Habitat maintenance

Pine Island Cranberry has been a long-time proponent of prescribed burning and works closely with the fire service and our forester when it comes to this crucial method of forest maintenance. “Pine Island has a very long history of using prescribed burns to protect life and property on their land as well as the surrounding area,” says Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry. “In addition, it is used to sustain or enhance the overall ecological health of their forest. Fire is a critical component of sustaining this forest and used often in the farm’s forest management program. These forests need fire; it is as essential as rain or sunshine to the life of the forest. Native Americans used fire to sustain this forest as well as most forests across North America for millennia, and many plants and animals need fire to provide critical habitat components in their lives.”

One species who relies on critical forest maintenance is, of course, the bob white quail. According to the latest from New Jersey Audubon:

The use of prescribed burning on the landscape helps remove built up thatch, dead leaves, twigs, and accumulated plant and organic materials that can impede quail and wildlife movement. Prescribed burning also helps to increase the growth of new and existing plants, which can provide an important food source for wildlife in the form of seeds and insects that the plants may host or provide pollen for. This restoration action of performing prescribed burning is essential to the habitat needs of Northern Bobwhite, ensuring Bobwhite have enough resources come spring and the breeding season. Prescribed burning also helps many other wildlife species of the Pinelands that evolved in this disturbance and fire dependent landscape.

The article goes on to say:

Following this year’s prescribed burn at the Northern Bobwhite study site, NJ Audubon staff were on site and tracked, via telemetry, 12 radio-collared Northern Bobwhite adults, along with 20-25 juvenile birds that revealed themselves to be with the radio-collared quail. As found in previous years of the study, after burning, the birds move into denser cover along the edges of the burn areas.

“Restoration is continual,” said NJ Audubon’s Stewardship Project Director John Parke. “People often forget that you have to maintain an ecosystem, and think in the ‘long term’, and sometimes perform activities that may seem counterproductive in order to have the natural systems function properly for future generations. In a state like New Jersey that has significant pressures placed on an already limited land base it is important to realize that ‘restoration’ is not just a one or two time action, it is a series of science-based actions over a sustained period of time.”

Ted Gordon – summer 2018

This week we had the opportunity to take another ride around the property with Ted Gordon, a research specialist with more than 35 years experience in botanical studies, including contributions to major plant studies of endangered species in the Pinelands. A former Pinelands Commissioner, Ted primarily conducts rare species surveys and research, monitors habitats, and designs management plans for the conservation and enhancement of rare plants, and we are very fortunate to have access to his knowledge and experience.

Ted comes out to visit the Sim Place property every year to give suggestions on how to manage areas with certain floral species, such as when it might be time to mow or if a recent prescribed burn has had any effect. “There is a significant patch that has been visited by botanists from all over the world for nearly a century,” he says. “I’ve seen hundreds of species in there. Letting it go probably helped for a bit, but not doing anything at all encourages grasses to overwhelm flowering plants. Many rare species are still here. It’s definitely worth the effort to try and bring them back.”

This year, though, was a little different: some New Jersey Audubon staffers came along for the ride. “I was doing a presentation on the quail project and met Ted,” says John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “Good stewardship practices work for species recovery for wildlife as well as plant life, so it was great to make that connection with someone who understands the native plants. It was a good mesh; this project isn’t just about the quail, it’s about how good management practices affect and impact other species as well. Ted wanted to come out to see the project and managed to time it with his annual visit to see how the native plant life is doing. The Pinelands are unique, and this is an opportunity for us to see how we can all work together.”

John took Ted and the staff out to watch Phil Coppola and Mike Adams do some telemetry and to look at the nesting areas, while Ted pointed out various plant species along the way. Ted was highly pleased to see some quail as well as how some of the plant species are doing, pointing out the high count on some rare summer species as well as the one getting ready for their autumn debut! “I find all kinds of plants growing near cultivated beds, more so than anywhere else,” he says. “Cranberry properties have the most diversity thanks to common forestry practices.”

Quail release – 2018

Exciting stuff: this week, New Jersey Audubon, in partnership with the University of Delaware, Tall Timbers, Pine Creek Forestry, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, released another 80 translocated bobwhite quail on our Sim Place property!

This year, a “bonus” year for the study, has a slightly different focus. Per the NJA:

This year’s release has a particular focus on population survival and breeding dynamics in a concentrated area. Unlike previous years of the study (2015-2017), where translocated birds were split into coveys and spread out over the 14,000-acre study site and tracked, all 2018 translocated birds were released in one area to help “boost” the population density in a concentrated area of optimal habitat. This area of optimal habitat has supported quail and their offspring from prior years, releasing all birds into a focal area produces a higher density of birds. That higher density of birds should help overall survival by increasing covey size, mating opportunities, nesting and hatching.

“There is so much underlying variability inherent in biological systems, which often makes their study difficult through short-term “snapshot” research projects,” said Philip Coppola, University of Delaware Graduate Research Assistant. “This fourth consecutive year of translocations will add essential data to the project, allowing us to more accurately describe the population dynamics of Bobwhite in New Jersey. Increasing our knowledge and understanding of all the elements influencing quail survival and success will increase effectiveness and efficiency during large-scale reintroduction efforts in the future. We will gain perspective on what truly are the limiting factors in bobwhite reintroduction and address the probable causes of their initial functional extirpation within the state; thus, this research also has implications for their national conservation and recovery. Additionally, this fourth year provides field training and development for even more entry-level wildlife biologists in the Mid-Atlantic, who will be instrumental in regional wildlife conservation efforts in the future.”

For our part, as always, we’re pleased to see this fantastic project carry on for another year and are glad our forest stewardship and habitat practices continue to benefit the woods, water, and wildlife!

* Photos courtesy of John Parke.

Third stage quail release

This month Pine Island Cranberry once again met with John Parke of New Jersey Audubon to release the final group of quail for the last stage of their translocation project!

Per the NJA release:

Led by New Jersey Audubon, with project collaborators Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Delaware, 80 wild birds (40 males and 40 females) were captured in Georgia, translocated, and released, at the Pine Island Cranberry study site. The New Jersey portion of this project has the unique role of releasing only wild quail (translocation). Other partners to the multi-state project are evaluating methods of raising captive bred and parent reared quail, however no captive bred quail will be released in New Jersey. Ultimately, the results of the NJ study will be compared to findings from the other participating states in the initiative.

This year’s release was done over the course of a few days, and Pine Island team members have even spotted the birds out and about near some of the release sites! “I’ve never seen them that close out in the woods,” says Matt Giberson. “It was really cool to see them walking around!”

New Jersey Audubon says there’s even more good news:

The success of the project at Pine Island, combined with years of habitat restoration work lead by NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife in Cumberland County has, for the first time ever in New Jersey, lead to the allocation of federal funding through the USDA-NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife Program specifically for quail habitat restoration.

“Landowners and farmers that take advantage of this cost share program will help establish habitat for quail and other species, while also helping to address forest health issues such as fuel load reduction, control of forest diseases and pests, and ultimately successful regeneration and forest function,” says John Parke.

This has been a great chance for Pine Island Cranberry to work with so many organizations who love the pines as much as we do, and it’s wonderful seeing the Bobwhite quail making themselves at home here once again!

Quail traps

The latest from the NJ Audubon Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative: trapping birds for collar and release! The quail in this project are tracked via radio telemetry in the field to determine movements, predation, site fidelity, habitat use and nesting by graduate students from the University of Delaware.

When the birds for this project are relocated from Georgia to New Jersey, they are fitted with radio collars for tracking. From the NJ Audubon website:

Each quail was outfitted with a radio transmitter fitted around their neck. The birds arrived in NJ with the transmitters attached, each broadcasting a unique radio frequency. Using a radio receiver and antenna each bird can be located and through the signal their location and status (alive or dead) can be determined. Tracking began immediately following the release and revealed the birds were sticking together in coveys and they remained within the general area of where they were released.

These collars last about ten to eleven months, per John Parke of NJ Audubon. But when cold weather sets in, it shortens the battery life. So the team has to catch the birds in order to replace their collars. This past Monday, John, along with fellow NJA staffers Lindsey Gafford and Ryan Hasko, came down to meet with Kaili Stevens to weigh any quail found in the traps and re-collar them with new transmitters.

The traps are carefully placed and baited (currently with cracked corn, but Kaili is looking for millet as well), then slightly camouflaged with tree branches. Each location is marked so that the researchers and staff can find it easily.

Kaili then demonstrated the best method for holding the birds while recollaring them before releasing them back into the wild.

NJ Audubon will be out in the field every week to check the traps and make sure the birds are thriving! They’ve already proven themselves to be tremendously resilient, and we hope to have more good news after the third and final release this spring!

New Jersey Audubon: CSC meeting 2016

This week, it was once again time for the annual New Jersey Audubon Corporate Stewardship Council meeting. The Corporate Stewardship Council is a unique group of New Jersey companies united behind a common goal of environmental sustainability and responsibility in NJ and meets as a group annually with the NJ Audubon and representatives of the NJ DEP and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This year’s meeting was held Thursday in Trenton, and while CEO Bill Haines was unable to attend, he sent his daughter Stefanie Haines as his representative. Most of the meeting consisted of summaries and updates of projects from the past year and an introduction to new projects. Of particular interest to Pine Island was speaker Andrew Johnson, director of the Watershed Protection Program, William Penn Foundation.

Water-052

Good water management is not only the crucial part of our work here at Pine Island – it’s essential to the balance of agriculture production with the Pinelands environment. To that end, we have over the course of many years carefully crafted a system that works with both nature and gravity to best maintain and preserve the bounty of natural resources available to us. This makes the work that the William Penn Foundation does with the Delaware River Watershed Initiative particularly important to us, as one of the areas they have targeted as a subwatershed “cluster” is the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer, which provides so much of the water that our cranberries need.

Water---SBT

One of the initiative’s goals include:

Permanently protecting more than 30,000 acres of forested headwaters in critical areas. . .These efforts will preserve essential habitats and mitigate climate change as well as sustain water quality in the more intact sub-watersheds.

One of Pine Island Cranberry’s core values has always been protecting the environment: caring for the place where we live, work, and grow. To that end, we have been working since 2001 with forester Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry to create and implement a forest stewardship plan. Creating a specific plan helps us protect and improve forest resources by doing practices such as prescribed burning, thinning, and replanting with improved trees. We are improving the forest habitat while at the same time conducting all the necessary work to have a thriving, profitable cranberry operation and protecting our water supply.

water moving to the next bog

NJ Audubon Stewardship Project Director John Parke then gave the attendees an overview of several projects that council members have worked on over the past year. His genuine enthusiasm and joy with what he does, as always, made his energy contagious, and it was great to hear about some of the other ongoing projects that are happening statewide! It was especially exciting to hear about the work Atlantic City Electric is doing for the bobwhite quail:

[Their] project proposal aims to increase resources for for northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus)by creating and managing early successional habitat. Proposed restoration activities include planting native grasses and forbs to improve foraging habitat, retaining native shrubs for winter cover, and creating small canopy openings along the transmission lines to expand habitat.

It was wonderful to have some time to chat with people who share our commitment to resource conservation and are equally committed to putting in the hard work to make it happen, and we are grateful to New Jersey Audubon for giving us the opportunity!