The LRWP is often asked to identify top environmental issues facing our Central New Jersey watershed communities, and every year we develop a “Top 10” list of concerns. Through 2019 we feature these concerns in blog posts that explore the issues (and potential solutions) in more detail. In September we consider how loss of biodiversity reduces the ability of our local urban ecosystems to cope with threats from pollution, climate change and other human activities. Taking steps to increase local biodiversity should be on the agenda of every urban municipality in the state.
For humans, the mental and physical health and well-being, air purifying, water filtering, and other benefits of nature matter most in the places they live. Densely populated regions in New Jersey, like the Lower Raritan Watershed, are home to the majority of the state’s residents. Concentrating populations in cities, where ecological footprints per capita are lower, spares land from development and is favorable for overall global biodiversity. Biodiversity is not just an issue for rural land managers. Biodiversity matters for our cities, too. Increasing biodiversity should be on the agenda of every urban municipality in the state.
The first “Intergovernmental Assessment of Biodiversity Summary for Policymakers”, released in May 2019, paints a grim picture. At least 1 million species face short term extinction. Declines in biodiversity link to reductions in food supply, fresh water, wood, fiber, genetic resources, medicines and more. Around the world, rates of change in nature are unprecedented, with complex causes including changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; and pollution.
Although threats are greatest in the Global South, our central New Jersey urban watershed is not immune. Loss of forest and freshwater wetland habitat compromise water quality and food sources. Loss of coastal wetland habitat reduces coastal protections, increasing the risk from floods and hurricanes to livelihood, life and property. Loss of soil integrity threatens our “Garden State” status.
The image series below shows an increase in impervious cover in the Lower Raritan Watershed between the years 1995-2012. We see an increase in hard surfaces like roadways, parking lots and roofs over time. What are these hard surfaces replacing? Significant swatches of bio-diverse natural habitat.
An increase in impervious cover is especially hard on our local streams, many of which have already been completed culverted, buried, or otherwise covered up. Increases in impervious cover also negatively impact the surrounding flora and fauna that is crucial to ecosystem health. We know that ecosystems with a wide variety of plants and animals tend to be healthier than those with low levels of biodiversity, and healthy ecosystems are better able to adapt to changing conditions like sea level rise and climate change. We also know that biodiversity provides a significant volume of ecosystem services to urban residents, helping to buffer against nuisances generated by the cities themselves. Those of us who live in urban areas experience directly how green areas of different types provide space for recreation, social contacts, experiencing nature, and education. And we benefit from these spaces in other ways as they filter pollutants, purify water, mitigate flooding, reduce noise and buffer climate extremes like heatwaves.
The image below illustrates the diversity of natural features in the Lower Raritan Watershed. These features include state and federal threatened and endangered species, significant natural habitats as part of the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary, and juxtaposition of geologic features tapering from the volcanic basalt trap rock of the Watchung Mountains in the north, to the Piedmont, to the Coastal Plain.
Pairing the map series that traces changes in impervious cover between 1995-2002 with the map above which shows our remaining environmentally sensitive habitat areas, we see clearly that the special bio-diverse lands we do have left are incredibly vulnerable to being disturbed or degraded by human activities and developments.
Documents like the Intergovernmental Assessment of Biodiversity (2019) and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 developed out of The Convention on Biological Diversity (2010), provide broad policy guidance that points us in the direction of future biodiversity targets. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife developed the State Wildlife Action Plan (2018), providing guidance for diverse entities in cooperation across ownerships to conserve and restore habitat and connect lands and waters. These documents focus significantly on conservation and preservation of undeveloped and vulnerable lands. To be sure, they are important tools and resources on the path to a more bio-diverse New Jersey, nation and planet, but little of the guidance they provide directly informs policy choices and personal action for our urban landscapes.
The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership believes that in addition to broad policy guidance for conservation and preservation, we need a fundamental shift in collective perspective to see that in the fight to protect biodiversity, cities matter too. With the right form and organization, urban areas can provide significant opportunities to biodiversity, including hosting rare and endangered species and habitat types.
Any shift in perspective must involve broadening our understanding of what “nature” is in cities to include a variety of typically forgotten or neglected spaces. Detention and retention basins, brownfields and contaminated sites, vacant lots, roadside and streamside buffer areas, community gardens, and cemeteries are all potential reservoirs of urban diversity. Much of our work in the Lower Raritan revolves in and around these types of neglected spaces, and much of our work involves implementing Nature Based Solutions and Green Infrastructure. We have adopted Nature Based Solutions and Green Infrastructure approaches because they bring considerations for biodiversity and healthy ecosystem function back to our urban areas and their critical density of population. We believe that by implementing these concepts in our cities, linking healthy ecosystem function in the urban core to its broader watershed, we can center biodiversity at the heart of wider spatial planning and spatial policy making.
Raritan River Enterococci results for 8.22.2019, for six non-swimming beach public access sites. Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Suitable levels for enterococci should not exceed 104cfu/100mL.
**Please note: these results are preliminary and awaiting Quality Control.**
Raritan River Enterococci results for 8.15.2019, for six non-swimming beach public access sites. Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Suitable levels for enterococci should not exceed 104cfu/100mL.
**Please note: these results are preliminary and awaiting Quality Control.**
Raritan River Enterococci results for 8.8.2019, for six non-swimming beach public access sites. Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Suitable levels for enterococci should not exceed 104cfu/100mL.
**Please note: these results are preliminary and awaiting quality control.**
Please see this article for more information on our Summer 2019 monitoring project.
Raritan River Enterococci results for August 1, 2019 for six non-swimming beach public access sites along the Raritan River. Enterococcus results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Suitable levels for Enterococcus should not exceed 104cfu / 100mL. TNTC = Too Numerous To Count.
**Please note: these results are preliminary and awaiting Quality Control**
Raritan River Enterococci results for 7.18.2019, for six non-swimming beach public access sites along the Raritan River. Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Suitable levels for enterococci should not exceed 104cfu/100mL. TNTC = too numerous to count. **Please note: these results are preliminary and awaiting Quality Control.**
Many thanks to everyone who joined the LRWP and Middlesex County Water Resources Association for a picnic and tour of green infrastructure and detention basins in Middlesex County!
Rutgers County Extension Agent Michele Bakacs and Rutgers Doctoral Student and plant expert Kate Douthat provided guidance as we explored several sites in Middlesex County’s Thompson Park (Monroe Township), a retention basin retrofit site in Monmouth County, and a new rain garden at Spotswood Middle School.
Interview by April Callahan, Rutgers Raritan Scholar
Doriann Kerber is Councilwoman for the Borough of Milltown, NJ, and serves as Treasurer for the Middlesex County Water Resources Association. She is also active with Jersey Water Works, and with the Milltown and East Brunswick Green Teams. She took time out of her busy schedule for an interview about Green Infrastructure outreach in the watershed, and her vision for improving environmental education to benefit the health of our watershed communities.
AC: Where are you
from in the Lower Raritan Watershed? In your time here, how have you engaged in
and explored the area?
DK: I am from Milltown and we have a sub-watershed, Lawrence
Brook Watershed, that I enjoy exploring. In 2014 I volunteered to be on the
Middlesex Water Resources Association and I heard about the Lower Raritan
Watershed Partnership. I feel strongly about cleaning up the waterways just
like anyone else in my town, and feel that we should all take part in caring
for our waterways. I got involved with the LRWP to do just that.
AC: What, in your
opinion, are the primary issues that need to be addressed in the watershed?
DK: Continuous cleanups are important for all areas of the
watershed. Every town in the watershed should have annual clean-ups! And
education/outreach is so important. We need folks to understand that the land
use choices they make, that their consumption and disposal choices affect their
water and environment. If they want cleaner water and a better quality of life,
then they need to make good choices and help take care of our waterways.
AC: What is your
vision for the LRWP?
DK: I will be assisting with cleanups, but also helping with
outreach events. I want the organization to get more media coverage, more speaking
engagements, and attract more people from all walks of life to enjoy bicycling,
walking, our natural spaces.
AC: I understand you
are training with Rutgers Cooperative Extension to deliver Green Infrastructure
outreach for area municipalities. Can you tell me more about that?
DK: Rutgers Cooperative Extension offers a “Green
Infrastructure Champion” training Program, which I went through. This training allows
me to be able to assess green infrastructure in towns and municipalities. For
example, I met with the General Manager of the Brunswick Square Mall to discuss
stormwater management improvements that will also make the area more
attractive. I have training to assist four different groups: resident,
commercial, government and nonprofit. In addition to working in Milltown and
East Brunswick I can work throughout Middlesex County and the Lower Raritan
AC: What do you see
as the most important actions Town Council members can take in their home
communities to improve overall watershed health?
DK: Environmental education and outreach is so important. We
need Town Councils to show how everybody plays a part in improving watershed
health, and give them the tools and know-how to make a difference. It’s not
just the town, or the water treatment center, or the wastewater treatment
center that is responsible for water management. Everybody plays a role!
AC: Is there anything
else you would like to add?
DK: I think the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership has
really grown in the last four years. I want it to be recognized throughout the
county and throughout the state, and hope that the work we do will get more
people involved in their local watersheds.
Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Suitable levels should not exceed 104 cfu/100mL.
Enterococci levels are used as indicators of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria in recreational waters. Such pathogens may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, animal carcasses, and runoff from manure storage areas. Enterococci levels are often high after heavy or consistent rainfall.
Huge thanks to our the EARTH Center of Middlesex County, to Jesse Stratowski and his team at the Rutgers Boathouse, and to our wonderful volunteers.
**Please note: these results are preliminary and awaiting Quality Control.**
I love math, as it reveals patterns of periodicity which lead to predictability and useful projection of the future and explanation of the past. Even chaos in nature follows mathematical formulas, as explained by Fibonacci’s sequence and the golden rule.
When a simple mathematical formula is applied to the pair of eagles that make their home on the South Branch of the Raritan River, an amazing picture is revealed.
Two times five plus one; Do the math and the answer is, eleven. It is this simple formula, with a single constant and two variables that summarize the efforts of one pair of eagles over a five-year period. It also theoretically predicts their future contribution to the greater eagle population.
The constant, two, is the single pair of eagles that have built and rebuilt their nest at a single riverside location on the South Branch.
If any deserve to be called a constant, it is this dedicated pair of eagles. Though, over the years, argument between them has been has been loud and expressive. The larger female revealing her feelings in a series of threatening calls, directed at the male, beg for anthropomorphic interpretation. Dad proudly arrives with a large branch to improve the nest and mom decides its arrangement as if she was changing the furniture around. It is mom that spends the night on the nest. Food deliveries stop at dusk and by morning mom is hungry, needs to take a shower and stretch her wings. If dad is not there at first light, she becomes quite vocal, calling for him to take her place on the nest.
Every once in a while, dad would wander back a little late and get a real tongue lashing. Through the travails of their relationship, they persist as a dedicated pair. Their partnership is undeniable as they attend the needs of their offspring and each other. Both will bring food to the nest and share it with their partner. Though sometimes the fish provided has a few bites taken out.
The next variable, two, is the number of eggs this pair has laid and the number of chicks they have fledged every year for over five years.
To achieve one-hundred percent success on the number of eggs laid to eaglets fledged is quite an accomplishment. Not all eggs remain viable and not all hatched chicks survive. Some may fall out and be fatally injured or attacked by a predator. Of those that do successfully fledge, their fate is tenuous. This is one reason banding eagles can provide some data on survivability. If enough data is collected a statistical projection can be attempted by age group.
Any deviation from ‘two’ in our eagle formula is added or subtracted in the second variable. In this case it is plus one, which represents the fostering of an eaglet from a down stream nest that fell or was forced out by an attacker.
Last year a female eaglet, assigned band number E68, was placed in the south branch nest during the scheduled banding session. The adult eagles and their two, six-week-old offspring, accepted the stranger. One can only imagine the endless thought bubbles appearing over each bird’s head to reveal their thoughts and words when two, magically became three. The adults had to work overtime to feed an extra hungry mouth and the established pair had to share the food provided. Consider the eagles at six weeks of age weighed almost seven pounds each.
Doing the math, our eagle pair can live thirty years or more. Subtract their immature years and in theory could produce, plus or minus, fifty offspring. Consider their first nestlings from the 2015 season are approaching maturity and the number of eagles of South Branch origin, keep growing. More impressive, today’s eagles may be seen by our grandchildren along the South Branch or several states away.
A four-year-old immature eagle captured in Quantico Virginia, March 15, 2018 as part of a study, was observed in South Jersey earlier this spring. A square solar panel on its back powers a transmitter and records a plot of its travels. Truly, the skies are the limit, to the world of an eagle and a lesson we might take to heart, literally and figuratively.
By year, this eagle pairs’ offspring have been banded with numbers…… 2015 – E14, E15, 2016 – E43, E44, 2017 – E57, E58, 2018 – E66, E67, E68 and 2019 – E82, E83.
Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author. Contact email@example.com. See more articles and photos at winterbearrising.wordpress.com.