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New Jerseyans love preserved land! Over the past 60 years, voters overwhelmingly passed every statewide ballot question on funding to protect open space, farmland and historic sites. This state we’re in may be the nation’s most densely populated, but we’ve worked hard to permanently preserve about a third of our total land mass for future generations.
But some may wonder if enough is enough. Is preserved land an economic drain on taxpayers? Does it cost too much? Can we afford it? And does open space really have monetary value?
The answers to these questions and more are laid out clearly in a Mercer County report that busts misconceptions and spotlights the oft-overlooked benefits of conserved lands. The report echoes the findings of several previous studies on how preserving green space can save green … as in taxpayer dollars. One such groundbreaking report was “Valuing New Jersey’s Natural Capital,” issued in 2007 by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Mercer County’s new report, “Return on Environment,” examines only lands in Mercer County, but its findings can be applied to all or most of New Jersey. Mercer County is a microcosm of the state: it’s diverse, with urban, suburban and rural landscapes, and residents of all ages, races and cultures. The county has about 39,000 acres of preserved land, or about 27 percent of its land mass.
“Protected open space provides substantial economic, environmental, and health benefits to surrounding communities, but these benefits are often overlooked or undervalued in policy debates and investment decisions,” says the report. A better understanding of these benefits shows that protected open space contributes to the county’s economic development and its fiscal stability.
Mercer County Park, West Windsor Township
Here are the report’s major findings:
· Environmental benefits – Protected open space in Mercer County provides huge environmental benefits for local communities, including replenishing water supplies, improving water quality, mitigating flooding during storms, protecting wildlife habitat, and removing pollution from the air. Combined, these nature-based ecosystem benefits would cost more than $97 million a year to replicate if lost. In addition, protected lands avoid $9 million and $102 million, respectively, in annual stormwater system maintenance and pollutant removal costs. And the thousands of trees in Mercer County parks store carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate change, a service worth nearly $108 million.
· Recreation and health – Preserved open space provides low cost or free recreational opportunities to residents and promotes health and wellbeing. The report estimates that residents who participate in recreational activities on county open space reap over $47 million worth of benefits a year. This number represents the amount that they would have to spend in the private market for the same activities that they currently enjoy at little or no cost. In addition, physically active people who use outdoor open spaces benefit with lower incidences of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, depression, certain cancers, and obesity. It is estimated that the physical activities on protected open space accounts for about $84 million in avoided medical costs annually, plus another $65 million in avoided losses from reduced productivity at work.
· Property values – The study found that protected open space increases the value of nearby homes, since buyers are willing to pay more for properties near and adjacent to green spaces. The increased value of homes located up to a half-mile from open space averages about $7,100 a house. These higher home values generate increased property tax revenues for local governments and higher transfer taxes when the homes are sold.
· Economic activity – Preserved open space and farmland generate jobs and promote spending by visitors. It’s estimated that $104 million in annual economic impact occurs on and because of protected open space in the county. This includes buying goods produced on preserved farmland, and ecotourism revenues from park visitors. Protected open space contributes an estimated 980 jobs to Mercer County, including maintenance workers, park administrators, rangers, farmers, guides and hospitality professionals.
“This report quantifies the economic benefits and supports the investments we have made in acquiring and caring for Mercer County open space parcels,” said County Executive Brian M. Hughes. “Mercer County will continue to strategically acquire key parcels to expand on and improve our existing parks and open spaces, and increase our focus on stewardship – caring for the land to ensure its health and vitality – and continue to provide a range of activities for our residents.”
This sounds like a pretty good blueprint for any county in New Jersey to follow! And don’t forget that although the price of land in New Jersey is high, once the purchase price is paid the open space lands keep generating these economic benefits year after year into the future.
And as this week’s climate summit in Glasgow highlighted, an investment in open space and a commitment to stopping and reversing deforestation around the globe is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. And this work is happening right here in Mercer County, NJ!
To read the “Return on Environment” report, go to https://www.mercercounty.org/departments/planning/return-on-environment-report/-fsiteid-1#!/.
To read the “Valuing New Jersey’s Natural Capital” report, go to https://www.nj.gov/dep/dsr/publications/Natural_Capital_Full%20Report.pdf.
And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at email@example.com.
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As seas rise, NJ’s wetlands disappear
Andrew S. Lewis | November 2, 2021 | Energy & Environment
Fall storms do damage as development pressures increase
Credit: (Andrew S. Lewis)
According to a new paper, led by Rutgers University’s Judith Weis, “The loss of marshes due to rising sea levels is now a critical issue for the present, rather than a future problem.”
Autumn in New Jersey often means the arrival of the highest tides of the year. Right on time, early October’s new moon brought several days of well-above-average high tides made worse by persistent easterly winds, which, on the Jersey Shore, act like a bulldozer, pushing ocean water into back bays and holding it there, against the will of outgoing tides.
For several days, whole swaths of back-bay wetlands, dry on normal high tides, were consumed by the water for hours at a time, only the tips of their cordgrass meadows poking above the rolling waves.
“Instead of six or eight days a month,” said Dr. Lenore Tedesco, executive director of the Wetlands Institute, in Stone Harbor, Cape May County, “the frequency of inundation of some of these marshes now is on the order of 20 days a month.”
It is helpful, Tedesco continued, to think of such persistent flooding like a potted plant. “If you water it too much,” she said, “it stops growing well.”
October’s severe tidal flooding came on the heels of a new research paper that analyzed five wetlands locations in New Jersey, from the Delaware Bay to the Meadowlands. The paper, published in the journal “Anthropocene Coasts,” follows work done for a 2020 report conducted for the Department of Environmental Protection’s science advisory board and led by Judith Weis, a professor emerita of Rutgers University’s biological sciences department.
A litany of threats
Both studies identified a litany of threats to the state’s wetlands, including land reclamation, development, dredging, and nutrient overload. But sea level rise, Weis and her co-authors wrote, “is by far the largest climate-related threat to salt marshes.”
Coastal New Jersey is experiencing sea level rise at a rate of between 0.19 and 0.23 inches a year. Over the last century, the water has risen by almost 18 inches, one of the fastest rates in the world. That rise in the water is furthered by subsidence — the sinking of the land due to forces both natural, ongoing downward settling from the last glacial period, and unnatural, slumping from draining aquifers faster than they can be replenished.
A significant percentage of the rise has occurred in recent decades, revealing an acceleration that, based on a scenario of moderate fossil fuel emissions, is going to push tides at least 1.4 feet higher by 2070 and at least 2 feet by 2100. Under a high emissions scenario, the predictions are much more frightening.
Early October’s new moon, coupled with several days of easterly winds, caused much of the South Jersey Shore’s back bay marshland to be completely underwater.
Just as no stretch of New Jersey shoreline is quite the same as the next, the rise is not uniform along the coast, nor is the impact it is having on wetlands, which are crucial to the survival of scores of fragile fish and bird species. Wetlands are also crucial for their ability to absorb carbon dioxide and other toxins, like runoff from residential and agricultural development, while protecting coastal communities from flooding. For example, the study points out that the Northeast’s tidal wetlands prevented $625 million in flood damage from Superstorm Sandy, and that, year over year, they reduce flood losses by 16%.
In the Meadowlands, most of the wetlands loss can be attributed to development pressure. According to the new Rutgers study, in 1889, there were over 20,000 acres of tidal wetlands in the Meadowlands; by 2019, the total was down to about 8,400.
What about Raritan Bay?
Between 1986 and 2015, the Raritan Bay region’s wetlands experienced “virtually no change,” and in the New Jersey portion of Raritan Bay, in fact, there was more gain than loss. The authors point out, however, that published data on wetlands loss in the region is lacking and that “there is a great need for further study in Raritan Bay and other parts of Harbor Estuary.”
On the southern reaches of the New Jersey coast, however, the losses are significant. Between 1972 and 2012, the study found, nearly 12% of Barnegat Bay’s tidal wetlands disappeared, equating to an average shoreline erosion rate of over 19 inches a year.
More than any other location, the Delaware Bay region illustrates just how much unnatural pressure that sea level rise is putting on wetlands. The vast majority of the Bayshore’s some 85,000 acres of marsh is unimpacted by development, though the negative legacy of 19th- and early 20th-century salt hay farming, like diking, remain. Therefore key elements of wetlands stability — low elevation, sediment supply, and open space for migration — are in abundance.
Because of these contributors, the Delaware Bayshore marsh accretes on average 0.17 inches a year. Under natural rates of sea level rise, this amount of accretion would allow the marsh to keep up. But up against the 0.21 inches of sea level rise that New Jersey experiences on average per year, the Bayshore’s wetlands just can’t keep up. The result is a loss of between 1%-2 % of marsh per decade, according to the study.
“The loss of marshes due to rising sea levels is now a critical issue for the present, rather than a future problem,” the authors conclude.
Blue Acres, potential solution?
There are, however, “potential solutions” for the state’s wetlands loss, according to the study.
Wetlands do have the ability to migrate inland with sea level rise, but in much of New Jersey’s coastal and riverine areas, marsh movement is restricted by the built environment. If future development is conducted in nontraditional ways that avoid “coastal squeeze,” as the study’s authors put it, and instead allow for marsh migration pathways, the state’s wetlands might be sustained. A study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the mid-1980s estimated that New Jersey had 916,000 acres of wetlands, an amount, Weis said, that’s “getting smaller every day.”
Another alternative to traditional development is strategic managed retreat.
In New Jersey, the Blue Acres program acquires and demolishes repetitively flooded homes, permanently preserving the land where they stood as open space and, thus, a buffer for future flooding. Currently, the program looks for “clusters” of homes to buy out and demolish to create large buffer zones. But after the deadly and costly flooding caused by Tropical Storm Ida this summer, there is renewed attention on Blue Acres and its path forward.
In a call with reporters in September, DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette was asked about the effectiveness of the program’s cluster approach to home buyouts. “We may be putting barriers in our own way to conveying risk if we are only saying we are going to buy out entire communities,” LaTourette said.
“Instead of six or eight days a month,” says Dr. Lenore Tedesco, executive director of the Wetlands Institute, “the frequency of inundation of some of these marshes now is on the order of 20 days a month.”
LaTourette expanded upon his suggestion that changes could be on the way for the Blue Acres program in a recent interview with NJ Spotlight News. “The program needs to be reimagined,” LaTourette said. “New Jersey is going to have a wetter, more flooded future and making Blue Acres proactive is reflecting that reality.”
Perhaps Weis and her co-authors’ most interesting potential solution for boosting the state’s wetlands is their recommendation to legislators and citizens alike to reconsider our aggressive position toward the invasive phragmites — the tall, tasseled reed that is now ubiquitous across the state, along the upland edges of marshlands and throughout freshwater wetlands.
Changing view of phragmites
The traditional approach to phragmites has been to eradicate them, simply because they are labeled as invasive, but also because they can have negative impacts on a certain few fish, bird and plant species. But because of their dense growing pattern, phragmites are also effective in trapping sediment, thus improving accretion, as well as absorbing CO2, heavy metals and nitrates from agricultural and residential runoff.
“Phragmites doesn’t do salt water, so they’re only relevant at the saltwater-freshwater fringe,” the Wetlands Institute’s Tedesco cautions. “So, if you’re interested in ecosystem sustainability, habitat function, food web resources, it’s not a good plan, but if you’re interested in how fast it can bury carbon, vertically accrete or trap metals and contaminants, it’s a workhorse.” Nevertheless, Tedesco said, utilizing the invasive species is “an interesting concept.”
Weis agrees that more research needs to be done to determine where and how phragmites can be most effective, but she says that now, more than ever, is the time to find out. “In this age of sea level rise and marsh loss we’re living in,” she said, “having that plant turns out to be an advantage.”
Finally, living shoreline projects offer hope in many forms, from the construction of oyster reefs to distributing sediment dredged from navigational channels onto sinking marshland and eroded shoreline edges — a technique being pioneered by Tedesco and her team, along with the state and Army Corps of Engineers, at the Wetland’s Institute’s Seven Mile Island Innovation Lab.
The lab is a new concept and project monitoring is just beginning, but Tedesco is encouraged by what they’ve seen so far. In one area, which was once marsh but in recent years has been transformed to mudflat because of over-inundation, Tedesco’s team has been successful at regrowing Spartina cordgrass — the first step in regenerating a wetlands habitat that can sustain fragile species like the diamondback terrapin and salt marsh sparrow.
“Soft” solutions, like the distribution of sediment dredged from navigational channels, which has been conducted in the back bay waters around the Wetlands Institute, to build up several rapidly eroding marsh islands, along with others presented in the study, represent the multi-pronged approach to sea level rise that both Tedesco and Weis say the state needs to take.
“This is happening because of what people have done to the atmosphere, so there’s a responsibility to maintain endangered ecosystems the same way as we try to maintain endangered species,” said Weis. “It may be that in a couple hundred years, with sustained sea level rise, wetlands are going to be gone altogether no matter what we do, but if we can keep them around longer, isn’t that a good thing?”
Wawayanda State Park Expanded With ‘Small But Critical’ Land Purchase
10/26/2021 4:09 p.m.
Wawayanda State Park in West Milford will soon receive a trail addition through a private purchase by the Land Conservancy of New Jersey. Photo Credit: The Land Conservancy of New Jersey
Wawayanda State Park in West Milford will soon receive a trail addition through a private purchase by the Land Conservancy of New Jersey.
The land acquisition, located between Wawayanda State Park and Abram S. Hewitt State Forest, completes the Terrace Pond North Trail and is full of mountain laurel, eastern hemlock, oaks, birches, and striped maple.
The 2.5-acre purchase from owner Norma Schadegg also adds a buffer for timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead habitats throughout the nearby cliffs.
“Paired with the protection of 10 adjacent acres by The Land Conservancy of New Jersey and the Trail Conference several years ago, this acquisition is a great victory for the public’s enjoyment of the Terrace Pond North Trail and the beautiful land it crosses,” said New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC) Executive Director Joshua Howard.
“Although small in size, preserving the land was key in securing the last section of the Terrace Pond Trail North,” said Project manager Linda Gloshinski. “This trail should be on everyone’s bucket list, as the vistas are breathtaking, especially in fall.”
Click here for more information about the Wawayanda State Park expansion and the permanent securing of public trail access.
The Cusp of a Wildlife Protection Renaissance
By Guest Contributor | October 19, 2021, 12:55 pm | in Columnist
By Eric Stiles and Collin O’Mara
The historic, bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), recently introduced in the US Senate which aims to invest a total of $1.4 billion annually for state-led efforts to protect thousands of at-risk wildlife species, will be the most significant investment in wildlife conservation in a generation. An investment of this magnitude will support at-risk species population numbers to prevent them from having to receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, as well as provide funding to recover species already federally protected. RAWA’s benefits will extend to economic stimulation with job creation and support for the outdoor recreation economy.
A loss of species and biodiversity is a here and now problem, only exacerbated by climate change. A shocking one-third of America’s wildlife species are at an increased rate of extinction and sadly, more than 150 U.S. species have already gone extinct. The recently released Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) report must serve as our final wake-up call to propel us toward aggressive strategies tailored to the species, habitat, and unique human-wildlife connections. RAWA will serve as one resiliency strategy by providing science-based planning and implementation support. Historically, funding for wildlife recovery and protection was lacking, but greatly needed. RAWA will provide unprecedented support through directly funding wildlife recovery and conservation to effectively protect the most vulnerable of species throughout the country.
Specifically, federal funding from RAWA will flow directly to state-led efforts to recover wildlife outlined in each state’s Wildlife Action Plan. These plans are a Congressional prerequisite to receive wildlife-supporting grants. Serving as a blueprint for conservation of species, New Jersey’s Wildlife Action Plan is tailored to the Garden State’s specific wildlife conservation needs and habitat protection. With funding to implement the Plan, we have a chance to prevent species from becoming threatened or endangered and support the recovery of species that are already considered at-risk. In New Jersey, species such as the red knot, little brown bat, common tern, corn snake, northern red salamander, and banded sunfish, are just a few of numerous species in need of assistance.
New Jersey’s diverse habitats such as forests, grasslands, and wetlands, are home to diverse species of birds, mammals, reptiles, fishes, amphibians, and invertebrates. Habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change are just a few threats to the existence of not only New Jersey’s wildlife, but wildlife throughout the United States. Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will be an effective, tailored approach to recovering the species most at-risk and investing in state-led efforts to prevent the extinction of the wildlife with whom we share our home.
Further, Americans spend $140 billion dollars on wildlife-focused recreation every year. The outdoor recreation industry generates $788 billion in economic activity, supports 5.2 million jobs, and generates $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue annually. An investment in wildlife conservation will result in more funding for outdoor opportunities and public access for all Americans. RAWA is also expected to create more than 33,000 jobs every year in communities where the Act’s dollars are invested, putting money back into the pockets of American’s that have been hit hardest by the ongoing global pandemic.
Eric Stiles is the President and CEO of New Jersey Audubon
Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation
Murphy outlines $100M investment in parks, playgrounds
By Ry Rivard | 10/20/2021 01:30 PM EDT
Gov. Phil Murphy’s office on Wednesday announced $100 million worth of grants and loans to help pay for open space, park and playground projects.
Details: The proposed funding plan, which still requires final approved by the Garden State Preservation Trust, would largely go to land acquisitions, including $42 million for park development in what the state defines as overburdened communities.
A small chunk of the money, less than $5 million, would go to buy out property prone to flooding, a program that the Murphy administration is eventually looking to expand.
The projects: Grant projects highlighted by the administration include: renovating Tippin’s Pond Park in Pennsauken; helping to buy a half-acre property, demolishing a former firehouse on site and creating a firehouse-themed splash park for children in Guttenberg; buying an 11.5-acre parcel in Edison to create a waterfront park; expanding the Holmes A. Adams Recreation Complex in Neptune City; and preserving the historic Colt Gun Mill on the Allied Textile Printing site in Paterson.
“With these investments, we will take another significant step toward ensuring all New Jersey communities have access to recreational opportunities and enjoy the benefits of natural resource conservation,” Murphy said in a press release. “The proposed projects will provide equitable and meaningful access to urban parks, help address the impacts of climate change, and advance our long-term resilience goals. Investing in our communities through these projects will improve the quality of life for families living across New Jersey now and in the future.”
The funding was announced by Murphy in Union City alongside his top environmental official, Shawn LaTourette, and state Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson), who’s also mayor of Union City.
A complete list of the projects is available at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s page for the Green Acres program.
TOWN: Fairfield Township | COUNTY: Cumberland | REGION: Delaware Bay Watershed | ACRES: 30
Farmland forever! 30 acres preserved along scenic Cohansey River in Cumberland County
Daniel DeTullio bought his farm along the Cohansey River in Fairfield Township, Cumberland County in 1987 because of its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife.
He and his wife, Raquel, just preserved the nearly 30-acre property to protect it from future development. “It’s so peaceful and quiet and serene back there, it would be a shame to develop it,” said Dan.
On Sept. 13, New Jersey Conservation purchased the development rights on the DeTullio farm, ensuring that it stays farmland forever.
The farm is surrounded on two sides by the state’s Cohansey River Wildlife Management Area, and is bordered by a tributary known as Rocaps Run. The Cohansey winds through a mosaic of tidal marshes, woodlands and farms before emptying into the Delaware Bay. The area provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including bald eagles.
“The eagles back there are like mosquitos,” Dan joked. There are also plenty of wild turkeys, ducks, geese, owls, deer and other creatures. “You see a lot of things there that you don’t see anywhere else,” said Dan.
The DeTullios still own the farm, but the land is now permanently restricted to agriculture. Preserving the property will maintain the area's rural and scenic character, protect wildlife, safeguard soil quality, and protect the land’s ability to recharge groundwater.
Funding was provided by the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC)and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Cumberland County also contributed to the project by paying for property appraisals.
“We are thrilled to help ensure that this beautiful riverside farm stays farmland forever,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “We’re very grateful to the DeTullios for deciding to preserve their farm, and to our partners for providing funding to make this project possible.”
The DeTullio farm is located just south of Bridgeton, and a short distance from the Dutch Neck section of Hopewell Township, where New Jersey Conservation Foundation helped preserve several historic farms.
Most of the farm’s soils are “prime” and “statewide-Important” soils, the two highest quality classifications for food production. Much of the newly-preserved land is in open field agriculture, with smaller forested areas on its northern and southern sides.
This farmland preservation project advances New Jersey Conservation's collaborative partnership with Cumberland County to save working family farms with outstanding agricultural attributes. It also builds upon New Jersey Conservation Foundation's work to preserve farms and wildlife habitat in the lower Cohansey River region of Cumberland County.
Julie Hawkins, State Conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, praised the partnership that made the DeTullio preservation project successful.
“The New Jersey Conservation Foundation was the first nonprofit in New Jersey to successfully seek NRCS financial assistance for agricultural land preservation more than 15 years ago,” said Hawkins. “Partnership is key to preserving farmland in New Jersey and this effort couldn’t have been done without the help of State Agriculture Development Committee as well. SADC is our state’s leader in farmland preservation and was ranked #1 in the nation by the American Farmland Trust for its implementation of policies to protect farmland and support its viability. We’re grateful that NRCS funding can be a catalyst in New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s and SADC’s efforts to help family-run farms remain farmland for future generations.”
About New Jersey Conservation Foundation
A private nonprofit based in Far Hills, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s mission is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. In addition to protecting over 125,000 acres of open space, farmland and parks, New Jersey Conservation promotes strong land conservation policies at the local, county, state and federal levels, and provides support and technical assistance to hundreds of partner groups.
For more information about New Jersey Conservation Foundation and its programs and preserves, visit www.njconservation.org or call 1-888-LANDSAVE (1-888-526-3728).
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 23, 2021
Contact: Lawrence Hajna (609) 984-1795
Caryn Shinske (609) 292-2994
(21/P29) TRENTON – A component of the Murphy Administration’s strategy to ensure New Jersey becomes more resilient to climate change, the Department of Environmental Protection will restore 10,000 acres of globally threatened Atlantic white cedar forests to the state’s Pinelands region, Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette announced today as part of the State’s recognition of Climate Week. New Jersey’s Atlantic white cedar forests have been adversely impacted by climate change, including by sea-level rise and storm surge that have brought saltwater into these fragile freshwater ecosystems, leaving ghost forests where thriving Atlantic white cedars once stood.
“This is the largest forest restoration project ever undertaken in New Jersey and the largest ever in the nation restoring Atlantic white cedars,” Commissioner LaTourette said. “Through this project, we will reestablish once-dominant stands of Atlantic white cedar, but at higher elevations less vulnerable to rising seas and saltwater intrusion and provide habitat for globally rare plants and wildlife, while capturing and storing carbon and absorbing floodwaters.”
The DEP’s Forest Service has already successfully returned Atlantic white cedar to sites where it has been lost on both public and private land. DEP will now scale up this effort, returning more than 10,000 acres of cedar forests to New Jersey’s Pinelands in places where its continued survival is not threatened by a changing climate. This effort will strengthen connectivity of this ecosystem, increase the area of high-value wetlands that store and naturally filter water, create natural breaks needed for wildfire control – and begin to restore the grandeur of southern New Jersey’s wetland forests. For information and a video, visit http://atlanticwhitecedar.nj.gov/
The restoration activities will take place on state-owned forests, parks, and Wildlife Management Areas and is funded through DEP’s natural resource damage recoveries, including settlements with manufacturers and distributors of gasoline containing methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) that contaminated groundwater and surface water throughout New Jersey. DEP pursues natural resource damages to compensate the public for harm to their natural resources and utilizes recoveries for environmentally beneficial projects like the restoration of Atlantic white cedars, the creation and enhancement of wetlands, the cleanup of waterways, and other projects that support the public’s use and enjoyment of their environment.
An imperiled resource
At the time of European settlement, an estimated 500,000 acres of Atlantic white cedar forests stretched from Maine to northern Florida and along parts of the Gulf of Mexico coast – with some 115,000 acres in New Jersey alone. In New Jersey, these forests were found predominantly in the Pinelands and to a lesser extent in in the Meadowlands of northern New Jersey and the Delaware Bay and Raritan Bay regions. Today, fewer than 125,000 acres remain nationally. New Jersey, with less than 25,000 acres of Atlantic white cedar stands, remains a stronghold, though a diminished one.
As a result of these losses, these forests are considered imperiled by various government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. Past logging has been a significant contributor to the decline of Atlantic white cedars. Disease- and pest-resistant, cedar wood was valued for the construction of ships, shake roofs, clapboard, and fences. Other factors contributing to losses include ditching, draining of wetlands, deer browsing and dam-building by a rebounding beaver population.
In addition, Atlantic white cedar, though a coastal species, is not salt-tolerant. New Jersey has lost large tracts of these forests in areas impacted by steady sea-level rise as well as by storm surge along creeks and rivers, particularly during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The impacts of sea-level rise have left dead forests known as ghost forests for their craggy and bleached-white appearance (pictured).
Yet the Atlantic white cedar forests serve as efficient carbon sinks, collecting atmospheric carbon and storing it throughout the tree and in the organic peat soil that these forests generate. In addition, these forests provide unique habitat and are critical in maintaining the excellent water quality of the Pinelands as they filter, cool and slow the movement of ground water and streams.
The New Jersey Forest Service led a rigorous stakeholder process to identify and prioritize suitable areas for Atlantic white cedar restoration on state-owned property and has been working closely with municipalities and stakeholders since 2018. In addition to numerous municipalities, the DEP has worked with more than 60 stakeholder groups, including prominent environmental groups such as the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and New Jersey Audubon.
“The grand Atlantic white cedars, like the pines and oaks, have characterized the natural landscape in the Pinelands for thousands of years,” said Richard Prickett, Chairman of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission. “Early settlers depended on the rot-resistant, straight-grained wood from these trees to clad and shingle their homes, fence in their livestock, build sneakboxes and other traditional boats and decoys to hunt for migratory game. Today we again need to depend on the majestic cedars, not to build objects from their wood, but to grow wood to help remove and store the carbon dioxide that the success of our forefathers has generated. With our help, the Atlantic white cedar can once again grow abundantly in the Pinelands and benefit humanity.”
“Restoration of Atlantic white cedar forests will fight climate change by sequestering large amounts of carbon in trees and restoring deep soil carbon in sphagnum peat for thousands of years,” said Jay Watson, Senior Director for Statewide Land Protection for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “Atlantic white cedar forests also provide a unique habitat for rare Pine Barrens plants and animals in need of protection. We applaud the NJDEP for these ambitious restoration efforts and look forward to working with them to advance this important project and other natural climate solutions.”
“New Jersey Audubon supports this ambitious effort by the State, as Forest Stewardship Planning and active ecological forestry practice implementation,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for NJ Audubon. “Atlantic white cedar restoration inherently provides enormous ecological uplift in a globally recognized Biosphere that is the New Jersey Pinelands.”
“Atlantic white cedar forests are very special places, and you know it as soon as you step into one,” said Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. “They are quiet, sublime and magnificent. Restoring these forests on a landscape level to the Pinelands will certainly provide a great many benefits to the region’s ecological diversity. But restoring these forests will provide many intangible benefits as well, as places for people to enjoy the simple grandeur of nature for many generations to come.”
Restoring a globally rare ecosystem
Atlantic white cedar depends on damp and acidic soils found along rivers, streams, bogs and wetlands. Mature forests form dense stands that allow little sun to penetrate to the forest floor. This shade-shrouded ecosystem fosters growth of sphagnum-moss hummocks, liverworts, ferns, insect-eating plants, and rare orchids, some found only in the Pinelands. In turn, this unique ecosystem supports rare animal species, such as the Pine Barrens tree frog (pictured), barred owl and timber rattlesnake. These forests filter and purify water, stabilize stream banks, store stormwater and create natural breaks that can slow or halt the spread of wildfires.
The first phase of restoration is targeted to begin in the latter part of 2022 and encompass 2,000 acres along river headwaters in western Wharton State Forest. These areas were logged of cedars before the state acquired the land decades ago. The DEP will seek New Jersey Pinelands Commission approval for this phase of the project early next year. The DEP is also encouraging landowners to emulate the project.
The projects will restore a more natural mix of forest types, providing habitat for a greater variety of plant and animal species. Restoration areas will vary from more than 20 acres each to parcels of several hundred acres. Priority will be given to connecting existing stands of cedars. Careful attention will be paid to conditions such as soils and hydrology. Any areas that could be impacted by saltwater from storm surge have been mapped and will be avoided.
Stands of competing hardwoods, such as red maple and black gum, that have taken over formerly cedar-dominant areas will be removed. Areas will be regenerated using on-site remnant cedars as the seed source or, in limited instances, they will be replanted with Atlantic white cedars raised at the DEP’s Forest Nursery in Jackson. Each site will be carefully monitored and, if necessary, protected from deer browsing with fencing.
Follow Commissioner LaTourette on Twitter and Instagram @shawnlatur and follow the DEP on Twitter @NewJerseyDEP
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ASTM Standardization News
It's All About Play
The recently revised public playground standard and related surfacing standards support safer play.
Play is children’s work, and playgrounds give kids a place where they can learn and develop skills, coordination, cooperation, imagination, and more. And in the ever-evolving marketplace, these collections of equipment are being designed and developed to allow and encourage various activities, as well as to reflect a certain look.
Alongside this evolution, the consumer safety performance specification for playground equipment for public use (F1487) has supported children’s safety while at play for close to 30 years. A subcommittee in the consumer products committee (F15) oversees the F1487 playground standard (there’s a separate specification for backyard playground equipment) and takes the approach of furthering safety without limiting design.
“Instead of focusing strictly on design criteria, we look at the hazards associated with each type of equipment,” says Lloyd Reese, vice president of technical product management with PlayCore. Reese works on the responsible subcommittee on playground equipment for public use (F15.29) as well as the subcommittee on playground surfacing systems (F08.63), which oversees standards for the surfaces around playgrounds.
Now, a revision of the F1487 playground standard has been completed, and it references additional standards for these surrounding surfaces.
The subcommittee on playground equipment for public use today numbers more than 250 stakeholders — manufacturers, playground organizations, labs, academia, government agencies, and many others. They completed the F1487 revision in the spring.
Kenneth Kutska is executive director at the International Playground Safety Institute LLC and chair of F15.29. Of the new version of the standard, he says, “These revisions help clarify changes occurring internationally within the industry. Most significantly, this version addresses performance requirements related to new equipment types introduced in the marketplace that are not covered in the existing standard.”
Julie Boland adds, “All of these changes will help to provide today’s youth with accessible, safe, and challenging play environments.” An F15 member, Boland is vice president of credentialing and member operations at the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), a network of park and recreation professionals and advocates whose work includes a worldwide playground certification program.
Kutska notes that the F1487 changes begin at the very beginning of the standard: with the scope. “There was a basic change in the scope to clarify and alert the users of the standard that ‘clearance and use zone’ requirements related to the playground equipment and its relationship to the protective surfacing and three-dimensional space around the equipment is considered within the standard.”
One newly expanded section of the standard addresses both fixed and flexible track or trolley rides, which can have seats or a handlebar. The standard includes factors such as speed and potential impact hazards by addressing clearance and use zones throughout the path or travel of a suspended seat. “It took about three years to finally come to consensus, but I think we have a very powerful and needed text. Getting these new requirements in this revision was important because it had gotten to the point where we were seeing many different types of these in the field,” Reese says.
Kutska adds, “We also added a better explanation of what the manufacturer, designer, and/or owner needs to do to verify that the playground equipment and its protective surfacing use zones comply with the minimum performance requirements of this standard.” According to the standard, the verification shall be in writing by a qualified person and be kept as part of the owner’s documentation papers, which the standard already requires.
In allowing for designer/manufacturer innovation and appropriate documentation as already stated in the standard, a new appendix addresses this by detailing how a hazard identification and risk/benefit assessment process might be done. The appendix gives guidance and three examples about how one might go about completing this process along with information related to recommended maintenance practices for the functional life of the equipment and/or protective surfacing.
The revised playground standard takes into account many new elements.
New sections have been added that specifically address playground equipment installation and maintenance to clarify the responsibilities of all involved in these processes. The standard now says that installers need to indicate in writing, by a qualified person, that the work has been done according to the owner’s/manufacturer’s instructions, plans, and specifications.
Boland summarizes: “The F1487-21 standard revisions help to provide clarity and accuracy to terms, references, and responsibilities. These modifications are meant to ensure that the scope is inclusive of clearance and use zones for the safety of users; to reflect new findings related to equipment and safety; and to assist users with hazard identification and risk/benefit assessments through a new appendix.”
The revised standard covers the equipment itself, and it references standards for the surfaces around a playground, which form an integral part of the entire system. Standards from the F08.63 subcommittee, part of the committee on sports equipment, playing surfaces, and facilities (F08) provide further guidance on this component.
Last year, the F08 committee completed various standards changes primarily related to F1292 for the performance requirements for playground protective surfacing. The committee also developed a new standard (F3313) for field testing protective surfacing for impact attenuation performance to surfaces installed around a playground, now referenced in F1487. The test method for determining impact attenuation of playground surfaces within the use zone of playground equipment as tested in the field (F3313) provides a uniform means to quantify how a surface responds to an impact from a falling object. That data guides the estimation of the relative risk of a head injury — in children 2 to 12 years — due to a fall. This test provides the ability to compare surface impact attenuation to the results of the three-temperature laboratory test found in the specification for impact attenuation of surfacing materials within the use zone of playground equipment (F1292).
Another significant standard (F3351) added to the family of playground-related standards is a specified fall height laboratory test. This impact test allows for reporting HIC (head injury criteria) and g-max at specified heights lower than the critical fall height. The critical fall height is the maximum fall height from which a life threatening head injury would not be expected to occur, which is still based on the maximum impact threshold of 200 g and 1000 HIC.
In practice, as Reese notes, “What we’ve found is that a lot of manufacturers don’t want to market surfaces that get close to critical fall height.” This standard provides a way for manufacturers to differentiate their products and indicate how their surfacing performs at heights less than the maximum allowed.
In total, the standards all support safer play.
A broad group of stakeholders uses the playground standard: playground equipment designers, landscape architects, architects, manufacturers, suppliers, planners, installers, providers, owner agencies, and maintenance technicians. And one more: inspectors.
Boland notes, “The ASTM F1487 standard is a critical component for our Certified Playground Safety Inspector and Playground Maintenance course, but most important, it is necessary for the safety of today’s youth who will be enjoying those very playgrounds.” That program offers training in hazard identification, equipment specifications, surfacing requirements, and risk management.
“NRPA uses this standard along with other standards and the CPSC [U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission] Handbook to certify playground safety inspectors,” Kutska adds. “They have been doing this for over 25 years and have trained approaching 100,000 participants.” That includes inspectors all over Europe and Asia, as well as North America, who have been trained through the program.
Over the years, the F15.29 subcommittee has kept F1487’s practical use in mind as it has refined the standard. Reese says, “Because we have had the exposure to so many laypeople in using the standard, I think that we have continued to evolve it into a user-friendly document.”
A Final Note
“Standards such as these are necessary to ensure that children are able to safely develop their physical, intellectual, social, and emotional skills through play on playgrounds,” Boland says. “The revision of standards such as F1487 is necessary to ensure they remain relevant and current in the ever-changing world of playground equipment education, development, and innovation.”
The ASTM groups responsible for these standards continue to refine and revise them as new technologies and needs come up to help children play safely in a reasonably safe environment. In the end, it is all about keeping our children active and engaged in play.
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