East Lake Road Grasslands
The East Lake Road tract is located in Pilesgrove Township and is bounded on its northern side by East Lake and the Salem River. The area is nestled between several Important Bird Areas, including the Mannington Meadows, Cohansey River Corridor, and Oldmans, Raccoon, and Birch Creeks and Pedricktown Important Bird Areas. This area is of critical importance, providing habitat for rare and endangered wildlife while providing a vegetated riparian buffer that protects water and soil quality and supports nesting bald eagles.
This property has a history of mining as well as crop, dairy, and other livestock production. In the early 2000s, the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife added the East Lake Road property to the Salem River Wildlife Management Area, and in 2011 NJ Audubon partnered with the Division to restore early successional grassland habitat. Encroaching woody vegetation was removed from an 85-acre field, and with the help of a local farmer, a 25-acre field is being converted from cool-season pasture grasses to native warm-season grasses. These grass species, including little bluestem, big bluestem, switchgrass, and Indiangrass, offer ideal habitat structure that serves as good breeding and winter cover for game species such as Eastern cottontail and wild turkey, as well as rare songbirds such as the grasshopper sparrow, bobolink, and Eastern meadowlark. The habitat work may also benefit American woodcock as well as bobwhite quail, a species that has seen steep declines throughout much of its range. The open field conditions, proximity to water, and native plant diversity will also attract a variety of amphibian, reptile, and mammal species, as well as invertebrates including native pollinators.
Once the grassland is established, a delayed mowing schedule will allow ground-nesting birds to successfully complete their nesting season and see their chicks fledge. Other management techniques may include periodic control of invasive plants, removal of woody vegetation from the open portions of the fields, light disking to expose soil and set back succession, and creation of shrubby edges for escape cover. These methods can help maintain this area as wildlife-friendly early successional habitat.