WRP Conservation Success
New Jersey Conservation Success through the Wetlands Reserve Program
New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) purchased the 9,400-acre Franklin Parker Preserve in 2004 to protect its unusual concentration of resources, which include rare plant and animal species, pristine streams, and wilderness forest. In the midst of five major State land-holdings totaling over 200,000 acres, the Preserve is an important open space connection, providing trail linkages and passive recreation. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has supported the purchase of the Preserve and holds a partial ownership interest.
NJCF has partnered with the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to protect and restore 2200 acres of wetland habitat through the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). Formerly one of New Jersey’s largest cranberry farms, the Preserve contains 1100 acres of wetland agricultural fields and miles of canals and dikes. This water control system has transformed natural wetlands into highly modified agricultural environments, which cannot revert to native wetland communities on their own – altered water flow and compacted and leveled soil must first be repaired.
Through the Wetlands Reserve Program, NRCS has purchased an easement on the Preserve for $4.4 million that forever protects the land for conservation purposes. NRCS will also provide financial and technical assistance in the amount of $1 million to restore the disturbed wetland habitats. Canals will be plugged and dikes will be breached to allow the water table to once again fluctuate on a natural cycle rather than one dictated by agriculture. Native plants will recolonize from nearby habitats and germinate from seeds that have lain dormant for decades.
In some cases, NJCF and NRCS may augment natural revegetation. Current plans call for 150 acres of Atlantic White Cedar reforestation. An increasingly rare Pine Barrens community, less than 20% of historic Atlantic White Cedar forests remain. Natural regeneration of cedar trees is unlikely due to poor germination and heavy deer browsing.
The Wetlands Reserve Program is a voluntary program offering landowners the opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service goal is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled in the program.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bog turtle as a threatened species in 1997, citing habitat loss as the primary factor behind its decline. Prior to wetland protection laws being enacted in NJ, bog habitats were drained and filled for agriculture or development. Today bog turtle wetlands are generally protected from primary impacts, but still continue to be lost by changes in vegetation, e.g., natural succession and the encroachment by invasive plants. Bog turtle habitats are ephemeral wetlands that require ecological disturbance in the form of grazing, periodic flooding or fire and clearing to maintain conditions conducive for the bog turtles various life histories.
The Conserve Wildlife Foundation (CWF) was one of three organizations in NJ to submit requests for funding under a national call for proposals in May, 2005. The CWF proposal was one of only two selected for funding nationwide. The objective of their project is to restore and maintain bog turtle habitats at two wetland sites in Sussex and Gloucester counties that have been altered by ditching and the colonization of woody vegetation and invasive flora.
The CWF restoration plan for the Sussex County site entails clearing of woody vegetation on 4.5 acres, restoring hydrology through the construction of ditch plugs on 4 drainage ditches and installing 5,000 linear feet of high-tensile fencing for long-term habitat maintenance using livestock grazing.
In Gloucester County, the Foundation proposes to restore the natural flow of groundwater in a heavily modified wetland that is currently used for growing hay. This will be accomplished by installing plugs in the extensive network of drainage ditches onsite and following this up with establishing a native limestone fen plant community.
The Conserve Wildlife Foundation will be awarded $43,350 over a three year period to complete this work. The project began in October 2005.
May, 2005 - Kurt Munkacsi and Nancy Jeffries are committed to wetland restoration and wildlife habitat on their farm in the Pinelands of Burlington County, New Jersey. They are so committed in fact that selling a 40-acre easement to USDA under the Wetlands Reserve Program, restoring wetland habitat on 20 acres of blueberry fields, and constructing two ponds was not enough! They recently undertook additional wetland restoration enhancements on the farm. The 2005 enhancements include new vernal pools, new macrotopography work and new native plantings for wildlife.
Kurt and Nancy work in the music business in New York City. They are enthusiastic about the wetland restoration and wildlife habitat on their farm. Kurt regularly walks the fields, wetlands and woodlands in search of local wildlife. Since the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) project began, he has observed several state threatened or endangered species including the Pine Barrens tree frog and the Northern pine snake. Recent wetland enhancements should provide more opportunities to view the rare amphibians and reptiles of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
As seen in the photo above, flooded blueberry plants are beginning to give way to native pitch pine, Atlantic white cedar, red maple and black gum trees soon after wetland hydrology has been restored. The vernal pool at the Munkacsi–Jeffries property seen here on the right is surrounded by native volunteer wetland vegetation two years after construction. The site was a former blueberry farm bisected by drainage ditches which were plugged to restore hydrology.
New wetland construction was completed in the winter of 2004 to restore an old stream channel where a straight drainage ditch was constructed over 100 years ago. This site will be fully flooded in late spring 2005.
The photo at left shows an area of hydric soils, drained for hay and pasture production, that was restored to an emergent wetland by constructing a low berm and installing a water control structure. This Morris County site will provide habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, reptiles and amphibians native to the area.
Through the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), the Natural Resources Conservation Service provided assistance to convert the out-of-use pasture to wetlands. More...
Other Farm Bill Programs are producing conservation success stories in New Jersey!