For the third time in four years, the New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Department has won the prestigious “Firman E. Bear Ecological Excellence Award,” given by the New Jersey Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society in partnership with Pinelands Nursery. The award recognizes excellence in an ecological restoration project that implements unique soil and water conservation practices with innovative habitat enhancements.
In addition, the same project has been awarded the “Excellence Water Resources Award” given by the New Jersey Section of the American Water Resources Association (NJ-AWRA). The Excellence Award recognizes projects that advance water resources research, planning, development, management and education.
New Jersey Audubon’s use of bulrush on the project to address both a water resource concern and a critical habitat concern is a great example of efficient collaborative conservation intervention that is part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, an unprecedented collaboration supported by the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Working together, New Jersey Audubon, the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority/Wallkill River Watershed Management Group (SCMUA-WRWMG) and the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg planted more than 10,000 native plants along a tributary of the Paulin’s Kill River that runs through an active farm pasture in the Delaware River Watershed.
The choice of plants is a careful balance. The plantings must help improve water quality and control soil erosion, but also must be compatible with the needs of native species and their habitats. For example, the use of trees and other woody vegetation, which would typically be used for bank stabilization, are not always compatible with some native species habitats, such as that of the federally-listed bog turtle.
“Trees and other woody vegetation are not always the answer for riparian restorations, you have to consider the habitat needs of the species living there, so for this project the type of plant we used at the site was dark green bulrush,” explained John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of New Jersey Audubon. “Bulrush is a native plant that is commonly found in bog turtle habitat in this region. By planting it along the banks of the stream it not only helps stabilize the stream banks and prevent soil erosion but it also provides important food and cover for wildlife. Although bulrush can be grazed and is not harmful for livestock, it is not preferred by livestock. Thus livestock tend to leave it alone and in doing so, the area that was planted with bulrush allowed the native seed bank to grow naturally which improved biodiversity, habitat and general wetland function on site. Additionally, bulrush naturally removes excess phosphorus from water, through its root system. This use of a plant to remove the excess nutrient pollution is termed phytoremediation.”
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.
“New Jersey Audubon has a long history of doing good ecological work, in partnership with other organizations, that encourages similar projects elsewhere,” added Tom Drewes, retired former State Conservationist of New Jersey for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and coordinator of the Firman award judging. “Our Soil and Water Conservation Society Chapter, in collaboration with Pinelands Nursery, is happy to provide this award in recognition of their accomplishment.”
“Not only did NJ Audubon’s project address phosphorous loading in the bog turtle habitat, which in itself is an important water quality improvement,” says Rebecca Traylor, Secretary of the NJ-AWRA and an award judge, “it exposed young adults to water resources careers and practical science with hands-on experience by engaging the New Jersey Youth Corps. The project truly epitomizes our mission.”
New Jersey Audubon would like to express sincere gratitude and appreciation to the New Jersey chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society and NJ Section of the American Water Resources Association and their respective committees for selecting the project for the awards and their support to encourage science-based conservation practices, programs, and policy.
NJA also would like to thank the project property owner the Joritsma family and the other organizations and agencies, that also played an important role on implementing various conservation practices on the project site to improve water quality and critical habitat for a rare species, they include the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg, the Wallkill River Watershed Management Group, US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and USDA-NRCS. Finally we would like to thank our grant funders the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for their financial support for the project as part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative.”
NJ Audubon is 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 Musconetcong, Lopatcong and the 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 [email protected].
Photos by John Parke