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Creating Young Forest, Working with Utilities on Managed Lands in NJ

Habitat management at Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area; Sharon Petzinger.
By Sharon Petzinger, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife

The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, in collaboration with New Jersey Audubon, created a draft revision to an existing forest stewardship plan that will create patches of young forest habitat within a forested matrix to provide essential habitat for golden- winged warbler and other species without the detrimental edge effects, invasive plants, and consistent maintenance that occur on high-tension powerline rights-of-way. The 10-year plan is developed for the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area in New Jersey. It is still in draft form but is nearing its final set of revisions after incorporating many of the comments submitted during open comment period.

NJ Audubon and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife also collaborated with Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G), a utility company that maintains the nearby high-tension powerline rights-of-way where golden-winged warblers are currently breeding. Last winter, PSE&G implemented the first year of the eight- year plan to maintain portions of the powerline as suitable breeding habitat for golden-winged warblers while remaining in compliance with state and federal regulations. As a result of this modified management, the number of golden-winged warblers breeding on this section of powerline did not change. In fact, one golden- winged warbler male who banded in the powerline in 2014 was recaptured this past spring on the same powerline just a few hundred meters from the original capture site. This generous contribution by PSE&G will ensure that golden-winged warblers will not be extirpated from NJ by maintaining existing breeding habitat until suitable breeding habitat created nearby is established.

Finally, we conducted surveys for all bird species, including golden-winged warblers, to evaluate the response of species to even-aged forest management on public and private lands. We compared results to natural shrub wetlands and, when possible, surveys conducted prior to management. The average species richness detected in natural shrub wetlands and sites with even-aged management was between 18 and 20 species, which was significantly higher than the mean species richness of 12 detected in forested areas prior to the implementation of even-aged management. The mean number of bird species of concern was slightly greater in areas with even-aged management (8) than natural shrub wetlands (6), but significantly greater than in forested areas prior to implementation of even-aged management (4). These results align with literature that suggest that even-aged management conducted within a forested matrix, when not exceeding 20% of the forest, increases the diversity of birds in the area.