Wetlands Restoration Wins Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award

Dec 8, 2011

NJ WetlandsNew Jersey Conservation Foundation has won the 2011 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in the Healthy Ecosystems category for restoring 1,100 acres of abandoned cranberry bog in the Pine Barrens into natural wetlands.

Executive Director Michele S. Byers will accept the award today, Thursday, Dec. 8, from Bob Martin, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, at a ceremony in Trenton. Accepting with Byers will be Stewardship Director Tim Morris, Assistant Executive Director Greg Romano and Land Steward Louis Cantafio.

The Governor’s Award recognizes New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s success in restoring 1,100 acres of the Franklin Parker Preserve in Burlington County into habitat that supports dozens of rare, threatened and endangered species. The restoration was completed last month.

Among the animals inhabiting the 9,400-acre preserve are the Pine Barrens tree frog, bald eagle, northern pine snake and barred owl. Rare plants include the pink lady slipper orchid, Pine Barrens gentian and bog asphodel.

“I commend New Jersey Conservation Foundation for its foresight in preserving this land and for its commitment in restoring more than 1,000 acres of wetlands that will serve as high-quality habitat and enhance water quality in the Mullica River watershed,” said DEP Commissioner Martin.

“This project exemplifies the great work that nonprofit groups such as the New Jersey Conservation Foundation are doing across New Jersey to preserve our land and protect our environment, and is consistent with the Christie Administration’s commitment to land preservation,” Martin added.

“We are just thrilled to win this award,” said Byers. “The Franklin Parker Preserve is a true ecological gem, and we’ve worked very hard on the restoration over the past seven years. Wading River tributaries that were once routed through miles of man-made canals and dikes are once again flowing freely, which is a huge benefit to plant and animal communities of the Pine Barrens.”

New Jersey Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit that preserves land and natural resources, purchased the former DeMarco cranberry farm in December 2003 in what was the largest private land conservation acquisition in state history. The new preserve was named for Franklin Parker, a former New Jersey Conservation Foundation president and the first chairman of the state Pinelands Commission.

Almost immediately, New Jersey Conservation Foundation began planning for the restoration of the preserve’s abandoned cranberry bogs. Thus began a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

The NRCS’s Wetlands Reserve Program purchased an easement on the property that forever protects it for conservation purposes. NRCS also provided 100 percent of the cost of the wetlands restoration, the largest wetlands restoration project in the northeast funded under the Wetland Reserve Program.

As part of the restoration, an extensive, man-made irrigation system was dismantled. Canals were plugged and dikes were breached to allow the water table to once again fluctuate on a natural cycle rather than one dictated by agriculture. Densely compacted and flattened earth was broken apart with heavy machinery to form hummocks and pools, and more than 35,000 native trees like Atlantic white cedar were planted by scores of volunteers.

“NRCS is proud to be part of this award-winning project,” said Donald J. Pettit, State Conservationist for NRCS. “This restoration of the natural ecological wetland will provide multiple long-term benefits to the region.

Wetland functions including groundwater recharge, storage of stormwater flows, enhancement of wildlife habitat and conservation of rare plant populations will be realized.”

The nonprofit Ducks Unlimited was another partner, performing engineering work for the restoration project.

Today, visitors to the Franklin Parker Preserve can view the restoration while hiking or bicycling nearly 21 miles of new trails that were blazed during the past year, or while enjoying the view from two new wildlife observation platforms. For more information about the preserve, click here.

New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private nonprofit whose mission is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. Since 1960, the Foundation has protected more than 120,000 acres, or 187 square miles. For more information on programs and preserves, click here or call 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).

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