Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘habitat restoration’

Wildlife returns to the industrial Newark Bay waterfront

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

by David Wheeler

Under the sweltering September sun, our team discovers the earth at our fingertips. We ready the manure, topsoil, and mulch, wield the pickax and trowel, and labor the wheelbarrow through the trees and up the slope of a tidal berm.

osprey-silouette-by-blaine

 

We plant 250 native shrubs and 580 native herbaceous plugs. We hammer in nest boxes, install pollinator houses, construct mounds of brush for local and migrating wildlife, and create nesting habitat for northern diamondback terrapin, an at-risk turtle species.

We lose ourselves in nature for the day.

A migrating butterfly flits past leisurely and I look up from the soil to wipe my brow. Suddenly I remember exactly where this newly vibrant natural ecosystem is. Nearly overhead, I can watch never-ending streams of commuters and tractor trailers motor past over one of the busiest bridges in the nation – the Newark Bay Bridge. Just across the bay, I can see heavy industry. Out beyond the fence, more industry – ancient, tireless, modern progress marching forward.

firmenich-volunteers-by-blainefirmenich-by-blaine

Yet on this morning, and those that follow, we now have ecological progress here as well, in a place that was written off entirely not so long ago. The Newark Bay region has suffered a century and a half of environmental degradation at the hands of industry and unbridled development.

This active industrial site is home to Firmenich Inc., one of the largest manufactures of fragrances in the world. We have transformed the land today to invite wildlife partners to help balance the scales of the region’s damaged ecology.

dragonfly-1-by-blaine

Green Darner dew laden on Echinacea.

These partners are vital to our environment, to our health, to the world around us. They are the butterflies and bees, the wasps and beetles, the flies and moths that make up an army of pollinators that in coordinated effort provide humanity with the lungs of our planet. Without these pollinators, native plants could not sink carbon dioxide and impart oxygen to our surroundings, every minute of every day. Without these pollinators, the bread baskets of the world would wither away, no longer filled with grains, fruits, and vegetables.

The natural partnerships don’t stop with the pollinators born forth from meadow creation. These partners extend to migrating songbirds and mighty raptors, small mammals and diamondback terrapins.

“If we give nature an inch, it’s going to take a yard. Give it a chance and nature will return,” says biologist Blaine Rothauser, who is directing the restoration for GZA Environmental. “Wildlife just needs an opportunity.”

heron-by-blaine

Immature night heron with crab.

Nature’s inspiring return builds upon decades of ecological recovery in the region. Thanks to President Nixon’s Clean Water Act of 1973, the water began to get cleaner. Improving the water quality reanimated the food chain from the bottom up – phyto- and zooplankton, invertebrates and crustaceans reappeared. In turn, a fishery was reborn, which ushered in the return of herons, ibis, osprey, turtles, and even harbor seals – seen sunning on the banks of tidal shores in winter!

Yet much of the land around the water’s edge is still wanting.

“The restoration site is an important buffer habitat to a large portion of undeveloped tidal bay directly adjacent to the Firmenich complex,” says Rothauser. “Today we have 60 people planting a native community of shrubs, trees and plants on a formerly sterile lawn and an unnaturalized earthen berm. It is vital work that makes a real difference.”

blaine-with-plants

The team has also created opportunities for rare species to nest. Above our heads, an osprey platform has been installed, empowering this magnificent fish-eating raptor to continue its recovery along Newark Bay and many other New Jersey waterways, industrial and remote alike.

A barn owl box offers one of our most mysterious nighttime predators the opportunity to set up shop in a beneficial area – where there is no shortage of rabbits and field mice to help control.

barn-owl-by-blaine

Close up of a barn owl.

Across the pond, a purple martin condominium-like house offers the ample space necessary for these communal swallows to reside, a home base where they can feast on flying insects.

With the first phase of the project almost complete, the second phase will seek to transform the site’s holding ponds into ecologically productive floating wetlands, bringing herons and egrets and other wading birds.

Ultimately, this project is envisioned as one that can be replicated just about anywhere along Newark Bay – or any industrial waterfront for that matter. All it takes is the willingness to look at a site’s land from a different perspective – and in so doing, to understand that the ecological benefits of bringing back many wildlife species aren’t negated by losing economic tradeoffs.

Instead they can mean parallel economic benefits. Natural pest control. Fewer landscaping and pesticide costs. Increased employee morale and productivity, with a newfound opportunity to recharge body and mind with a rejuvenating break outside, enjoying natural beauty and the engagement of your senses.

killdeer-by-blainedragonfly-2-by-blainekestral-by-blaine

Images above from left to right – Killdeer, 12 Spotted Skipper, and American Kestrel.

New Jersey has long served as a primary engine for America’s industry and commerce – and in return has often been derided as the “Which exit?” land of nothing but turnpike and smokestacks. The Meadowlands just to the north of here bore the brunt of that reputation, yet in recent decades has made a mind-blowing ecological recovery to become a wildlife – and ecotourism – destination.

The waters flow south from the Meadowlands along the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers, and they come together in the Newark Bay. Now, that next wave of wildlife recovery and habitat restoration has arrived just downstream – along the Newark Bay waterfront.

For wildlife, it’s where the action is.

firmenich-group-pic-by-blaine

David Wheeler is the executive director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation and author of the book, Wild New Jersey: Nature Adventures in the Garden State.

 

All photos courtesy of Blaine Rothauser.

 

Halloween Without Bats

Monday, October 31st, 2016

By Stephanie Feigin, Wildlife Ecologist

This Halloween, while you are with friends and family celebrating a spooky evening of fun, I ask you to take a moment and think about one more thing – Halloween without bats. I want you to think about bats today not as the spooky creatures of the night that some people normally think of them as, but as incredible mammals that are invaluable to our ecosystem. In New Jersey, all of our 9 bat species are insectivores. They can eat thousands of insects in one night, protecting our crops and forests from insect destruction, and they pollinate many important foods that we love. A study published in Science magazine estimates that bats’ insect-eating services may be worth as much as $53 billion to US agriculture alone.

Photo courtesy of Blaine Rothauser.

Photo courtesy of Blaine Rothauser.

Despite the many environmental and economic benefits bats provide, bat populations around the world are still declining. Bats face many threats, including habitat loss and destruction, human persecution, wind energy development, and White-Nose Syndrome.

Little brown bats. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Feigin.

Little brown bats. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Feigin.

Devastatingly, we have lost over 6 million bats nationwide due to the spread of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) – a disease caused by a cold-loving fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans or Pd. It attacks hibernating bats, disturbing them during hibernation when the bats’ immune response is low, and prevents them from conserving enough stored energy to survive until spring. WNS also causes dehydration and unrest as well as severe wing damage that can prevent bats from flying. Much is still unknown about White-nose syndrome, its spread, and its consequences. The federal government, states, several universities, and organizations like ours are working hard to track and understand this disease.

Big brown bat emerging from barn. Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Hall.

Big brown bat emerging from barn. Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Hall.

In New Jersey, about 50,000 bats were killed by WNS in the first year (2009) – and we now estimate over 60 tons of mosquitoes and other night-flying insects go undevoured each year from loss of bats. Though bats are one of the most beneficial animals to humans they are still poorly understood and underappreciated, which is why today I ask you to think of them in a new light. Today, think about bats for all of the wonderful benefits they provide, think of them as amazing animals that work hard at night to protect our ecosystems, because we need to make a change.

To protect the bats we still have, it is important that people understand the stress these bats are under. It is important that we re-think how we view bats, remove the spooky stigmas that surround them and appreciate their importance to us. So today, think about bats think about how important they are, how badly we need to protect them and how scary a world without bats would be.

Big brown bat. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Feigin.

Big brown bat. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Feigin.

 

Stephanie Feigin is a wildlife ecologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation.


LEARN MORE


 

Native Plants Transform Space into Rich Pollinator Habitat

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

By Kendall Miller, Project Coordinator

 

This fall, Conserve Wildlife Foundation partnered with Firmenich and GZA Environmental to provide pollinator plants to build an entirely new butterfly and rain garden on the Waldorf School campus in Princeton.

 

Firmenich volunteers stationed the plants around the garden and planted them on their annual global volunteer day. Plants include aromatic lavender, bright black-eyed susans and echinacea, shrubs like winterberry holly and spice bush, and trees such as common hackberry and sweet bay magnolia. These plants are all native to the local environment and provide essential nectar sources for pollinators.

 

waldorf-1waldorf-2

From left to right, bee on lavender photo from Andrew Wilkinson through Flickr Creative Commons and eastern blue-tail visiting black-eyed susan Vicki Deloach through Flickr Creative Commons.

 

The space for the new garden was a previously fallow section of the school’s one acre garden. It was overgrown and somewhat sprawling until the project came about. Facilities manager Kevin Jones and gardening teacher Suzanne Cunningham both prepared the space for its transformation into a rich habitat of native plants.

waldorf-3

Left. After planting, an unused and fallow area of the school’s garden is now home to several different types of native plants.

 

“Pollinators are in decline, which is very unfortunate since we rely on them as irreplaceable contributors to our health, our food, our environment, and our economy,” said David Wheeler, CWF Executive Director. “We are so thrilled to partner on this exciting and vital habitat project, particularly where the youngest generation can experience the beauty and vitality of nature first-hand.”

 

The native plants were provided by D&R Greenway Land Trust and Bountiful Gardens.  CWF is working to expand native pollinator habitat across the state with leading corporate sustainability partners such as Firmenich and Atlantic City Electric.

 

The Waldorf School of Princeton has built three butterfly gardens, which serve to create a safe environment for local pollinators, such as monarch and swallowtail butterflies, honeybees, and hummingbirds. To this end, a honeybee colony has made it’s home in one of their trees and has grown to host over 2,000 wild honeybees! The school has been honored by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, as well The Bronze Award from Eco-Schools USA program. They are certified from Monarch Watch as a Monarch Waystation.

 

The Waldorf School of Princeton is founded on principles of sustainability, environmental stewardship, and community cooperation. The school’s major green initiatives reflect the needs of their beautiful campus and the ability of their students to participate in the greening process. The Waldorf School of Princeton has the area’s oldest school garden, over 30 years old, which houses crops, herbs, flowers, and fruit trees.

 


LEARN MORE


 

Kendall Miller is a Project Coordinator with Conserve Wildlife Foundation.

 

Volunteers and biologists add the next oyster reef to Dyers Cove

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

Team works through threat of downpour to strengthen Delaware Bay’s resiliency and ecology

By Emily Hofmann, Project Coordinator

 

Although the weather was on the brink of being rainy and bleak, that did not stop a team of dedicated biologists and volunteers from building an oyster reef on the Delaware Bayshore this past Saturday. Committed volunteers and young people braved the weather to work alongside American Littoral Society and Conserve Wildlife Foundation to build a near-shore oyster reef at Dyers Cove, at the end of Dyers Creek Road in Newport, Cumberland County, New Jersey.

 

oyster-reef-2

This reef – like the one at South Reeds Beach – was built to protect restoration work done after Hurricane Sandy and provide habitat. Constructed to prevent sand loss from wind-driven waves and create calmer water for spawning horseshoe crabs, this is the third of five such reefs that have been built by the Littoral Society and CWF. The conservation organizations will continue to monitor whether the reef breakwaters help reduce beach erosion and create calmer water for spawning horseshoe crabs.

 

Due to the heavy rain over the course of the week, the conditions were not ideal. Low-tide never went below waist deep, so it was hard to construct the reef accordingly. But that did not stop the team!oyster-reef-build_5

 

“Every oyster reef we’ve built so far on the Delaware Bay incorporated a different restoration strategy. We have had to adapt new strategies with what has worked best in the past and with what will realistically work based on site conditions. By blending the successes from the previous reefs with innovative approaches, we have been able to construct three reefs to date,” said Capt. Al Modjeski, Habitat Restoration Program Director for the American Littoral Society.

 

The bayshore beaches need restoration and improved resiliency so that horseshoe crabs have proper breeding grounds. Crab eggs feed migratory shorebirds, like the Red Knot, which stops in New Jersey each spring on its long journey from South America to the Arctic Circle. The Red Knot and other shorebirds help bring $11 million in tourist dollars to New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore region each year.

 

“New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore hosts an annual wildlife spectacle of global significance – the time-honored migration of Red Knots to reach the eggs of these ancient horseshoe crabs,” said David Wheeler, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey Executive Director. “Volunteer projects like this help connect the people of New Jersey with these endangered shorebirds and the largest population of horseshoe crabs in the world.”

 

“Originally, this event was a bare-bones volunteer effort of placing shell bags off the Dyers Cove eastern beach,” said Capt. Al. “But thanks to a donation from Betancourt, Van Hemmen, Greco & Kenyon, we will have a ‘shell-a-bration’ that celebrates the ecology and community of the Delaware Bayshore.”

oyster-reef

In 2015, over 130 volunteers and veterans built an oyster reef at South Reeds Beach in the first annual Shell-a-Bration. That same year, Veterans Day on the Bay dedicated the reef to all veterans and highlighted veteran involvement in the effort to restore New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore. The second annual Shell-a-Bration, held in April 2016, saw a handful of dedicated volunteers brave a blizzard to build a reef at Moore’s Beach. The third annual Shell-Bration will be held this coming Spring 2017.

 

“There are many strategies to defend our Delaware Bayshore, but one of the best and most productive are these oyster reefs,” stated Dr. Larry Niles, a biologist with the American Littoral Society and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. “They not only replicate a lost but important habitat on Delaware Bay – reefs once covered much of the bayshore – but they provide just enough protection to make a difference in how long our beaches persist against the unrelenting forces of nature. In a way, we are fighting nature with nature.”

oyster-reef-4

The projects are being funded by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) through their Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Grants Program, and are being developed in partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.

 

Emily Hofmann is a project coordinator for Conserve Wildlife Foundation


LEARN MORE


 

 

New Jersey’s Hidden Coast – The Final Episode

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

NEW JERSEY’S HIDDEN COAST – EPISODE 6

by Emily Hofmann, Assistant Communications Manager

 

“Our work on the bayshore is not just about wildlife, it’s about people, and how keeping nature strong keeps us all strong in the face of disasters like hurricanes.”

 

We want to ensure that New Jersey’s Hidden Coast remains a vital part of our livelihood for generations to come.

 

This is the final episode to our video series, “New Jersey’s Hidden Coast.” Catch a glimpse of the Bay, the horseshoe crab at the center of the bay’s system, and the incredible relationship between horseshoe crabs and migratory birds, like the red knot. We reveal the real value of horseshoe crabs, the challenges to the ecosystem, and the potential for thriving regional economy along the bayshore. We will show Hurricane Sandy as a catalyst for decisive action and the work being done to rebuild the area for both people and wildlife.

 

Catch up on the previous episodes, here on our blog or on YouTube. Explore the use of “living shorelines” instead of bulkheads and the importance of marshes to the marine ecosystem. Discover the on-the-ground, grassroots efforts of the community to build oyster reeds alongside veterans. And examine the future of the Bay and the work that needs to be done to preserve our conservation successes year after year.

 

Discover Delaware Bay: