WHIP Conservation Success
Conservation Success in New Jersey through Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP)
Barely a mile from the bustling Route 27 corridor in Somerset County, in central New Jersey there is a place to get away, to view wildlife, wetlands and wildflowers.
Franklin Township has partnered with the USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) to establish native grasses and wildflowers at the Negri-Nepote Preserve along Skillman Lane. Franklin Township purchased the farm about 5 years ago to protect it from the rampant development pressure that has engulfed central New Jersey. The township contacted NRCS about managing wildlife habitat on the former row crop farm under the WHIP. A conservation plan was developed with input from the township and New Jersey Audubon. Audubon acts as a consultant to the township to help with habitat planning and conduct environmental education and birding events on the township lands. The township received cost-sharing for site preparation, seed purchase and planting of seed, and also receives continued cost-sharing to maintain the native grass stands through “delayed mowing” and prescribed burning.
Establishment of native grasses provides high-quality breeding habitat for grassland-nesting birds, a guild of declining species that includes vesper, grasshopper (photo by Bob Devlin, used with permission), and Henslow’s sparrows, eastern meadowlark, bobolink, and upland sandpiper. Under WHIP, grasses can be mown and harvested each year after July 15th, when most grassland-nesting birds have hatched and fledged from their nests. Management may also include mowing portions of each field each year – this increases the vertical diversity of the vegetation, and its habitat value for grassland birds. The wildflower seedings provide pollen and nectar for butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
Drained hydric soils on a portion of the farm were restored to create a two-acre wetland. Old clay drain tiles were located, excavated, broken up and their wetland-draining function of the last 100 years ceased. The resulting seasonal wetlands provide stopover habitat for migratory shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl, as well as habitat for local resident wildlife such as reptiles and amphibians. Cost-sharing was also available for the wetland restoration project through WHIP.
A wildlife observation blind was built adjacent to the wetland by a local Eagle Scout. (photo by Bob Devlin, used with permission) The blind has provided shelter for local wildlife enthusiasts to enjoy the wetland as well as an excellent location for wildlife photographers. A handicapped-accessible trail to the observation blind in under construction. The township has also erected an information kiosk and interpretive signage throughout the site.
Dozens of species of birds have been identified at the restored grasslands and wetlands at the WHIP site including red-shoulder hawk, American kestrel, Northern harrier, American woodcock, green-winged teal and greater yellow-legs to the delight of local birders. The state threatened grasshopper sparrows were observed nesting at Negri-Nepote just one year after seeding the native grasses at the site. New Jersey Audubon has hosted a number of interpretive walks (open to the public) at the site, and these programs are scheduled to continue in the future.
In 2003 when NRCS first visited the site rills and gullies covered the slopes of an eroding soy bean field. Today native grasses, wildflowers and wetland plants cover the 150-acre farm. Local wildlife and local wildlife enthusiasts have found a home at the Negri-Nepote Preserve.
Native Grasses: Providing Forage for New Jersey Livestock
Recently several New Jersey producers with livestock have successfully baled hay from native grasses to feed to their herds. Hay producers have reported high yields of native grass hay, harvested in mid-summer after most grassland wildlife nesting is complete. These have sold as well as traditional hay crops like orchardgrass, timothy and brome grass.
Woody Reid, a grain and hay farmer from Everittstown, Hunterdon County, harvested about 150 bales per acre of native warm season grass hay in early August 2006 from a field seeded in the spring of 2005.
The field was enrolled in the NJ DEP Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Landowner Incentive Program (LIP). Fields enrolled in LIP are seeded down to a wildlife-friendly mixture of native warm season grasses. The fields cannot be harvested until after July 15th each year and at least 20% of the grasses seeded must be left standing over the winter to provide important winter wildlife cover.
Landowners participating in LIP can receive up to 75% of the costs of native grass establishment. They also receive a rental payment each year of the five-year enrollment period while they grow native grasses exclusively and delay harvest until after July 15th.
Mr. Reid noted that the native warm-season grass fields were 5’-6’ tall and he was a little worried about cutting, raking and baling the tall thick stand of native grasses, but he reported that he had no problems. The grasses dried quickly and the hay was sold to local livestock producer Harry Swift in Milford. Most of the 2400 bales have already been fed to Swift’s horses, ponies and the beef animals on his farm. Harry reported that the hay was excellent quality and readily eaten by his livestock.
Len Clifford in Knowlton Township, Warren County, also has experienced harvesting and feeding native grass hay. Len enrolled some of his family’s farm into the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) administered by NRCS in 1999 to convert several old hay fields into more valuable wildlife habitat.
With technical and financial assistance from NRCS, Mr. Clifford seeded several fields to a mixture of indiangrass, big bluestem, little bluestem and switchgrass in the spring of 1999. The grasses were slow to establish due to dry conditions and competition from existing cool season grasses in the fields, but after two years Len was able to harvest round bales from the WHIP fields in August.
He has harvested the fields each year since 2001, and the native grass hay is fed to his cattle herd along with traditional hay crops, such as orchardgrass and bromegrass. Len reports that the cows show no preference for either his traditional hay crops or the native grass hay. All the native grass hay he grows is fed each year.
Mixed stand of native grasses in June, when they first begin to grow aggressively. This stand will provide nesting cover for several species of declining grassland birds during April-May-June and then can be harvested as a valuable hay crop in late July.
Native Grasses: Good for Wildlife - Good for Livestock Forage
Native grasses provide important habitat to grassland wildlife. Several declining species such as grasshopper sparrows, Bobolinks, upland sandpipers, bobwhite quail, and wild ring-necked pheasants thrive in native grasses. Fungi, bacteria and invertebrates found in soil support songbirds, game birds, waterfowl, reptiles, amphibians, and other wildlife that we enjoy also flourish in native grass stands.
Fescues, rye grasses, timothy, orchardgrass, and bluegrass that are among grasses most commonly seen in New Jersey fields are European in origin. They have been growing on our continent for about 350 years, in contrast to native grasses that have been part of New Jersey’s landscape since the last glaciation of our state (for tens of thousands of years).
South of New Jersey in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, native grasses are routinely grown and harvested by forage producers for valuable hay and pasture crops. Farmers there have replaced fescue pastures and hayfields that produce poor quality and low yields of forage with native warm season grasses.
Native warm season grasses are normally ready to be harvested for hay crops in late July when most traditional cool season grass hay fields are over-mature and lacking good quality forage. Most grassland nesting species have completed their nesting activities by late July. The same field that can produce three tons per acre of grass hay in July or August can also produce several nests per acre of rare grassland bird species in May and June!
Native Grasses include:
This document requires Adobe Acrobat.
Native Warm Season Grasses - A Benefit for Wildlife and for Agricultural Producers (220 kb) - brochure explains conservation and business benefits of native grasses. Success through WHIP and cooperative conservation efforts between NRCS and other partners in New Jersey.
Woodlot Improved in Warren County through WHIP
William and Amy DiBartolo contacted NRCS in 2004 about a woodlot they own in Hardwick, Warren County, New Jersey. This woodlot was inundated with a few seriously problematic and aggressive invasive species. Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), a deciduous tree that can add on several feet of growth each year, was penetrating the mature forest. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) were two other aggressive shrubs present on the property. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a biennial herb, covered the forest floor with a carpet of foliage that remained green even throughout the winter months. The DiBartolo’s applied for assistance through the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP).
Developing a WHIP Conservation Plan
The goal of the WHIP project was to selectively remove all of the invasive species on the 13.6 acre property, opening up the forest for proliferation of native species. The recommended control for the shrubs was to cut down all of the saplings and immediately treat the stumps with an herbicide to kill the roots. The recommended control for garlic mustard was to selectively spray the green foliage during the late winter, when garlic mustard is active, but when other early spring ephemerals are not yet emerged. The final component of the project involves a small cool season grass seeding to provide some additional wildlife foraging areas.
Implementing the Plan
In the fall of 2004, the Dibartolo’s cut thousands of trees and shrubs and stacked them in piles throughout sections of the property for chipping and removal. The garlic mustard was sprayed early in the season to catch the emergent seedlings.
One problem that arose was formulating an herbicide to treat the stumps. The herbicide was extremely thin, and trying to get it just on the cut stumps posed a problem. First the landowner tried using spray bottles, but the overspray was hitting foliage of other desirable species in the woodlot. After a lot of trial and error, Bill DiBartolo mixed the herbicide with basal oil, and used paintbrushes to apply the treatment.
Benefits and Outcomes
The DiBartolo’s are very pleased with the success of their project. They were troubled by the invasion of the aggressive invasive species and were concerned about the health of their forest. Both William and Amy immensely enjoyed the brilliant array of native spring herbaceous plants that emerged this year. They are committed to continuing the defense and have committed to patrolling their property for invaders in future seasons.
Left - Pulled garlic mustard plants were bagged and removed from the property.
Right - A lovely treat, this native columbine was tucked away on a rock outcropping. Spring 2005
The response of the woodland was astonishing. This spring there was once again a carpet of green foliage, but this time wild ginger, bloodroot, and native columbine were among the more stunning native plants that bloomed on the property. The removal of Tree-of-Heaven was particularly critical on this property, as the aggressive tree was beginning to choke and shade out other tree seedlings.
The DiBartolo’s have one component of their WHIP grant left to complete. The cool season seeding, scheduled for this fall, was planned to promote habitat for turkeys and other small game in the woodlot. Bill and Amy worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and received young native tree and shrub stock to replace the openings where Tree-of-Heaven plants were removed. They are maintaining a woodland management plan with the Warren County Soil Conservation District.
Recognizing that deer are major contributors to the spread of invasive seeds, the DiBartolo’s manage the deer herd and deter them from their property with regular applications of a “liquid fence” repellant called Deer Stopper. Also noting that the neighbor’s properties are loaded with more of the invasive plants, the DiBartolo’s have been working to try to encourage removal along their street.
Monitoring success - Note the emergent maple seeding surrounded by the tri-foliate native Jack-in-the-Pulpit leaves growing around a barberry stump, cut and treated during the Tree-of-Heaven removal.
submitted by Heather McMahon (Fall 2005)
Conservation and Good Stewardship at High Point Farm
April, 2005 - When Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Conservationist Dan Mull assisted High Point Farm in Sussex County with conservation planning, he was fulfilling the mission of the NRCS “to help people conserve, maintain, and improve our natural resources and environment”. Fountain House, the owner of the 477-acre property where High Point Farm is located, maintains the farm as an integral part of their program, “helping people with mental illness everywhere achieve their potential and be respected as co-workers, neighbors and friends.” The property is “both a working farm that Fountain House members share in operating, and a natural resource which they take part in conserving –a unique and integral part of the Fountain House program.”
The property was largely overgrown and in disuse when Charles Saggese became farm manager at High Point Farm in 1995. By 1998, the Fountain House manager and members who live and work at High Point Farm had initiated contact with NRCS to begin developing conservation and resource management plans for the property. Mr. Saggese said at that time, “On the farm we try to work with USDA to plan and implement practices that are appropriate for our livestock and for the site. As we are not farmers by trade, we rely on and follow NRCS recommendations for the care of our land.”
The farm was soon transformed from a few pigs, sheep, and about 100 chickens to one which included a breeding herd of 18 alpacas, 3 llamas, 24 chickens, an orchard, and two acres of an organic vegetable garden. Crops grown at the farm are used to supply vegetables for those residing at the farm. NRCS worked with Fountain House employee Cate Roberts to enhance fruit and vegetable production.
Federal and state cost share programs available to private landowners have been utilized to help fund many of the improvements at Fountain House High Point Farm.
Through the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Fountain House also received funding and technical assistance for brush management to remove multi-flora rose on 2.5 acres of pasture (1999).
NRCS also provided technical assistance while the New Jersey Department of Agriculture provided financial assistance through the 8-Year Farmland Preservation Program for a waste management system to collect manure from the livestock operation. The structure was completed in 1998. Rotational grazing and nutrient management practices were implemented that year to improve pasture quality. Ten acres of the property are in pasture and plans have been made to develop more pastures.
A second 8-Year Farmland Preservation contract between December 2001 and July 2002 provided for the design and installation of a livestock watering facility to supply water to the pastures. In addition, this contract is supporting the planting of fifteen acres of forest tree plantings. In 1999 Fountain House received Forestry Incentive Program (FIP) assistance to plant trees on five acres of forested land. The farm also has a Forest Stewardship Management Plan on over 400 acres of woodland.
Read about other conservation successes in New Jersey!