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Habitat Managament on Public Lands in Southwestern New Jersey

By Andrew Burnett, Principal Biologist and
Jimmy Sloan, Habitat Specialist, Bureau of Wildlife Management

Habitat management work has already begun on quail management units on both public and private lands.

The goal of the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Northern Bobwhite Action Plan is to restore New Jersey’s bobwhite population to the 1980 statewide average density (7.4 birds heard per route) observed on the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey. The Action Plan (approved December 2009) contains several actions to accomplish this goal including: to identify, increase, improve and connect habitat areas suitable for bobwhite. Fish and Wildlife staff from the bureaus of Land Management, Wildlife Management and our Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) have developed a management plan designed to increase by 50 percent within five years the quality of habitat necessary for bobwhite and a multitude of other early successional species in southwestern New Jersey while having no negative effects on threatened or endangered species.

Portions of Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties lying west of State Highway 55 have been designated as our Focal Regionfor bobwhite and other early successional wildlife species based on the predictive habitat model developed in 2008 by Gretchen Fowles (ENSP). The Focal Region covers a total 557,251 acres, nearly half of which is considered potentially suitable quail habitat and is characterized by extensive agricultural areas, relatively low human density and contains approximately 87,000 acres of preserved open space.

Enhancing existing bobwhite habitat requires intensive management which can more realistically be delivered on smaller Focal Areas within Focal Landscapes. Therefore, the Fish and Wildlife plan established three smaller Focal Landscapes based on the amount of public lands, interconnectedness or proximity to potential private cooperators and natural physical land features.

Work began in Focal Landscape 1 (roughly that part of Cumberland County lying between the Cohansey and Maurice Rivers south of Sherman Avenue) during 2013 by identifying 75 quail management units where actual on-the-ground habitat management will occur. Each quail management unit is approximately 100 acres in size and contains pre-existing early successional habitat patches. Most of these units are located on properties owned and managed by Fish and Wildlife (41), but quail management units on private land (34) were identified to provide connectivity in the focal area.

Habitat management work has already begun on quail management units, within each Focal Area, on both public and private lands. The five year goal is for each unit to be able to sustain a quail covey for their entire life cycle by providing cover for nesting, brood rearing, loafing and escape as well as food.

Habitat management practices will include rotational strip disking, creating field buffers, prescribed burning, edge feathering, native warm season grass, forbs and hedgerow planting and hydro-axing. A structured monitoring plan will help to guide our efforts throughout this process and will allow us to determine if we are meeting our management goals.

Land management practices for bobwhite should benefit a variety of grassland suite species that also rely on early- to mid-successional habitats. Of the 156 terrestrial species listed or proposed for listing as endangered, threatened, or of special concern by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, at least 44 species (28 percent) rely on early- or mid-successional habitats and are found within the Focal Region (nine mammal, 23 bird, four reptile and eight invertebrate species). Bobcat, American kestrel, bobolink, eastern meadowlark, grasshopper sparrow, Henslow’s sparrow, horned lark, savannah sparrow, vesper sparrow, wood thrush, yellow-breasted chat, bog turtle and the frosted elfin butterfly are just a few of the other species that are expected to benefit from Fish and Wildlife’s bobwhite management efforts.

Landowners interested in providing wildlife habitat on their property should contact the Bureau of Wildlife Management’s Habitat Specialist Jimmy Sloan at (609) 748-2058.

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