MFS Intensive Learning 2017

Yesterday we had our annual visit from the Moorestown Friends School Intensive Learning Pine Barrens program. From the MFS website:

For one week each March, regular classes are suspended for “Intensive Learning,” when Middle and Upper School students and teachers engage in an in-depth study of a specific subject, often involving off-campus research. This long-standing MFS tradition – which dates to the mid 1970s – allows teachers and students to break out of the structure of formal class periods and traditional study by subject disciplines (math, English, history) for a time of experiential learning in out-of-classroom settings.

The students in the Pine Barrens group spent some time learning about the history of the pines, and finished up their week by coming to visit us and see what people are doing in the present.

Mike Haines and Matt Giberson opened with an overview of Pine Island and our various tasks throughout the year, followed up by the always-lively John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for New Jersey Audubon. Afterward, we took the students out to walk through a young bog and then out to one of our forestry sites.

“I thought the kids asked some great questions,” says Mike. “It was cool this year we were not only able to tell them about our operation, but also they got to hear from John about the quail release project. Cranberry farming is part of the history of the pines as well as a continuing industry, so I really liked being able to add to the breadth of the topics they’ve been covering all week.” Matt agrees: “It was a lot of fun seeing the kids get into the tour this year, especially with John being there. It was a good opportunity to see how Pine Island’s growing season works, but also how our other projects are not only beneficial to our operation but to the community as well.”

“It was an absolute pleasure to present information about the quail translocation project to the students,” says John Parke. “It’s great to see kids getting out to the farm and learning in the field about the importance of agriculture, land management and how it ties to natural resource protection,” Parke added, “because children who are connected to the land and understand value of nature and agriculture, can positively shape the future as good stewards.”

Quail release – April 2016

This month, New Jersey Audubon once again arrived at Pine Island Cranberry for the second scheduled release of the translocated bobwhite quail program! Eighty-one quail, captured in Georgia by project collaborator Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, were successfully translocated and released at the study site. According to NJ Audubon: “After receiving health screening testing and attaching leg ID bands and radio-signal transmitting collars to each bird, a total of eighty-one birds, (37 females and 44 males) were released in groups at the Pine Island Cranberry study site by NJ Audubon and initiative partners, Pine Island Cranberry, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Delaware.”

“We are very excited about this second release of wild Northern Bobwhite. These new quail were released into areas where Northern Bobwhite were released last year, supplementing the newly developing population,” says John Parke of NJ Audubon. “Having those birds from last year at the site only increases the likelihood of survival of these new birds in the wild since the new birds will integrate with them and thus be influenced in their cover and foraging choices, nesting area selection and predator avoidance response in their new surroundings. We did not have that luxury last year.”

The birds from the first stage of the release are doing very well! From the NJ Audubon update:

“Through the use of radio telemetry, University of Delaware graduate students…monitored the birds and were able to confirm 15 nests, 127 eggs laid; and 66 chicks hatched in 2015. The birds were tracked throughout the winter by the students and were confirmed to have over-wintered successfully at the study site. It was noted that the quail were utilizing the young pine regeneration growth areas for cover throughout the entire winter season. These young pine areas were the result of vegetation regeneration in areas that had been harvested previously as part of forest stewardship activities performed by Pine Island Cranberry to improve overall watershed and forest health.”

The newly released birds will be tracked the same way.

“We’re pleased with how this project has progressed; the first year went very well. We enjoy working with NJ Audubon and the other partners, and are looking forward to another great year,” says CEO Bill Haines.

*Photos courtesy of John Parke.

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.”

Corporate Stewardship Council

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 Land Dimensions Engineering 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.

This commitment to stewardship and careful attention to detail was a big part of the decision by New Jersey Audubon to ask us to become the first agricultural production company to join their Corporate Stewardship Council, a unique group of eighteen New Jersey companies united behind a common goal of environmental sustainability and responsibility in NJ. “Not only does Pine Island Cranberry bring an agricultural perspective to the Council, but its membership also brings with it the largest stewardship project to date in the Council. This project was also the first forest stewardship project to be part of the Council membership with a NJ Approved Forest Stewardship Plan,” says John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for New Jersey Audubon. “The work Pine Island Cranberry Company is doing through forest stewardship is exemplary. We commend Pine Island for being a model business that understands that the management of natural resources makes both economic and ecological sense. Thus, they are providing quality forest and farm products which help support the NJ economy, while protecting the future of New Jersey’s critical habitat and farmland. Meaningful and sustainable conservation is difficult to achieve without the knowledge and experience of people like Bill Haines and Bob Williams.”

The Council 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 last Friday in Trenton. Bill was unable to attend, so he sent his daughter Becca Fenstermaker as his representative. Most of the meeting consisted of summaries and updates of projects from the past year and an introduction to new projects. “John was, as always, full of energy and enthusiasm,” says Becca. “The number of stewardship projects and members of the council have increased quite a bit in the few years since it was formed, and John was especially excited to introduce Pine Island to the council. And chatting with some of the other members was interesting because they share our commitment to resource conservation although their projects vary greatly in size and scope.”

Becca adds, “Eagle Ridge Golf Club’s president, Jerry Kokes, is truly passionate about wildlife, particularly birds, and has encouraged native plant growth and installed nesting boxes throughout his property. He showed me a number of beautiful photos on his phone and also impressed me with his bird calling. Keith Campbell, of Mannington Mills, spoke of his family’s commitment to not only improving wildlife habitat but also to improving the local economy by bringing jobs back to the area that had previously been outsourced. His company’s long-term (four-generation, with the fifth working on his MBA) outlook is remarkably similar to Pine Island’s. He sees that being a responsible business owner requires companies to work in partnership with other businesses and agencies to best serve the community and the environment that we depend on for our success.”

Ultimately, NJ Audubon’s goal is for this project to solve a long-standing land use conundrum regarding how to obtain and manage critical wildlife habitat patches suitable for meeting their needs as dictated by their seasonal behavior and daily routine without sacrificing the economics toed to agriculture and forest management in New Jersey. And partnering with a prominent conservation organization like the NJ Audubon is a natural extension of Pine Island’s core values of continuous improvement and protecting the environment.