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.”

A very exciting quail project update!

This week, Pine Island Cranberry was honored to receive a Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in the “Healthy Ecosystem” category! NJ Audubon nominated Pine Island earlier this year, “having seen first-hand how PICC has undertaken active habitat management, producing numerous benefits for wildlife and water quality.”

From the DEP website:

This award is presented to a nominee that demonstrates experience in programs or techniques that have resulted in the restoration, protection and enhancement of the State’s ecological resources. These resources include wetlands, estuaries and coastal areas, as well as non-game and/or threatened and endangered species.

Specifically, the award is related to our work maintaining our property via our own best agricultural practices as well as a good forest stewardship plan, which ended up being conducive to maintaining the critical habitat needed for the Northern bobwhite quail:

The Pine Island Cranberry Company (PICC) in Chatsworth, Burlington County, has had a DEP-approved Forest Stewardship Plan in place since 2001. This plan has produced successional habitat suitable for quail and other plant and animal species. Because of that success, PICC was chosen to be used as a study site for a multi-state Northern Bobwhite Quail Recovery Study, in hopes of restoring the Bobwhite population. This population had plummeted to levels of near-extinction in New Jersey and a more than 80 percent decline nationwide in the past 40 years, according to the National Audubon Society. Beginning in 2015, PICC, along with other study project partners, did the first release of wild Bobwhite brought from Georgia to PICC. Since then, 240 wild birds have been released and tracked at PICC, 39 nests have occurred, 116 confirmed chicks have hatched, birds were confirmed to over-winter from year to year, and confirmed nest successes occurred. The result of PICC’s successful land management methods led to the first-ever federal allocation this year for quail habitat restoration in New Jersey.

“We are proud to to receive this award, and are equally proud to be working with such great organizations as New Jersey Audubon, Pine Creek Forestry, and Tall Timbers,” says CEO Bill Haines. “We’ve always taken care of the resources we have, and we’ll continue to do it. It’s not only good for business; it’s also the right thing to do.”

A visit with Ted Gordon – summer 2017

This week we had the opportunity to take a 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.

Our forest stewardship plan has been invaluable in protecting our water supply as well as providing a habitat for translocated Northern bobwhite quail. Another is that it’s been highly beneficial to several rare plant species that are native to the Pine Barrens. Ted periodically comes to visit and gives 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.

While we have no photos of the species he was examining yesterday and won’t be publishing locations, Ted was highly pleased at what he found, 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.”

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!

Advanced Forestry Solutions

Pine Island Cranberry’s forest stewardship plan helps us to protect and improve resources by allowing forest practices to be implemented on the ground while maintaining a thriving forest ecosystem through prescribed burning, road maintenance, and boundary surveying, among other things. The cedar swamps of the New Jersey Pine Barrens help to filter and purify water by absorbing and filtering pollutants and sediment. Since the three most important things to the cranberry industry are water, water, and water, maintaining and protecting the cedar swamps are high priority.

In addition to certified New Jersey forester Bob Williams, Pine Island Cranberry has been working with Colin and Deborah McLaughlin of Advanced Forestry Solutions to make sure our stewardship plan is implemented in the most effective way possible. The McLaughlins have been in the business for about eight years. “We wanted to spend more time with family and enjoyed working outside,” says Colin. “We started out mowing, then realized it wasn’t a full-time occupation.” They started out working with pine and oak, then moved onto the Atlantic white cedar when they started working with us. “It’s a beautiful product,” he says. “It’s water and insect resistant, and it makes for great outdoor stuff.” In addition, “It’s good for the health of the forest to make way for new cedars.” When cedars come down, their seeds can help regenerate the forest when the conditions are right, if other hardwood species don’t invade, and if deer don’t eat the seedlings.

To that end, work has begun on our latest stewardship project out at Sim Place, by the Savannah bogs. Colin and Deb will be thinning the trees in an attempt to reduce the number of red maple seedlings, which have been a problem on those bogs in particular. Red maple is lovely in a forest, but invades cranberry beds as windblown seed. Removal of red maple is a big part of every grower’s weed control program, and hand removal has been effective but time-consuming. Managing the cedar stands should hopefully reduce the issue at the source.

First, though, our team needs to make it easier for Colin and Deb to take their equipment into the forest, so they are building some access roads.

This means making sure the water flow is unobstructed. To make this happen (and to reduce waste), we use pipe leftover from building our floodgates.

CEO Bill Haines was pleased with how the work is turning out. The real test occurred when the team took the water off for ice sanding, and everything held up perfectly!

New Jersey Audubon Quail Restoration Initiative

Last week, Pine Island Cranberry was proud to welcome some of the members and staff of New Jersey Audubon for a tour of the harvest and some of the selected sites for one of our favorite projects: the quail restoration initiative. Bobwhite quail have almost vanished from the Pine Barrens, and Pine Island, along with NJ Audubon and Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry, hope to bring them back. According to NJ Audubon: “Northern Bobwhite, once a staple of the New Jersey countryside and common enough to be a game bird in the state, has all but disappeared. According to the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey data, the bird has suffered one of the most severe population declines of any North American bird: a population decline of 82% in the last forty years. This is primarily due to a loss of habitat from development, change in farming practices, change in habitat due to a lack of disturbance, and an overall loss of young forest habitat.” Over the course of three years, they say, “…approximately 240 wild birds will be captured on private land in Georgia, and transferred to the core of the pinelands where they will be fitted with radio collars, released, and monitored. The goal is to establish a self-sustaining population on this magnificent property.”

Eric Stiles, President/CEO of NJ Audubon, and John Parke, his Stewardship Project Director, are both very excited: “This project makes us feel that we’ve been bringing everything we’ve been promoting: sustainability, agriculture, habitat. This is all about the private sector taking it upon themselves to do great work and show how it’s supposed to be done out there on the landscape. This is all being done by agriculture: how they deal with water and disease and production, straight up to how they’re dealing with the forest. We need to take into account the cultural, social, and economic aspect; if we don’t, we miss a lot of useful info from people who have been out there working on the land, and they’re the ones leading the charge. Pine Island Cranberry, and what they do, is such a big component of how this state is going to be able to proceed as far as sustainability and natural resource protection.”

The first item of business, of course, was going out to see the harvest on a picture-perfect day.

CEO Bill Haines was glad as always to explain the importance of water to our industry. “The key to this business is water,” he said. “The protection of our water supply has protected this business from the beginning. We have 1400 producing acres, but about 14,000 acres of land to protect our water supply, which sounds more impressive than it really is. Back in the day, no one wanted it, so if it was upstream, we bought it. And because we have all this land, we’ve always done prescribed burning. This is where we grew up; this is where we do business. It’s important to us in a business sense, yes, but it’s also important because it’s our home. That’s how this family was raised: if you have a resource, it’s your responsibility to take care of it.”

The group was off to Sim Place to see the targeted habitat and how Pine Island’s forestry and stewardship practices are helping make this happen. While seeing the harvest always has an impact, it was even better to see the reactions to some of the native plant growth flourishing on the land.

Ultimately, it’s not just about restoration or protection; it’s about doing the stewardship work for the long term. “It’s not only good work,” says Bill. “It’s also fun. This will show that you can successfully manage a business in the Pines that not only doesn’t damage the environment but enhances it. It’s good for business, but it’s also the right thing to do.”