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An Introduction to the Plant Stewardship Index for Land Managers

January 23rd, 2013. 10:00 am – 12:00 pm. FREE

In case of severe winter weather, snowdate is January 30th, same time.

The Plant Stewardship Index is a crucial tool designed for land managers to monitor, assess, and communicate the health of wild plant communities and the success of stewardship and restoration initiatives.

In this free class, we’ll introduce the basics behind the Plant Stewardship Index and discuss its use in comparing the natural values of different sites and for assessing change over time.

Topics will include use of the free online PSI Calculator, using PSI metrics to communicate the integrity of wild plant communities, plant survey basics, and designing more advanced surveys using transects and quadrats.

The class will be given by Jared Rosenbaum, Plant Stewardship Index Coordinator at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve.

Location: The Classroom at the Duke Farms Orientation Center, 1112 Duke Parkway West in Hillsborough, N.J.

To Register: Call Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve at (215) 862-2924 or e-mail rosenbaum@bhwp.org by January 21st, 2013.

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Jonathan Woods, Denville, NJ after Superstorm Sandy.

Superstorm Sandy changed many forests throughout New Jersey.  The way these forests recover can provide insight into how forests regrow given the unique conservation threats we face; how will overabundant white-tailed deer, non-native invasive species, air pollution deposition, and climate change affect forest regeneration?  Answering these questions will be critical if we are to move forward in a thoughtful and scientific way with active management of our natural resources.

Blowdown from Superstorm Sandy at India Brook Park, Mendham, NJ

Blowdown from Superstorm Sandy at India Brook Park, Mendham, NJ

The focus of the next Stewardship Roundtable meeting will be to discuss these issues and determine what we may be able to do to monitor forest recovery after Sandy.  Given this unprecedented opportunity, what questions can we begin to answer? With limited stewardship resources, can we develop a monitoring program that answers our questions and is low cost and consistent across sites?

The meeting will be on Monday, January 14 2013 from 10AM to 12:30AM at NJ Audubon’s Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary.  We will first meet indoors to broadly discuss this topic and then we will visit a nearby blowdown.

Emile DeVito asked that we post this to the stewardship roundtable.  A pdf version of the signed letter can be found by clicking here.   Feel free to comment!

July 2, 2012

Mr. Richard Boornazian
Assistant Commissioner for Natural Resources
Department of Environmental Protection
401 East State Street
P.O. Box 402
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0402

Dear Rich:

You had asked Michele Byers if I would forward my thoughts regarding habitat restoration at Bull’s Island.

I would like to preface my comments by placing the Bull’s Island project in context. New Jersey Conservation Foundation has been advocating for protection of the Delaware River and its island habitats for decades, and has been helping state, county, and municipal governments acquire and protect many of them, from Petty’s Island near Camden, to Burlington and Bordentown Islands near Trenton, to the many islands in Hunterdon County. These Delaware River islands have had all sorts of varied uses over the last few centuries, but now many are forested and contain important migratory bird habitats. The forest at Bull’s Island is the most ecologically significant of any of the Delaware River islands, and it is also one of a handful of sites in all of New Jersey where old-growth characteristics are present in the forest. Finally, it is a unique breeding location for two rare warbler populations.

My conclusions are derived from 33 years of experience in examining and measuring forest structure in floodplain forests along major rivers from the Raritan and Delaware River in New Jersey to the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers in Wisconsin:

  •  If clear-cut, restoration in any of the relatively flat portion of the floodplain forest at Bull’s Island will almost certainly fail. Once the camping facilities are removed, the forest area should be added to the Bull’s Island Natural Area.
  • Low-cost restoration can be attempted along a few of the severely eroding or bare riverbanks, especially at the D&R Canal inlet, but even in these places the intensity of the floods is likely to render any restoration work moot.

The basis for my conclusions is as follows:

Habitat restoration can only be considered in the context of a full ecological understanding of habitat life history and the physiognomy of floodplain forests. The floodplain in the northern portion of Bull’s Island State Park is a unique natural feature, being one of the few places left anywhere in New Jersey where a mature forest is expressing old-growth ecological attributes. The ecology of a mature floodplain forest on sand and gravel levees, like at Bull’s Island along a major river in the northeastern US, is controlled by 2 kinds of natural floods:

  • yearly spring floods that are somewhat predictable in scope and frequency based on snowmelt, and often contain damaging ice floes.
  • random floods from extreme storm events that can be incredibly violent and even create new sand and gravel levees and change the shape of floodplain islands.

On occasion, a few years without a scouring flood will allow for the establishment of forest trees, whose roots reach down through the sand and gravel of the levee into the water table of the river. Although the brief periods of quiet, stable soil conditions that allow for the establishment of forest are infrequent, once established these forests grow quickly since their deep roots have access to the water table. Individuals of these species can persist for long periods of time, as they either have the ability to send up multiple sprouts to recover from flood damage, and/or buttressed trunks that are resistant to toppling.

The tree species that are the most tolerant of deep flooding and periods of anoxic conditions, scouring and/or deposition of soil, and extended drought at and near the soil surface are those that form the canopy at Bull’s Island today, especially American sycamore, silver maple, hackberry, and other typical floodplain species. The forest is characterized by widely-scattered giant trees with very wide crowns, numerous herbaceous perennial and annual species like smartweed and jewelweed, but a relative scarcity of true woody shrubs, since short, shallow-rooted woody species cannot resist scouring floods and ice floes. Box elder, a smaller, multi-stemmed tree, is the only common woody plant that persists low in the flood damage zone, as it can tolerate incredible damage near ground level.

Vines replace low-growing, woody shrubs and small trees in the floodplain ecosystem, as flooding is the dominant influence on the architecture of the floodplain forest. Floods scour away woody shrubs and tree seedlings, but typically vine species may successfully reach a supporting tree where they sometimes persist through a scouring flood and become established. The giant, deep-rooted floodplain-adapted trees with wide canopies and multiple trunks host many species of vines; in fact most tree species with exfoliating bark worldwide, like the American sycamore at Bull’s Island, are floodplain species. The exfoliating bark trait is thought to be an evolutionary response to resist colonization by vine species.

As discussed on page 152 of “The Vegetation of New Jersey” (Robichaud & Buell, 1973), the mature, old-growth characteristics on display in the Bull’s Island forest have been held in special regard for decades. Rare birds that require the high, mature riparian canopy breed there (albilora race of the Yellow-Throated Warbler, extremely rare in the northeast and a disjunct, evolutionarily-important population, and the declining Cerulean Warbler). As a result of the unique forest structure and species assemblage, the southern half of Bull’s Island was designated as a state Natural Area. Had the public campground not pre-dated the New Jersey Natural Areas System designation, it is likely that the northern section of Bull’s Island would have also been designated a natural area.

Now that the campground will be removed, the asphalt roadways should also be removed and allowed to proceed through natural succession. The northern portion of the island should be added to the Bull’s Island Natural Area. Hiking can easily be accommodated along the adjacent D&R Canal Towpath, and if camping is in demand, many new state park acquisitions in the immediate area can be utilized in safety, outside of the Delaware River floodplain.
We do not support the removal of the mature forest at Bull’s Island. We do not believe that any restoration plan for the island has a reasonable or decent chance of success. As described above, floods will dictate what happens at Bull’s Island, and restoration efforts will be futile. Plantings cannot be protected from deer, as any attempt at fencing will be destroyed by floods. The droughty sand and gravel soils will make successful establishment of plantings highly unlikely, as there are extended droughts and heat waves every summer. Deep raging floods will likely scour away any plantings before they are established.

Inexpensive attempts at stabilizing the eroding riverbanks at Bull’s Island, especially at the inlet of the D&R Canal, could be considered. Since repeated severe floods limit the chance for any restoration success, the re-establishment of vegetation on steep banks must be low cost. Along the steep banks of the D&R Canal, shoots of native willows (genus Salix) could be inserted in an attempt to stop soil erosion. With luck, a window of time might pass and allow the willows to establish. Eventually, if a fairly stable willow thicket were to form, plenty of sun could still filter through the narrow leaf blades of the willows, providing appropriate habitat for the native trees at Bull’s Island to colonize the riverbanks. This process would mimic the natural ecological succession that takes place when sand and gravel islands are either swept clean or form anew in raging rivers like the Delaware.

The existing forest at Bull’s Island is the best possible habitat for protecting significant rare elements of our native New Jersey biodiversity, keeping the dynamic island as stable as possible, resisting erosion and sedimentation in the D&R Canal, and regenerating itself naturally with locally-adapted species as gaps form. The forest is mature; a tree will topple occasionally due to the natural stresses of living in a dynamic floodplain, as they have been doing for at least half a century. In 2011, a series of severe storms resulted in high rates of trees falling all over central, western, and northern NJ, creating incredible havoc. In comparison, Bull’s Island fared well, as few large trees fell despite the tumultuous conditions. This is because major floods have been removing trees at a relatively constant rate for decades at Bulls Island. Despite having buried roots and other stresses, the canopy trees at Bull’s Island are well-adapted to the physical stresses of living along a major river floodplain.

Once the campground facilities and asphalt paths are completely removed, except for the access road required for work along the D&R Canal, the remainder of the northern portion of Bull’s Island State Park should be added to the existing Bull’s Island Natural Area.

Thank you for considering our comments regarding Bull’s Island. We would be happy to discuss our conclusions with you further.

Sincerely,

Emile DeVito, Ph.D.

 I attended this course the last time it was offered and it was excellent.   I highly recommend it!

Seats are still available to attend the 

POLLINATOR CONSERVATION PLANNING SHORT COURSE 

Pittstown, New Jersey 

April 27th, 2012

9:00 am to 4:00 pm EDT

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Rutgers University, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are pleased to announce an upcoming Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Course in New Jersey. This full day training will provide you with the latest science-based approaches to reversing the trend of pollinator declines, and will equip you with the recipes necessary to protect and manage habitat for these vital insects.

SPECIFIC TRAINING OBJECTIVES:

  • Identify approaches to increase and enhance pollinator diversity on the land
  • Knowledge of current best management practices that minimize land-use impacts on pollinators
  • Identify bees and distinguish them from other insects
  • Understand the economics of insect-pollinated crops, and the effects of pollinator decline
  • Knowledge of the current Farm Bill pollinator conservation provisions in programs such as WHIP, EQIP, CSP, and CRP
  • Ability to assess pollinator habitat and to identify habitat deficiencies
  • Ability to make recommendations to farmers and land managers that conserve pollinators (including subjects such as tillage, pesticide use, burning, grazing, and cover cropping)
  • Ability to design and implement habitat improvements, such as native plant restoration and nest site enhancements

SHORT COURSE DETAILS:

Location:

Snyder Research & Extension Farm
140 Locust Grove Road

Pittstown, NJ 08867

Date/Time:   

April 27th, 2012    9 am to 4 pm EDT 

Cost:

Thanks to Dr. Rachael Winfree and USDA-NRCS for making this course affordable to the public.

Registration is $45 per person and includes lunch and refreshments.

Registration:

Registration is required for this course. Click here for more information and to register online. For questions, please contact Ashley Minnerath, Pollinator Program Assistant, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, at shortcourses@xerces.org or (855) 232-6639 ext. 102.

For NRCS personnel registration, please contact:

Jolie Goldenetz-Dollar
Pollinator Habitat Restoration Specialist
(609) 465-5901
jolie@xerces.org or

jolie.dollar@nj.usda.gov

Hurry, space is limited!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Course is made possible with the support of a USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) awarded to Dr. Rachael Winfree of Rutgers University. Additional support for this training is provided by the following: USDA Northeast Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education (SARE) program, CS Fund, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Sarah K. de Coizart Article TENTH Perpetual Charitable Trust, Turner Foundation, Whole Systems Foundation, and Xerces Society members.

Special thanks to Cape-Atlantic Conservation District, North Jersey Resource & Development, New Jersey NRCS, Rutgers University, and USDA-NRCS Cape May Plant Materials Center for helping to make this course possible.

Here are two articles that are part of the excellent “Grassroots” series by the Daily Record about conservation issues in New Jersey:

Saving songbirds: Sparta Mountain project an effort to lure golden-winged warblers

GRASSROOTS INTERVIEW: New Jersey forests once a crowded stage for crooning golden wings

What NJ Audubon and the Division of Fish and Wildlife have done is use ecological forestry concepts to create habitat for the imperiled golden winged warbler at Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area.  Although this type of active stewardship activity has the potential to be controversial in New Jersey, collaborating with partners can make all the difference.  Kudos to NJ Audubon and the Division of Fish and Wildlife for this excellent project!

Forest in the NJ Highlands affected by hemlock wooly adelgid

Forest in the NJ Highlands affected by hemlock wooly adelgid

For those interested in the new Forest Stewardship Bill and why I believe land stewards should support it, check out Anthony Mauro’s excellent piece in New Jersey Newsroom.  He writes:

The bills provide a means to facilitate natural processes through forestry practices. These intentional, human-induced activities can initiate the recovery of ecosystem health, integrity, and sustainability. If we are going to continue to prevent Mother Nature from freely using her methods to manage forests it is our obligation to safely and responsibly replicate her formulas.

This article nicely gets at an underlying question that is rarely articulated or discussed among the land conservation community at the policy level – how active of a role should we play in addressing conservation threats and opportunities on state lands? and should one of the tools we use be forestry?

Click here to read the entire article.