The Enhancement of Land, Water, and Wildlife Habitat At Troy Meadows
By: Len Sunchild, November 1, 2014
Troy Meadows is a US National Natural Landmark located in the central Passaic basin, in northern New Jersey. It is owned by a private, nonprofit organization — Wildlife Preserves, Inc. and managed as a natural area and wildlife sanctuary.
Troy Meadows is a mix of meadows, fields, and forests containing a variety of common and endangered plant and animal communities and many biological features, ponds and vernal breeding pools. It is part of the Atlantic flyway and serves as a staging area for migratory waterfowl. It is an exceptional resource for many species of fauna and flora and contains a dense population of avian and amphibian species, a particular haven for frogs, salamanders, and marsh birds.
Troy Meadows was once rated the “highest quality inland wetland in the State of New Jersey” by the US Department of Interior (published in its 1954 nationwide inventory of wetlands resources) but has since been degraded by encroaching suburban development, water and silt pollution, and invasive species of plants that are taking over its once native, natural habitat.
Recently, Wildlife Preserves began the first phase of an aggressive campaign to remove invasive species of plants from the meadows and woodlands at north-end of Troy Meadows in an effort to enhance the freshwater marsh, woodlands, and wildlife habitat there. The project includes installing over two miles of deer exclusion fencing around woodland habitat and replanting the meadows and woods with native plants species.
All the invasive species—from phragmites reed grass, Japanese barberry, to stilt grass—have been located and mapped and scheduled for eradication. Studies have shown that the dense stands of reed grass have raised the level of the marsh by several feet, displacing the water that was once so prevalent and important for marsh and migratory birds at Troy Meadows. And of course barberry and stilt grass fill the land and smother the seed-bearing flora that provides food, shelter, and habitat for indigenous fauna. All these invasives have created an imbalance in the ecosystem and this is the blight that many environmental organizations and individuals are attempting to heal.
The Troy Meadows project is a five to twenty-year plan that includes the establishment of a wetland mitigation bank, deed restricting the mitigation area in perpetuity, eradicating all the invasive species of plants, replacing them with native species, and restoring the meadows to its previous pristine condition.
The story begins with a fight and ends with a positive outcome.
In 2013, PSE&G upgraded its electric transmission lines from Susquehanna, Pennsylvania to Roseland, New Jersey. The project was known as the S-R electric transmission line project. It increased the electric transmission from a single 230,000 volts— 230kV line to a duel line of 230kV and 540kV. It replaced the old 95-foot lattice towers with new 195-foot monopoles and increased the conductor running between the poles from 5 wires to 18.
The PSE&G line happens to run through Wildlife Preserves’ property at the north-end of Troy Meadows. It encompasses a corridor 1-½ miles long and 150 feet wide and it includes 8 towers. Wildlife Preserves is the largest, single private landowner over which the S-R power line project traversed.
In the process of building the project, PSE&G replaced its old, dilapidated boardwalk with a new, elevated, fiberglass walkway over the marsh (dubbed the “Green Mile” by its contractors). The project also required building a construction yard and helicopter landing area at Troy Meadows, which has since been restored.
In an effort to mitigate and help alleviate the disturbance to the environmental that the S-R transmission project was expected to cause at Troy Meadows, PSE&G agreed to fund a water and wildlife enhancement project at Troy Meadows. It was first proposed and studied to restore an old trap skeet range at the end of Troy Meadow Road, but the project proved to be too expensive because there were substantial costs to remove the spent clay skeet, shotgun wads, and lead pollution before any enhancement could even begin. Wildlife Preserves and PSE&G finally settled on a plan that Wildlife Preserves would build a wetland mitigation bank and PSE&G would fund its initial start up cost.
As part of its avian mitigation, PSE&G also installed wood duck boxes in the marsh under its line, but when Wildlife Preserves objected to the location, PSE&G provided Wildlife Preserves with additional wood duck boxes that are being installed along the woodland fringes.
In October, 2014, after over a year and a half of study and reports, Wildlife Preserves was issued its NJ DEP General Permit No. 16 to eradicate invasive species of plants at Troy Meadows. Wildlife Preserves hired Allied Biological to spray the phrag, which they did using two swamp track vehicles—an Argo and a Marsh Master. The initial application encompassed the treatment of 100 acres of phragmites and took two weeks to treat.
In the springtime Wildlife Preserves intends to remove 28 acres of barberry and 131 acres of stilt grass. Eventually Wildlife will install 100 acres of deer exclusion fencing and plant 14 acres of native, woodland plants and 16 acres of wetland plants. Ultimately when the Troy Meadows Wetland Mitigation Bank is approved, Wildlife Preserves will grant a conservation restriction easement to the DEP on 560 acres of land at the north end of Troy Meadows, in Parsippany-Troy Hills between Troy Meadows Road and the interstate highways (Route 80, Route 280, and the 80/280 interchange).
See: WildlifePreserves.org for more information.
Any questions or concerns can be directed to Len@WildlifePreserves.org
Birds of Troy Meadows
Troy Meadows is a very famous place for birds, birdwatchers, and wildlife photographers.
There are a number of publications regarding the bird species of Troy Meadows, among them are two scholarly books on bird species, both sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. The most notable and available is Birds of the New York Area, by John Bull, Harper and Row, 1964— See: American Bittern, Lest Bittern, Wood Duck, Virginia Rail, Sora, Red-Headed Woodpecker, Short-Billed Marsh Wren; page 107, pg. 108, pg. 133, pg. 159, pg. 174, pg. 286, and pg. 330.
In Birds of the New York Area, John Bull reports that in 1947 the Urner Bird Club reported 13 nesting pairs of American Bittern, 10 nesting pair of Least Bittern, 25 breeding pair of Virginia Rail, 14 breeding pair of Sora, and 8 pair of Short-Billed Marsh Wren at Troy Meadows.
In mid-fall, 1960 over 1,000 Wood Ducks were observed in an all-day canoe trip through Troy Meadows, “estimated 700 in one flock and 300 in another.” Regarding the 1960 Wood Duck report, John Bull comments, “Penetration by boat into the heart of this swamp is the best method to cover such a vast area. By comparison, a count from the boardwalk would produce only a small fraction of this number.”
The 2013 Audubon Christmas bird count reported 43 Red-headed Woodpeckers, carefully counted at Troy Meadows; possibly the one of the highest counts on record in any one location in New Jersey; “it obliterates its previous high count of 20 Red-headed Woodpeckers at Troy Meadows set in 2001.”
From 2012 to 2014, Wildlife Preserves commissioned BR Environmental Services to survey wildlife and wildlife habitat at Troy Meadows. Among all the threatened and endangered species reported in the winter/spring of 2014, BR Environmental located several nesting pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers in old dead trees along the Whippany River and within the woodland islands at Troy Meadows.
Other threatened and endangered avian species recently sighted and reported at Troy Meadows are— Savannah Sparrow, American Bittern, Least Bittern, and Black Crown Night Heron— all sighted in Troy Meadows, Par-Troy (2012), a Barred Owl nest cavity in Troy Meadows, Par-Troy (2012), Red-Shouldered Hawk nest in Troy Meadows, E. Hanover (2012), Red-Headed Woodpecker nest cavities in Troy Meadows, E. Hanover and Par-Troy (2014), American Bald Eagle nests in Troy Meadows, Par-Troy, and Great Blue Heron rookery in Troy Meadows, East Hanover.
Considering all the rare and endangered species of fauna and flora at Troy Meadows, unfortunately the only avian species the public seems to care about are the American Bald Eagles nesting at Troy Meadows. The only birds the newspapers care to write about are the eagles at Troy Meadows and the eagles got top billing during the planning and construction of the PSE&G Susquehanna-Roseland electric transmission line project, while other rare species were ignored.
Besides the three eagle nests at Troy Meadows (some active and some abandoned) there is also a pretty substantial Great Blue Heron rookery in the woodlands along the Ash Swamp in Troy Meadows.
As Wildlife Preserves’ current campaign to remove invasive species of plants from the meadows and woodlands at north-end of Troy Meadows continues and its wetland mitigation bank project progresses, the wildlife habitat at Troy Meadows will improve and resident and migratory avian populations of marsh birds and waterfowl should increase.
Birders are encouraged to submit photos and reports to WildlifePreserves.org and threatened and endangered species sightings to NJ DEP.
By: Len Sunchild, November 1, 2014
[Editor’s note: On hearing of the Phragmites removal project at Troy Meadows, mocosocoBirds contacted Len Fariello, Land Manager for Wildlife Preserves. Len graciously penned the previous essay. We thank Len for his time and effort in helping to preserve and maintain Troy Meadows.]