Arbor Day 2016
Theme: “F.I.S.H.” (Forests Interacting with Saltwater Habitat)
John R. Spodofora and Sherry Roth
This Arbor Day (April 29th), Stafford Township will celebrate the interrelationship between our coastal forests and the fish and wildlife in our bay and ocean. These riparian forests are an important part of the Barnegat Bay estuary. Having a better understanding of these forests and how they function will help us properly manage them so we can ensure the survival of the multitude of creatures living in our saltwater marshes, bay and ocean.
It is important to understand that the bay, ocean, forests, and wetlands are all intimately connected in one large ecosystem. Although we find it necessary to individually label and distinguish them in order to talk about them, it is far more crucial to understand that they are interconnected. A smaller scale example of this interrelationship is how forests impact saltwater habitat.
Living in a world with all of the modern conveniences and development, many of us are unaware of estuaries and riparian forests, how they function and the benefits they provide us. Perhaps most directly related to humans and society, these forests play an important role in controlling storm water runoff, snowmelt and floodwaters. Storm water runoff can enter a riparian forest faster than it leaves. The plants within the forest trap the water, slowing its movement, allowing for more evaporation and adsorption by soil and plants. Filling in a riparian forest for development eliminates the natural function of these critical wetlands in providing important flood storage.
Unlike tropical mangrove forests that can be recognized by their dense tangle of prop roots that make the trees appear to be standing on stilts above the water, our forested wetlands along the Jersey Shore look very different. You typically don’t encounter trees at the shoreline; they stand back and allow fresh and salt water marshes to take front stage. However, our forested wetlands play a critical role in filtering runoff and groundwater before it reaches the marshes.
The hydrologic action of tides and freshwater from a stream or cedar swamp results in the marsh and trees receiving waterborne nourishment and returning food and shelter to the surrounding environment. These riparian wetlands are intermittently flooded, determining, along with soils, the types of trees able to grow there. Depending on topography, these riparian forests may receive nourishment not only from tidal floodwaters but also from adjacent upland runoff during rain events. These nutrients foster plant growth and further contribute to the ecosystem by producing tons of organic material, mainly through the decomposition of leaf and plant litter.
The value and importance of riparian forests extends beyond this export of nutrients; they also serve as sinks, sources and transformers of nutrients and other chemical contaminants, resulting in a significant impact on water quality and ecosystem productivity. The primary driver of these wetland processes is ecosystem biogeochemistry, which involves the exchange or flux of materials between living and non-living components. These fluxes involve interaction of complex processes regulated by physical, chemical and biological processes in various components of the wetland ecosystem.
Estuaries are the unique, transitional coastal areas where freshwater from rivers and streams meet and mixes with saltwater from the bay or ocean. Estuaries are affected by tides but are sheltered from the full effect of waves and other forces of the sea by barrier islands, salt marshes or other shoreline features. They buffer stormy seas, slow shoreline erosion, and are able to absorb excess nutrients before they reach the bay that could otherwise lower oxygen levels enough to harm wildlife.
Most importantly, estuaries are gathering place for wildlife. The convergence of many habitats - fresh and salt water, streams, tidal flows, salt marshes mud and sand tidal flats, woodlands and fields - all contribute to make estuaries nature’s most prolific nurseries. Tidal marshes also provide vital food and habitat for clams, crabs, and juvenile fish, as well as offering shelter and nesting sites for numerous species of migratory waterfowl. According to some estimates, estuaries produce, area for area, twelve times more plant and animal life than the ocean, four times more than the lakes and streams and more than twice as much as cultivated land. More than 80 percent of all fish and shellfish depend on estuaries for primary habitat, spawning areas or nurseries.
Trees are silent workhorses in our environment. They protect our soil, water and air from the injurious effects of precipitation, erosion and pollution. They moderate local climate by blocking sunlight and wind thus conserving energy. They buffer excessive light and noise and provide sustainable habitats for wild flora and fauna. Yearly runoff from forested areas carries about 50 tons of sediment per square mile, but increased runoff from land stripped of trees and vegetation for development can produce up to 100 times as much sedimentation. Fertilizers, pesticides and other contaminants in the sediment carried by storm water runoff can impact nearby wetlands, streams, lakes and eventually Barnegat Bay. By slowing the speed of runoff and keeping soils permeable, trees promote groundwater and aquifer recharge.
One of the priority areas that the Barnegat Bay Partnership has currently targeted is the protection, restoration and enhancement of habitat, especially submerged aquatic vegetation, marshes, shellfish and large terrestrial tracts. In light of these goals, and to mitigate for the environmental impacts of the Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridges Project, the NJDOT has provided for the restoration of 45 acres of Cedar Bonnet Island, which is part of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The restoration project includes creating tidal creeks to promote tidal flushing, creating intertidal and subtidal shallows, restoring upland vegetation and providing public access. When completed, this will be a spot where we can visit to see first hand how a forested upland area transitions into wetlands and tidally flowed marshes.
In order to assure these resources will be there for future generations we need to understand, protect and properly manage our riparian forests. Municipalities like Stafford Township are working to improve the quality of these estuaries using a variety of strategies. These include watershed-based planning to control non-point source pollution through strict storm water management standards, open space preservation, groundwater recharge of rainfall, carrying capacity zoning (based on the natural ability of the land to support development), strict tree ordinances, natural resource inventories and groundwater and wellhead protection standards.
2016 Theme & Contact Information
To develop a better understanding the important interrelationship of our forests and saltwater habitats, the Stafford Township Environmental Commission developed the theme “FISH” (Forests Interacting with Saltwater Habitat). The commission hopes to draw attention to the importance of protecting and managing our critical riparian forests to assure our bay remains clean and capable of supporting a healthy ecosystem. Children in our township schools will be asked to participate in our poster, poem and essay contest to depict their understating of how our riparian forests impact the saltwater habitat in the Barnegat Bay.
Awards will be presented to those children who best represent an understanding of this year’s theme in each category. The awards will be presented at the televised township’s Arbor Day ceremony on April 29th at the Ocean Acres Community Center. Detailed information about the contest will be distributed at each school within Stafford Township and is available at town hall. The Environmental Commission is looking for sponsors for the various awards to be presented to the children. If any individual or group would like to sponsor any of the awards they should contact Mrs. Annemarie Sillitoe at 609-597-1000 ext. 8537.