Preventative measures: swans

A niche crop like cranberries often has niche challenges! One of the toughest of those might be surprising to some people: the tundra swan. Tundra swans migrate to the area every year from Alaska and northwestern Canada and are particularly fond of red root, a weed that competes with cranberry vines for nutrients. When they fly in to feed, they not only tear out the red root, they also tear out vines and leave enormous holes that damage the beds themselves.

Since the swans are a protected species, growers have had to come up with a harmless solution to keep them safely away from the bogs. At Pine Island our PIICM team has been installing swan string for several years. The strings help keep the swans out of the bog by limiting the space available. “Swans are like a commercial airliner,” CEO Bill Haines says. “Having the strings up disrupts their attempt to both land and take off again.” Not all of the bogs are strung; our team maps them out where we have found red root and where the swans have been spotted. Just three acres of swan damage can give us a loss of 200 barrels per acre, or even more, depending on the variety. That takes three years to come back.

When setting up swan string, the team places rebar in the ground along the longer sides of a bog, about every 75 feet. On the ends of the bog, the team walks it out and determines how many lines they’ll need to run lengthwise though the center. Once the rods are laid out on the dam, a team of three to five people gets into the bog and walks the string across. Once the entire bog is strung, the team goes back in and puts up poles, which are used to keep the strings out of the water so that they don’t freeze. They’re placed in a checkered pattern, not necessarily on every line. The poles can either be cedar posts or recycled irrigation pipe. In addition to the recycling/environmental aspect, reusing the irrigation line is lighter and easier to handle.

This year, our team installed almost one million feet of swan string, which come out to about one hundred and eighty-seven miles. That’s a lot of walking!

Our team has also adopted a backup method in the past few years: an Agrilaser. From their website:

Deterring pest birds from open and semi-open spaces has long posed a costly and nagging challenge to property owners and managers. While noisemakers like propane cannons can scatter bird pests, they can also be disruptive and must be repeated often to keep birds from coming back. Lethal means of bird control—poisons, pellet guns and inhumane traps—are illegal in many areas, as many birds are protected by law. Bird B Gone’s Agrilaser® provides an effective, humane solution. It uses advanced, patented optical laser-beam technology to harmlessly repel pest birds over great distances—up to 2,000 meters. The handheld device is silent and completely portable. Pest birds react to the green beam as they would an approaching car, so they flee the area. Yet, unlike some deterrent devices, birds will not get used to the laser beam’s implied threat.

With some trial and error around timing and placement, our team found that it does have some effect. This year, the plan is to use the laser during the brief period that string has temporarily been removed from the beds we’re sanding. “You’d think they’d stay away with all the equipment around, but they don’t,” says Matt Giberson. “But since it’s been effective the past couple of years, it’s good to have a backup to keep both the bogs and the birds safe.”

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.”

ACGA Winter Meeting 2019

This week the American Cranberry Growers Association once again held its annual winter meeting. The ACGA winter meeting is always a good opportunity for growers to listen to research findings from experiments during the previous growing season and the researchers’ recommendations for the 2019 growing season. In addition, it’s a great chance for the local cranberry community to catch up to each other after the busy harvest season.

Pine Island sent a big crew this year, and they all came away pleased with the experience. CEO Bill Haines thought this year was particularly good, and as always, enjoyed the the chance to sit down and chat with fellow growers at lunch. ““You can get as much from just having a conversation over lunch as you can from the presentation,” he says.

The rest of the team were equally glad they attended. “It was good to know about some regulatory changes that are coming up,” says Justin Ross. “Knowing what will and won’t be available now will help us plan things better for later.”

“I thought Thierry’s research with the effectiveness of of some treatments on red root was interesting,” says Matt Giberson. “I think more testing should be done on the timing of the application that would be most effective, though. Very interested to know more about how we can kill that swan loving devil weed.” One other side note he thought was interesting: how some treatments seem to greatly reduce yield when applied early in berry development. “From talking to Peter, it seems that it causes phytotoxicity to the flower making it less likely to produce fruit, hence the cause of pin fruit development.”

Newer team member Mike Scullion says, “I enjoyed learning about the management of red root in our bogs as that is an ongoing issue we are dealing with on our farm. My favorite part of the meeting, as always, is learning about the new varieties Nick Vorsa is working on. They are getting closer and closer to producing a strain of cranberry that not only has a higher resistance to fruit rot, but still has a higher yield.”

“I found Nakorn’s presentation really interesting,” says Mike Haines. “We know that we don’t want blunt-nosed leafhopper in the bogs, as they spread false blossom disease, but it was interesting to hear his hypotheses and thoughts on why this interaction occurs, like how the leafhoppers that feed on diseased plants end up being larger adults, and that nutrient levels are actually higher in infected plants.”

All in all, it was another productive day for our Pine Island team as well another excellent program put together by Dr. Cesar Rodriguez-Saona. Thank you, Cesar!

June quail updates! – 2018

Back in March, New Jersey Audubon, in conjunction with quail project partners 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. We mentioned then that this additional year on the project has a slightly different focus:

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.

“We are pleased with the preliminary results of the study,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of New Jersey Audubon. “But we are very curious how this release will influence the bird’s overall survival and breeding, considering the higher quail density in an area that continues to support Bobwhite from previous releases and the offspring of those translocated birds.”

The latest phase of this project seems to be right on track, as so far this month the team has found at least three nests.

But the best update of all came yesterday:

“The first Bobwhite Quail nests of the season hatched today at the Pine Island Cranberry study site,” John says. “A total of 29 new chicks successfully fledged the nests! Both parents will care for the young until their first flight which occurs 14-16 days after hatching. Quail chicks, about the size of a bumblebee when hatched, are dependent on insects and good habitat to survive until the fall. Once the insects disappear, the birds begin to feed on seeds.”

We look forward to further updates on the new babies as well as the remaining nest!

*Nest photos courtesy of John Parke

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.

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.”

Quail project gets national recognition

This past Tuesday, Pine Island CEO Bill Haines was the recipient of New Jersey’s first ever National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s (NBCI) National Fire Bird Conservation Award. The award, presented at the NJ Fish and Game Council Meeting by James Sloan of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW) “recognizes entities and/or an individual’s contributions to that state’s efforts toward habitat-based restoration of wild bobwhite”.

“The work done at Pine Island Cranberry Company over the years through active forest stewardship, combined with their participation in the national Bobwhite Quail recovery initiative could very well change the reintroduction effort in the Mid-Atlantic region for the species,” said Sloan.

Pine Island Cranberry is enormously proud of taking part in this project. Our site was chosen for several reasons, among them a state-approved Forest Stewardship Plan outlining long-term management goals as well as the extent of existing quality habitat already onsite from years of active forestry work, prescribed burning and agricultural best management practices that made it stand out above other sites in the region. Caring for the place where we live, work, and grow is one of our core values, and this project is a unique opportunity to give back to the land which sustains us.

“The actions that Bill and the Pine Island team have taken will continue to create and enhance high quality habitat for the species in the years ahead as plan implementation progresses,” says John Parke, NJ Audubon Stewardship Project Director. “We congratulate Bill and his team on receiving this well-deserved award and commend Pine Island and Pine Island’s forester Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry, for their efforts to establish quality 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.”

“We are honored to receive this recognition, but it is an even greater honor to participate in the project with partners like NJ Audubon, the University of Delaware, Tall Timbers, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife,” says Stefanie Haines, who received the award on behalf of her father. “We are proud that our stewardship practices benefit not only our business and our home, but the wildlife which surrounds us as well.”

*Award photo courtesy of John Parke

Quail project update – June 2017

As you may remember, New Jersey Audubon was here this spring for the third-stage release in the Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative.

The most exciting news from this month: the field researchers have discovered an active nest close to the Sim Place release site!

“We are working to create permanence with Northern Bobwhite in New Jersey,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director – North Region, NJA. “In reviewing the data collected over the last few years and seeing these wild birds adapt to their new surroundings and successfully nest is a testament to how important active management is to maintain forest health and wildlife diversity,” Parke said. “The Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative has implications for quail recovery in the Mid-Atlantic, is providing information on other species that use these same managed forest habitat, and is motivating others to implement forest management. We are excited by the progress of the project, the hard work of the project partners and collaborators and eager to see Bobwhite thrive again in New Jersey,” he added.

According to John, predator surveys have been fairly low, though snakes are always a concern. But Phil Coppola and the rest of the University of Delaware research team will continue tracking the birds and keeping tabs on the nest, and are hoping to bring us good news soon! In the meantime, though, we’re all enjoying the opportunity to once again hear the bobwhite quail once again calling in the pines.

This has been a great opportunity 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.

*Photos courtesy of John Parke and Phil Coppola.

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!

Prescribed burning

It’s the burning season again in the Pine Barrens! While that might sound frightening, it just means it’s time to start doing some needed forest maintenance via prescribed burning.

Per the New Jersey Forest Fire Service:

The primary purpose of prescribed burning in New Jersey is to reduce the hazardous accumulations of forest fuels. This aids in the prevention of wildfires, reduces the intensity of the fires, and also provides a foundation for safer, more effective fire suppression and protection operations.

Pine Island has been a long-time proponent of this method 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.” He understands the concern, but reassures people that all is well: “Weather permitting, people will see many smoke columns rising from the pinelands area in the coming weeks with no cause for alarm.”

Pine Island team members also recently attended a meeting similar to last year to brush up on the application process and meet some new Fire Service employees. “I went with Matt Stiles, Gerardo Ortiz, and Tim Bourgeois,” says Manager of Operations Matt Giberson. “It was good to meet not just the growers who are involved with burns, but the larger area landowners as well. They’re not necessarily farmers, but have big parcels of land in the area and are just as involved. There are some new forms they walked us through, and we were able to go over the process and discuss what we liked, what we didn’t, how we can make changes that work.” The team was also able to meet Bill Hamilton, who is taking over Shawn Judy’s section. “He’s a great guy,” Matt says. “When things get a little less busy for him, he wants to come to the farm and see what we do and why we do it. I thought that was cool. The entire meeting went really well and we were really able to get a good feel for what everyone needs from each other.”

Our team and the Fire Service discussed our targets for this year as well. “We decide what needs to get done or our end, but they’ll give us ideas and suggestions,” Matt says. “Which is very helpful if it’s a tricky spot with a lot of fuel. I’m new to this and a lot of these guys are new to it, too, so it’s good to have the knowledge and experience to back us up!” Our team is still working on their target acreage, but has already gotten started. “We’ve done about 70 to 100 acres so far,” Matt says. “That’s only one day with a four-man team, though, and we’re prepping the ground right now for the next stage.”

With constant communication, our motivated team, and the able assistance of neighboring growers and fire experts, Pine Island is more than ready to keep up the the constant endeavor of caring for the place where we live, work, and grow!