.A.V.E.™ program and working with NJ farmers and rural landowners to create and restore habitat that also benefits the agricultural community.

The 2016 Fight'n FemelschlagersAlthough the WSB is over, you can still donate to our team at Fight’n Femelschlagers

So what is a Femelschlager?  “Femelschlag”, is a German term for a forest management practice that is designed to emulate natural disturbance patterns and encourage tree species diversity in multiple-age classes, thereby enhancing ecosystem services and complexity. (A lot of our sustainable forestry work for various rare species involves this management practice here in NJ)

On behalf of the New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Department, we thank you for the chance to present this opportunity to support our work for your consideration and please know that every little bit helps!!


We also would like to thank our Team Sponsors:  Ernst Conservation Seeds, Hudson Farm, and South Jersey Gas, as well as to Vortex Optics for the use of your excellent binoculars and scopes!

All photos by John Parke and Lindsay Gafford

NJ Audubon Assisting with Snake Fugal Disease Surveys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by John Parke 


Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative Has Second Release of Wild Quail to the NJ Pinelands

Chatsworth, NJThe Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative, lead by New Jersey Audubon (NJA), had the second of three scheduled releases of wild Northern Bobwhite quail in early April. Eighty-one Northern Bobwhite that were captured in Georgia, by project collaborator Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, were successfully translocated to, and released, at the Pine Island Cranberry study site.John Parke of NJA and Jimmy Sloan of NJDFW release the translocated wild Bobwhites at Pine ISland (Kristen Meistrell)

After receiving health screening testing and attaching leg ID bands and radio-signal transmitting collars to each bird, a total of eighty-one birds, (37 females and 44 males) were released in groups at the Pine Island Cranberry study site by NJ Audubon and initiative partners, Pine Island Cranberry, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Delaware.

We are very excited about this second release of wild Northern Bobwhite. These new quail were released into areas where Northern Bobwhite were released last year, supplementing the newly developing population.” said, John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “Having those birds from last year at the site only increases the likelihood of survival of these new birds in the wild since the new birds will integrate with them and thus be influenced in their cover and foraging choices, nesting area selection and predator avoidance response in their new surroundings. We did not have that luxury last year.” added Parke.

In New Jersey the Northern Bobwhite quail is believed to be functionally extinct with the possibility of some birds still existing in southwestern NJ. As part of the project to restore Northern Bobwhite to NJ, New Jersey Audubon along with project collaborators, Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, and project partners the Pine Island Cranberry Company, Pine Creek Forestry, the University of Delaware, and New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, released 80 wild Northern Bobwhite at the Pine Island Cranberry site last year (2015). Through the use of radio telemetry, University of Delaware graduate students, contracted by NJ Audubon for the project, monitored the birds and were able to confirm 15 nests, 127 eggs laid; and 66 chicks hatched in 2015. The birds were tracked throughout the winter by the students and were confirmed to have over-wintered successfully at the study site. It was noted that the quail were utilizing the young pine regeneration growth areas for cover throughout the entire winter season. These young pine areas were the result of vegetation regeneration in areas that had been harvested previously as part of forest stewardship activities performed by Pine Island Cranberry to improve overall watershed and forest Jimmy Sloan of NJDFW with male Bobwhite for release at Pine Isand Cranberry (JOHN PARKE)health.

With the lack of quality habitat being the most important limiting factor for quail survival, the Pine Island Cranberry study site provides proof that active management is the key to species recovery,” said, Jimmy Sloan, Upland Habitat and Wildlife Biologist with NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife.

The newly released birds, as well as last year’s quail, will be tracked via radio telemetry in the field to determine movements, predation, site fidelity, habitat use and nesting by the graduate students from the University of Delaware. "I have always been rooting for the quail and the overall success of the project, but year one turned out even better than I expected. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with these hearty, little, birds. Last year's juvenile recruitment into this year's breeding season, paired with low site mortality, adds to the support of this project being successful as years progress. The second release of translocated individuals brings another round of excitement for the quail crew here at the University of Delaware. We are eager to see what the birds have to teach us this season," said Kaili Stevens, University of Delaware Researcher on the project.

2016 Quail Release at Pine Island (John Parke)The Pine Island site in New Jersey is part of a multi-state initiative to re-establish Northern Bobwhite in the Mid-Atlantic States. New Jersey will have the unique focus of releasing wild quail (translocation) to the Pine Island Cranberry Property. Other aspects of the multi-state project include testing methods of raising and rearing captive bred parent reared quail in other states participating in the initiative, however no captive bred quail will be release at the NJ study.

We’re pleased with how this project has progressed; the first year went very well. We enjoy working with NJ Audubon and the other partners, and are looking forward to another great year,” said Bill Haines Jr., Owner and CEO of Pine Island Cranberry.

For more on the Quail Project and how you can support the initiative see NJ Audubon's Quail webpage http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionConservation/StewardshipInAction/NorthernBobwhiteRestorationInitiative.aspx

Photos by Kristen Meistrell & John Parke

Lopatcong Watershed Enhanced Through Teamwork and Creative Partnership

With financial support from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, New Jersey Audubon has partnered with the NJ Youth Corps of Phillipsburg to be an “on-call” work force to perform river bank and wetland restoration and other stewardship activities associated with the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI).

IMG_7918The NJ Youth Corps is a year-round program administered by the NJ Department of Labor & Workforce Development that helps young adults (ages 16-25) earn a high school diploma while developing employment skills through community service projects. The New Jersey Youth Corps arranges for each member to participate in Service Learning Projects that provide supervised work situations, allowing Corps members to develop skill sets that will support their future employment. For projects associated with NJ Audubon, the Corps participants are being trained in work skills associated with ecological restoration and environmental science.

Through our outreach and conservation planning in the region, NJ Audubon is providing the Corps with Service Learning projects in support of the Delaware Watershed Restoration Initiative. These are projects conducted in partnership with landowners and farmers in three sub-watersheds of the Highlands region: the Lower Musconetcong, Lopatcong and Upper Paulin’s Kill. These projects will help the overall watershed initiative, increasing the pace of project implementation in the field, and the projects will also provide Corps members with valuable employment skills.

Youth Corps members work in a team or "crew" that is led by an experienced Crew Supervisor. NJ Audubon will train Corp members on the specifics of each project and supply materials to implement the work. Each crew works on a project that benefits the community. NJ Audubon’s Delaware Watershed Restoration Initiative projects are focused on improving water quality and wildlife habitat through riparian restoration work. This includes, native plant plantings and invasive species removal among other activities. This partnership will also support the ongoing stewardship aspect of maintaining the functionality of the restoration, a long-term landowner commitment that can be hard to keep up with. Not only will these projects help the overall watershed initiative and get projects implemented faster in the field, but the projects will provide Corps members with valuable employment skills. Working as a sub-contractor for NJ Audubon provides much needed funding to support the Corps training programs, including Waders in The Water training, all while developing relationships with the public to help provide another level of outreach and education about the DRWI.

“The strong partnership NJ Youth Corps has established with NJ Audubon over the past year has been instrumental in our ability to participate in these types of projects, specifically riparian plantings, which is an essential component of a new training initiative called Waders in the Water – a training program in which students receive classroom instruction on ecological restoration projects, and then get to put them to use in the field,” said NJ Youth Corps of Phillipsburg Director, Michael Muckle. “Furthermore, this partnership dovetails nicely with our designation as a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps – part of a bold national effort to put thousands of America’s young people and veterans to work protecting, restoring and enhancing America’s great outdoors,” added Muckle.IMG_7977

During the week of April 7, 2016, NJ Audubon and NJ Youth Corps complemented two stream bank stabilization projects in the Lopatcong Watershed totaling over 1,331 linear feet of bank (installing over 4,000 live stakes). Specifically, NJ Audubon and the Youth Corp performed soil bioengineering practices, which is the use of plant material to arrest and prevent slope and stream bank failure and erosion. The roots and stems of the plants (in this case native willows and button bush ) serve as structural and mechanical elements in a slope protection system.

0008_live-stake-cross-section-diagram-lgLive cuttings and rooted plants are embedded in the ground in various arrays to serve as soil reinforcements, hydraulic drains and barriers to earth movement. Once established, this living material effectively controls a number of stabilization and erosion control problems by binding the soil with its root system and creating a natural, vegetative cover. Bioengineered sites are self-repairing and have the advantage of blending with natural surroundings. All live bioengineering materials for the project were obtained from Ernst Conservation Seeds.

“NJ Audubon is excited to partner with the NJ Youth Corps. This is a key step in promoting and implementing the goals of the Delaware Watershed Restoration Initiative, engaging another conservation partner in water protection activities while providing education and training to a younger generation that will live and work in the region for years to come,” said John Parke, NJ Audubon Stewardship Project Director. “To have trained Youth Corp members come to a work site with the knowledge and skills needed to do the job and do the job right the first time made for an extremely productive use of time and resources. This ensured we were able to install more plants and in a quicker period of time to meet the planting deadlines,” added Parke. “This service that NJ Youth Corps brings to the NJ Audubon work clearly builds capacity in the region for restorationIMG_7901 and stewardship implementation, and embodies what community outreach, education and sustainability for the initiative in the Highlands is all about.  We are so happy to be working with NJ Youth Corps to make NJ a better place for people and wildlife!”

Check out some of the work on a recent project in this video!

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 Paulin's kill sub-watersheds) and must exhibit a degree of ecological impairment. For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org

Photos by Michael Muckle

Diagram courtesy of Ernst Conservation Seeds

Managing a Meadow with Prescribed Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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






 Written by Brittany Dobrzynski and Jean Lynch

Photographs by Don Freiday





Cooking with Future Farmers

Last week NJA staff came in from a cold and rainy February day to enjoy not one but six hot meals at the Salem County Future Farmers of America (FFA) Jersey Fresh Cook-off! The event was just one of many FFA events taking place nationwide, as chapters across America celebrated National FFA Week with events showcasing the talents of teens planning careers in agriculture. Salem County Career and Technical High School students collected donations of locally sourced ingredients from nearby producers and teamed up with classmates to put their culinary skills to the test. NJA Stewardship Project Director Jean Lynch and Stewardship Specialist Brittany Dobrzynski served on the panel of judges. 

In addition to tasting delicious meals that the teams created on the spot from limited available ingredients, judges enjoyed hearing about the projects the students are working on and received a tour of the new greenhouse, hand-built chicken coop, and vegetable gardens. 

Congratulations to Team 5, who won the competition with their meal of black duck with rice, venison meatballs in tomato sauce, salad dressed with pickle juice vinaigrette, and blueberry smoothies. Each team did a great job coming up with creative and delicious entries. 


In recent months NJ Audubon’s Stewardship staff have begun partnering with the Salem County Chapter of the FFA. In November, FFA members worked hard on an NJA project that is enhancing a riparian buffer with tree plantings at the Salem River Wildlife Management Area. Trees were planted to protect the adjacent Mannington Meadows wetland complex from agricultural and stormwater runoff. Students viewed this opportunity as a great community service project (this state land is open to the public for year-round enjoyment), and they also learned about NJA’s land stewardship initiatives, including stewardship techniques that they can apply on their own properties.

In January, Salem County FFA invited NJA staff to present on Agricultural Best Management Practices. Students learned about several techniques to improve water and soil quality and address resource concerns on their current, future, and neighboring farms. Some of these are traditional practices that had diminished in use, such as the use of winter cover crops. Some, such as grassed waterways to stabilize eroding gullies, or upgraded irrigation equipment to save water, rely on engineering and technological advances. Students have increased their knowledge of specific tools and techniques that support sustainable farming practices and have advocated  these practices to their families and neighbors. Participants learned to look for further technical support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and programs like NJ Audubon’s Kirkwood-Cohansey Small Grants Program, funded by the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

With new research and technology, agriculture is constantly changing. Sharing information about sustainable agricultural practices can lead to benefits such as providing plentiful clean water and reducing our carbon footprint. These kinds of benefits are also advocated with the Jersey Fresh Cook-off. By opting for local ingredients, we support our local economies, reduce the fossil fuels that would have been used shipping foods cross-county and we can appreciate the variety of ingredients we can grow (or fish or hunt) in our own backyards.

NJ Audubon staff  work with a wide variety of landowners throughout the state. We know that the conservation work does not simply stop once a few acres of wildlife habitat are created or enhanced, or when we work with a farmer to test out cover crops. Long after a project is finished, what we hope will remain is an enhanced understanding of the needs of wildlife and natural resources and how those needs can often be integrated into a farm’s operations. Partnering with FFA is an investment with high return value. By working with our future producers we are creating a pathway for sustainable farming practices to become the new norm. By encouraging conservation-minded farming practices and accountability for conserving wildlife habitat, we support a community of land stewards who sow great benefits on the land.


Written by Brittany Dobrzynski
Photos by NJA staff