As a 501c(3) organization dedicated to community needs through conservation, the North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council understands the need for diverse habitats on the landscape as proposed by the New Jersey Audubon in the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Forest Stewardship Plan. The RC&D works to promote sound natural resource stewardship as a means to enhance the ecology and economy of Northern New Jersey. In the Eastern United States (particularly the Northeast), immense areas of forest cover are mid-seral (60-99 years old). Species of all taxa associated with early successional habitats (young forests, scrublands and grasslands) are experiencing declines in population and range. Dozens of bird species once thought to be “old-growth” forest obligates are now found to require access to early successional vegetation for some part of their life cycle whether it be nesting or brood-rearing.
RC&D supports science-based forestry initiatives that use active management to create the vertical structure diversity necessary to increase species abundance in New Jersey’s forests. The plan incorporates several years of research and strategies to address needs of various stakeholders and was created under a framework where public input was encouraged. The plan relies on standard forestry practices used nation-wide to classify and monitor stands of trees for age class, basal area, species composition and more.
The forest stewardship plan addresses the critical issue of declining young forest habitat through the creation of early successional habitat patches over the next decade, and will play a positive role in the influence of long-term health of the forest and inclusive ecosystem. The plan will utilize less than 10% of the acreage at Sparta Mountain WMA, and will bring a balance of forest succession throughout the property. Additionally, the plan aims to protect natural hydrologic resources, monitor priority wildlife populations, provide improved recreational opportunities, and adhere to stringent third-party criteria and standards. Currently many species of native mammals, reptiles, amphibians and resident/migratory bird populations that depend on early successional habitat are struggling as the surrounding woodland has matured.
The NJRC&D supports the core values of the New Jersey Audubon’s Forest Stewardship Plan, however there are certain contingencies to that support in relation to how the actions themselves are performed. One such criterion that is highly recommended is that the selected project harvest sites be clearly pre-determined and not deviate from those specific areas once in the implementation phase. The plan is also supported on the basis that these pre-determined sites have been adequately plotted, marked and researched by the New Jersey Audubon for adequate understanding of soil composition and previous landslide risk assessment. These data are critical for understanding some of the inherent risk of the project, in consideration of the history of the piece of property, and determining the suitability of the designated project areas in comparison to other potential harvest sites.
Brown silty sand comprises the majority of the soil base on the Sparta WMA, and is highly susceptible to landslide events based on its loose composition, and past historical data. The relatively thin layer of silty sand exists on top of a level of bedrock, with the majority of the root mass being found close to the surface. The risk of this top layer of soil and root tearing away from the bedrock is cause for possible landslide events, and needs to be carefully monitored in all phases of the project. Past landslide events have been documented in the area surrounding the Sparta Mountain WMA and were quite severe in nature.
In August 2000, after four days of heavy rainfall totaling more than 15 inches, a significant landslide event occurred near a new residential area being constructed off Route 517 (Glen Road). Although landslides do occasionally occur on the coastal bluffs of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, the glacial soils of the New Jersey Highlands make such an event uncommon, particularly of this magnitude. Despite this fact, the volume of the event was significant, with an estimated 22,000 cubic feet of material from the event being dispersed up to 1,500 feet. Through investigation into this event, rainfall and geotechnical data of the area were determined to be triggering mechanisms. Extreme pore pressure as a result of the rainfall event caused an abrupt change in the permeability between the two differing soil strata, causing catastrophic slope failure. Certainly, the risk of a similar event occurring on the proposed project property is relevant, especially when considering the grade of much of the property on Sparta Mountain WMA. Each of the proposed individual sites within the property should be monitored before, during, and after the completion of construction activities to remain cautious of a similar event, and should be integrated into the Forest Stewardship Plan.
Throughout the northeast region, early successional habitat has become scarce for a variety of reasons. Forested land has been rapidly transformed into developed communities, and abandoned farmland has since succeeded into mature woodland. Without young forest habitat, many species of wildlife that utilize it lose their ability to find food, cover for nesting/brood-rearing, and protection from predators. As a result, the species that rely on this early successional habitat of young forest, such as the Ruffed Grouse, American Woodcock and Golden-winged Warbler, also decline in population. So-called “old growth” forests can be both aesthetically and emotionally pleasing, however they very often do not meet the habitat needs of a wide range of wildlife species.
The forest stewardship plan was created to meet the needs of wildlife in the Highlands Region, while ensuring that overall forest health and diversity are improved. Many aspects of the ecosystem and community were taken into consideration in the creation of the plan, inclusive of keystone water resources of Sparta Mountain, wildlife habitat needs, a means to increase recreational opportunities, and connections to the community. All the while, the goal of maintaining a vigorous forest remains at the forefront. The plan has undergone an extensive review by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and has both encouraged and taken into account the input of third-party certification, inclusive of stakeholders and community members.
The North Jersey RC&D encourages the adoption of the Sparta Mountain WMA Forest Stewardship Plan by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The plan stands to promote a healthy forest structure, a diverse ecosystem, and increase early successional habitat abundance for a wide range of native species in the Highland Region. Recognizing that all priorities often cannot be met on a single property, managers should strive to create a mosaic of habitats to support as many species on the landscape as possible.