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Wildlife Diversity Tour - Pinelands Region

The following Wildlife Diversity Tour is adapted from the Pinelands Region section of the New Jersey Wildlife Viewing Guide. The guide is available from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. The tour includes several different viewing areas:

Evert Trail Preserve
Whitesbog Village/Brendan T. Byrne State Forest (formerly Lebanon)
Greenwood Forest Wildlife Management Area
Wharton State Forest
Stafford Forge Wildlife Management Area

Evert Trail Preserve

Description: This site provides a vivid depiction of the transition from inner coastal plain to pine barrens ecosystems. The mature hardwood forest in this transition zone has diverse populations of interior forest species and contains a variety of ferns and orchids. A mixed hardwood-oak forest characterizes the vegetation of the inner coastal plain. Atlantic white cedar and pitch pine are common pine barrens trees. The Dot and Brooks Evert Memorial Nature Trail also provides a rare opportunity to walk into the heart of an old swamp forest.

Diversity Tour Information: This viewing site is in an "ecotone" where two distinctly different biotic communities - inner coastal plains and pine barrens - come together. In the ecotone, plant and animal species from the two different regions often blend. As a result, this forested floodplain is a highly diverse ecosystem.

A good way to explore the habitats of this ecotone is by walking the nature trail. Pick up a trail guide at the entrance to the trail. At Stop-the-Jade Run, Station 3 on the trail, you stand on the boundary between the two different regions in this ecotone. Upstream, the pine barrens' sands spread across the outer coastal plain. Downstream, the rich, older soils of the inner coastal plain provide nutrients for the forests and farms of the Delaware Valley. Because of the richer soils, the mature hardwood forest of the inner coastal plain features white oak, beech, sweet birch and sweet gum trees. The pine barrens' wet lowland communities are home to Atlantic white cedar, pitch pine, and sour gum trees. Where these two forest types are mixed together, look for prothonotary warblers that find cover in the dense moist thickets of the pinelands and hooded warblers that prefer mature deciduous trees.

Take the boardwalk loop trail across a pine barrens stream, along a floodplain and through wetlands for excellent songbird viewing in the spring. The forested stream corridor here is long and wide enough to support populations of some migratory forest songbirds. In addition to prothonotary and hooded warblers, look for Kentucky warblers, red-eyed and white-eyed vireos, blue-winged warblers and ovenbirds in the swamp forest. Rough green snakes are abundant but can be difficult to detect. Look for signs of flying squirrels and long-tailed weasels.

Towering above you in the old swamp forest are red maples, sour gum, oaks and sassafras. Seeds from these trees are an important food for the area's wildlife. Sassafras berries shine purple on red stems in the fall, attracting migrating warblers like Swainson's thrush. Migratory songbirds are attracted to sour gum trees, also called black gum or tupelo. Hermit thrush, scarlet tanager, and red-eyed vireo, in addition to gray fox and opossum eat the fruit in the fall. Squirrels and chipmunks store maple seeds in their food caches, while prairie warblers favor young red maples as nesting sites. Six species of oaks inhabit the forest: southern red, blackjack, willow, white, northern red, and swamp white. The acorns of white oaks are the best source of food for species such as woodpeckers, towhees, flying squirrels, and gray and red foxes. Wood ducks and mallards eat the seeds of willow oaks, which grow near water.

Pine barrens shrubs such as blueberry and leatherleaf grow here along with bayberry and sweet pepperbush; and small trees like persimmon, magnolia and American holly. American robins and cedar waxwings feed on the sugar-rich berries of the holly shrubs during the winter months. Worm-eating warblers are a tiny forest bird which needs the dense vegetation of mature trees and tall understory shrubs such as this area offers.

The health of this forested floodplain depends on a number of things, many of which lie beyond this ecosystem. Conservation of nearby open space is important and water quality protection upstream is necessary. Run-off from development brings toxins and sediments, which can alter the growth of vegetation and change wildlife habitat.

Directions: From the junction of New Jersey Routes 70 and 72 (traffic circle), take the Pemberton, Ft. Dix Mt. Holly exit and travel 2.3 miles on Ongs Hat Road to left turn (continuation of Ongs Hat Rd.).Travel 1.4 miles to a small parking area on your right.

Ownership: New Jersey Conservation Foundation - 908-234-1225
Size: 170 acres
Closest Town: Pemberton Borough

Amenities: parking, hiking

Whitesbog Village/Brendan T. Byrne (formerly Lebanon) State Forest

Description: Whitesbog Village, an abandoned cranberry and blueberry farming village, is being restored as an example of life in the Pines. Inactive cranberry bogs and blueberry fields are in different stages of succession. Winter flooding of bogs attract a wintering population of tundra swans. Brendan T. Byrne State Forest's vegetation is mainly upland pine-oak forest. Its reservoirs, streams and old sand pits provide other habitats.

Diversity Tour Information: The 36,647-acre Brendan T. Byrne State Forest is located in the heart of New Jersey's Pinelands. It is named after the former governor and was the site of a thriving glass Pinelands industry between 1851 and 1867. Abundant sand and locally produced charcoal made the manufacture of high quality window glass possible. However, once the timber supply for charcoal making was exhausted, the factory was abandoned and the site of the glassworks was reclaimed by the forest. Over a century ago, cranberry cultivation was also introduced to the area.

The cranberry is one of only two native American fruits grown in wetlands. The other is the blueberry. The Lenape (Delaware) tribe first harvested the cranberries in New Jersey. These Native Americans used the wild red berry for food, medicine and as a symbol of peace. Cranberry growth and survival depends on a fragile combination of wetlands soils, geology, and climate. Cranberries are cultivated in a mixture of sand and peat, and grow on a low-running vine. It is a perennial crop. Once planted, vines are not replanted each year, but continue producing. It is not unusual to find a 75 to 100-year-old- bog in production. Growers flood their bogs to harvest the berries. Flooding causes the vines to rise, so a harvester can move over the water and loosen the fruit from the vines. The brilliant red floating berries resemble a plush red carpet.

Cranberry wetlands can serve to recharge and filter groundwater, control floods and retain storm water. They also provide diverse habitats for a variety of birds and animals, including the bald eagle, the great blue heron, osprey and wild turkey, and plants such as the pine barrens bellwort and the pitcher plant. Without careful management, cranberry farming has the potential to pose a significant threat to Pinelands wetland ecosystems. Today, abandoned bogs are regenerating and becoming more habitable for wildlife.

Examples of upland and wetland vegetation abound within the forest. Dense stands of Atlantic white cedar, one of the region's most characteristics trees, are found along the forest's streams. This species reaches its northern limit of commercial importance in the Pinelands. Its light- weight, durable wood makes it ideal for boat building and the production of shingles, fence posts, stakes, and rustic furniture. These woods are a favorite nesting place for redheaded woodpeckers. They are also home to pine, corn, and scarlet snakes as well as a variety of plants including orchids, sundews, pitcher plants, pyxie moss, and sand myrtle.

Whitesbog Village is a turn-of-the-century agricultural settlement, built by the J.J. White Company as the center of its cranberry and blueberry farming operation. Tales of Whitesbog's history reveal an interesting and colorful picture of pine barrens agriculture. The village and the surrounding three thousand acre tract of land are an important historic and natural resource of New Jersey. In the late 1960s the state purchased Whitesbog as part of the former Lebanon State Forest. Several of the buildings are leased as private residences, while others house environmental and educational groups. The J. J. White company leases many of the old cranberry bogs and blueberry fields where harvesting still occurs.

Spring peepers and pine warblers arrive in March. Eastern bluebirds, rufous-sided towhees, tree swallows, and whip-poor-wills are common nesters. With some patience, you might see little and big brown bats, white-tailed deer, red and gray foxes, and red squirrels. Listen and look in the wet, lowland areas for Pine Barrens treefrogs, carpenter frogs, northern water snakes, painted turtles, and enormous red-bellied turtles. No where else in New Jersey can you observe tundra swans at such close range than at Whitesbog Village. View these magnificent swans from your car by following any of the old bog roads leading out of the village. The swans at Whitesbog prefer the abandoned flooded cranberry bogs. In March, over 500 swans can be seen. These magnificent white birds have a 6-7 foot wing span and their mellow and high pitched voices can be heard long before the ribbon-like flock can be seen. Each year around November, the swans begin to arrive at Whitesbog. Their peak abundance periods are mid-December and mid-February through March. The tundra swans that visit the pine barrens during the winter particularly enjoy eating the tubers of a plant called red root. Red root is a weed that competes with the cranberry vines for nutrients.

The Whitesbog Preservation Trust, a non-profit group of concerned citizens, seeks to preserve the village of Whitesbog and surrounding ecosystems. The trust is working to promote Whitesbog's unique heritage and to provide opportunities for public education, interpretation, and recreation. The Whitesbog Preservation Trust publishes a self-guided nature trail description and a schedule of guided nature tours and special programs. An annual Blueberry Festival is held in Whitesbog Village each July.

BE CAREFUL DRIVING ON SAND ROADS. NO TRESPASSING ON ACTIVE CRANBERRY BOGS. Brendan T. Byrne State Forest is open for hunting during prescribed seasons.

Directions: Whitesbog Village: from the junction of New Jersey 70 and County Route 530, take CR 530 west towards Browns Mills for 1.2 miles. Turn right into the entrance to Whitesbog Village and continue 0.5 miles to parking area.
Brendan T. Byrne State Forest Visitors Center: take Route 72 east at the Four Mile Circle. Turn left at mile marker #1. Take the first right and the center will be on your left.

Ownership: NJDEP, Division of Parks and Forestry, (Brendan T. Byrne State Forest) - 609-726-1191; Whitesbog Preservation Trust -609-893-4646
Size: Brendan T. Byrne State Forest 36,647 acres; Whitesbog Preservation Trust 3,000 acres
Closest Towns: Browns Mills, Pemberton Township

Amenities: parking, hiking, bicycling, picnicking, camping, horseback riding

Greenwood Forest Wildlife Management Area

Description: Most of this area is an upland pine-oak forest interspersed with a couple hundred acres of fields. The lowlands contain pitch pine forests and Atlantic white cedar bogs. Three small lakes and wetlands provide habitat for waterfowl, fish, and herptiles. An extensive system of sand roads provide ample opportunity for hiking and wildlife-watching.

Diversity Tour Information: Webb's Mill is a fine example of a Pinelands bog with its typical wetlands vegetation. Naturally absorbent sphagnum moss hummocks support a variety of Pinelands plants including sundews, St. Johnswort, cranberries, curly-grass fern, orchids, dwarf huckleberry, and leatherleaf. Use the boardwalk and trail to observe plants and animals in the bog. You will quickly discover how easy it is to sink knee deep in peat and water otherwise! This is an ideal location for observing Pinelands reptiles and amphibians. Listen and look here for Pine Barrens treefrogs in late spring and early summer, especially on warm, rainy nights. Endangered northern pine snakes and eastern timber rattlesnakes are residents of the Wildlife Management Area. Listen especially for rufous-sided towhees present throughout the area. Songbirds typical for these pine-oak forests include pine warblers, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, and white-breasted nuthatches. Look for great blue herons in the wetlands during summer.

The Pinelands support a community of plants and animals not found elsewhere in New Jersey. Many characteristic species are southern species, which reach their northern limit in New Jersey. The Pine Barrens treefrog, pine snake and corn snake are three such species and are listed as endangered or threatened in New Jersey.

As a habitat for most animals, the "pine barrens" is indeed "barren". The area's physical and resultant biotic characteristics create a harsh environment with low habitat diversity. This limitation of habitat types limits the variety of animals found here. The three major habitat types typical of the Pine Barrens all occur in Greenwood Forest Wildlife Management Area - upland pine-oak forests, lowland cedar bogs, and streams and ponds. Many species are uncommon in these habitats. Fishes and amphibians are especially limited because of the extreme acidity of the Pine Barrens' cedar water. However, there are certain amphibians, which are well adapted to the area because of their tolerance to acid waters. Among the frogs, the southern leopard frog, green frog and Fowler's toad are abundant in the Pine Barrens. The carpenter frog and Pine Barrens treefrog do not occur elsewhere in the state. The carpenter frog is commonly found around larger rivers, lakes, and cranberry bogs; the Pine Barrens treefrog is found in cedar bogs where it breeds in small acid pools or slow moving streams.

Reptiles and many mammals are common in the Pinelands. The most common turtles are the terrestrial eastern box turtle and the semi-aquatic painted, spotted, and snapping turtles. Stinkpot and red-bellied turtles are also frequently seen. The most common snakes are the northern water snake, found along streams and lakes and the, black racer, common kingsnake, eastern hognose, scarlet , milk and rough green snakes. The area's sandy soil is especially significant as habitat for burrowing snakes such as the pine, scarlet, hognose and worm snakes. The timber rattlesnake occurs in the Pine Barrens, but it is listed as endangered and is not common. Some of the mammals occurring here include white-tailed deer, eastern cottontail rabbit, eastern moles, masked shrews and red squirrels. Southern flying squirrels are common but rarely seen. Several small rodents such as white-footed mouse, woodland vole, red-backed vole and meadow jumping mouse are common, the first two found most often in uplands and the last two in lowlands.

Cedar swamps stabilize stream flows, temporarily storing floodwaters and mitigating the effects of droughts. They filter and purify water as it flows through them. Cedar-swamp water is tea-colored and strongly acid because of the decomposition of cedar needles. Cedar swamps form ecosystems different from those in surrounding hardwood swamps or pinelands. Under the dark crowns of the cedars it is cooler in summer and almost windless. Cedars are usually 14-18-inch in diameter and reach heights of 60 to 70 feet. The growth of white cedar is affected by fire, inter-species competition, beaver, browsing by a variety of animals, timber harvest and development. The prime reason cedar fails to regenerate here is the high population of white-tailed deer which will browse white-cedar while leaving other trees like red maple, blackgum, and sweet pepperbush untouched.

Cedar swamps are prime habitat for an endangered plant known as swamp pink. Around the edges of cedar swamps fringed orchids, turkey-beard and curly-grass fern can be found. Birds nesting in cedar swamps include black-throated green warblers, black-and-white warblers, brown creepers, ovenbirds and hermit thrushes. Southern red-backed voles are the predominant small mammals in cedar swamps. Fungal spores in their fecal pellets suggest that they play a role in dispersing mycorrhizal fungi that is important for successful growth of cedars. Hollows under the roots of cedars are used as winter dens by timber rattlesnakes. One butterfly, Hessel's hairstreak, uses Atlantic white cedar exclusively. The best-known amphibian associated with cedar swamps is the Pine Barrens treefrog. Listen for a nasal quonk-quonk-quonk repeated at a rate of about 25 times in 20 seconds on warm nights. On colder evenings their call will be slower. The Pine Barrens treefrog's call is lower in pitch and doesn't carry as well as most other treefrogs.

Greenwood Forest WMA is a natural area with no facilities. BE CAREFUL DRIVING ON SAND ROADS. The area is open for hunting during prescribed seasons.

Directions: From the junction of New Jersey 72 and County Route 539, turn north on CR 539. Proceed approximately 6.2 miles to parking area for Webb's Mill Bog on your left, the west side of the road. The trail begins on the right, or east side of the road, within a couple hundred feet. To get to the small lakes and wetlands, look for the Greenwood WMA sign 0.9 miles east of CR 539 on NJ 72. Turn left into the WMA at the sign. Within a mile, turn right into any of the sand trails and park. Walk east to the lakes.

Ownership: NJDEP, Division of Fish and Wildlife - 609-259-2132
Size: 29,761acres
Closest Town: Whiting

Amenities: parking, hiking, Greenwood Forest WMA map

Wharton State Forest

Description: Wharton State Forest, encompassing just over 115,000 acres in the heart of the historic "Pine Barrens", is the largest tract of public land in New Jersey. The Atsion Recreation Area, Batsto Village, four rivers and hundreds of miles of sandy hiking trails and roads are some of the attractions within the forest. Batsto Village is a reconstructed Revolutionary War era iron-making village, with a Victorian mansion.

Diversity Tour Information: The Pinelands is a truly special place. The vast, unbroken forests of pine, oak and cedar in the Pinelands make up the largest tract of public open space on the mid-Atlantic coast. In 1978 the area was designated the Pinelands National Reserve to protect its unique natural and cultural resources.

The rufous-sided towhee is one of the most abundant forest-dwelling birds, often seen noisily searching for food in fallen leaves or singing from a prominent perch. Other common birds of upland areas are the blue jay, Carolina chickadee, pine warbler, prairie warbler, black-and-white warbler, ovenbird and brown thrasher. Ruffed grouse are often seen and introduced bobwhite quail may be common in places. Gray catbirds live in low areas of dense vegetation along streams or rivers, yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, American redstarts and field sparrows. Herons, egrets and ducks live on rivers or lakes; redwing blackbirds, swamp sparrows and song sparrows live among the emergent vegetation surrounding lakes.

When human beings first occupied the Pinelands over 10,000 years ago, it was a cold and far less hospitable, tundra-like place. Quickly adapting to the harsh conditions, however, the first Americans hunted species now long extinct and settled near small ponds where traces of their culture can still be found. Gradually, though, the climate warmed, sea levels rose and, by about 5000 B.C., the region assumed the same general appearance it has today. Through the ensuing millennia, the native people reaped the natural harvest of the region, using stone and bone implements. Europeans first began to come to the Pinelands in numbers in the seventeenth century, but it was only in 1765 when the first furnaces were built to exploit the region's bog iron deposits that settlement in the interior of the Pinelands developed on any real scale. Soon after glass production began, taking advantage of the high quality sands of the region, and other rural industries were founded. As these faded in the mid-nineteenth century, railroads began to be built, forever changing the pattern of settlements in the area.

The Pinelands' uniqueness springs from its water. The sandy soil allows water to pass through quickly and be stored in the aquifer below. Slow moving streams fed by the 17 trillion gallon underground Cohansey Aquifer supply the marshes and bays of southern New Jersey with water. Although the aquifer may be as deep as 70 feet, it frequently meets ground level and percolates up as a swamp, bog or river. Rain that falls in the area takes on acid from the pine needles on the trees and the detritus on the forest floor; the acidic water then leaches the iron from the sand, eventually forming bog iron.

One of the best ways to experience the Pinelands is by canoe. Miles of rivers run through Wharton State Forest and more than a dozen nearby companies offer canoe rentals. Among the waterways you can travel are the Batsto, Mullica, Oswego, Great Egg Harbor, and Wading rivers, and Cedar Creek. The ride is a calm one, although the switchback curves may provide some challenge to the novice paddler. On summer weekends, the rivers can get extremely congested with canoeists; it's best to either start out early or try for a midweek paddle.

Because these streams are typically very acidic, they have a unique variety of plants and animals that are tolerant to these conditions. The most distinctive fish of the Pinelands is brightly-colored blackbanded sunfish, look in the vegetation at the margins of lakes and backwaters of streams. Another interesting Pinelands fish is the eastern mudminnow, which hides in dense vegetation. The mudminnow is a facultative air-breather - although it has gills for breathing water, it can also survive during periods of stagnant water by using its gas bladder to breathe air. Aquatic larvae of the red salamander are frequently found in Pinelands streams; adults remain near these streams' margins or in bog areas. Beavers are found along many Pinelands rivers and streams, although the original population was extinct by 1820. Look for evidence of their presence in the gnawed trees along the Batsto, Mullica and Oswego rivers. River otters and long-tailed weasels are rarely seen, but present along streams. Raccoons and gray foxes are common throughout the area.

Batsto Village is a restored town which was first settled in 1766 around a bog iron furnace. Batsto's business boomed during the Revolution, when the factory made ammunition for the war. When iron became less profitable, people turned to making glass from the abundance of Pinelands sand. Batsto was purchased by Joseph Wharton, a Philadelphia industrialist and financier, in 1876. Wharton turned Batsto into a "gentlemen's farm" by engaging in various agricultural pursuits including livestock breeding and cranberry cultivation at nearby Atsion. Wharton also continued commercial enterprises at the gristmill, sawmill and general store.

The village consists of 33 historic buildings and structures. A nature center offers exhibits and programs on the natural resources found in the Pinelands. There's a self-guided, 1.5-mile nature walk around the lake through a variety of pine forests, pine-oak woods, Atlantic white cedar bogs and red maple swamp habitats. Endangered Pine Barrens treefrogs, northern spring peepers, northern water snakes, endangered northern pine snakes, eastern box turtles, eastern painted turtles, pine warblers, prairie warblers, whip-poor-wills, great crested flycatchers, rufous-sided towhees, little brown bats, beavers, muskrats, white-tailed deer, and red squirrels are all species you might see.

Although not a formal tourist center, visitors are permitted to walk the site of old Atsion Village. The Greek Revival mansion built in 1826 stands like a roadside sentinel at the site of the once thriving village, formerly the location of a bog iron furnace and forge, a grist mill, three sawmills, and a massive paper mill. During the village's heyday, 100 workers at the forge made stoves, that were shipped to New York and other coastal cities, and fire hydrant tops for an extension of the Philadelphia water system. The Atsion Recreation Area, on the opposite side of Route 206, includes a public beach, rental cabins, a nature trail and picnic area; and is open April 1 - October 31.

Pink blazes clearly mark the 50 mile long Batona Trail that stretches from Ong's Hat in Brendan T. Byrne State Forest, through Batsto and the Wharton State Forest, to Coal Road in Bass River State Forest. The trail crosses several roads and can be reached by car at many points making it possible to enjoy different types and lengths of hikes. A few rolling hills and some wet areas are the only significant challenges hikers will encounter. On your hike look for orchids, huckleberries, white tailed deer and numerous raptors. Permits for overnight camping along the Batona Trail must be obtained at the Batsto Visitor Center or Atsion Ranger Station. Campsites in Wharton State Forest are located at Batona Camp and Lower Forge. Trail maps, restrooms, drinking water and parking facilities are available at park headquarters.

There are a variety of other things to see and do in the area. Among them is the Renault Winery, the oldest continuously operated winery in America, in Egg Harbor City. Various groups and longtime residents offer tours of the area. The New Jersey Audubon Society conducts several trips each year, focusing on the plants as well as the animals of the area.

Wharton State Forest is open for hunting during prescribed seasons.

Directions: For information and maps, drive to Batsto Visitor Center first. From U. S. Highway 30 in Hammonton, take County Route 542 east for 8 miles. Entrance to the village is on the left. For Atsion Village and Recreation Area: on Route 206, 7.5 miles north of intersection of Route 206 and Route 30 in Hammonton.

Ownership: NJDEP, Division of Parks and Forestry (Wharton State Forest): Batsto Office - 609-561-0024; Atsion Office - 609-268-0444
Size: 115,111 acres
Closest Town: Hammonton

Amenities: parking, restrooms, barrier-free, camping, picnic, small boats, hiking, bicycling, horse trails, entry fee

Stafford Forge Wildlife Management Area Description: Located on the edge of the Pinelands, this area has a variety of habitats. Four ponds, a small freshwater marsh, and several hundred acres of pine-oak forests provide a haven for nesting, migrating, and wintering wildlife in an area close to development. The unique "pygmy pine" forest can be seen at the northern end of the Wildlife Management Area.

Diversity Tour Information: Pine-oak forests are the predominant ecosystem component at the Stafford Forge Wildlife Management Area. They offer important habitat for nesting, migrating, and wintering wildlife. Pitch pine, blackjack oak, and southern white cedar are the primary trees in this ecosystem. Pitch pine grows in a large variety of sites ranging from the very driest to the wettest. Most of the other trees, shrubs, herbs, mosses and lichens, however, occur in either only the uplands or only the wetlands where soils are saturated part of the year. The abundant moisture in the wetland sites supports dense vegetation. The wetland plants' moist condition reduces their flammability; fires occur less frequently here than in nearby uplands.

The unique plant and animal communities at Stafford Forge Wildlife Management Area are closely related to the occurrence of fire. Fires are not rare here. Indians burned the woods extensively to improve hunting conditions; and ever since the first white men settled in New Jersey, fires have been common in the Pinelands. Until the early 1900's, the forest was clearcut every 25 to 50 years for firewood, charcoal production, poles and lumber; and most of the forest was burned at intervals of 10 years or less. Over time, these frequent fires and cuttings screened out many plants, which grew along the margins. The absence of these potential competitors and the stimulation caused by the fires favored existing Pinelands plants that are absent or rare elsewhere. With rare or unusual forest types, comes unique species of plants and animals such as the curly grass fern, broom crowberry, timber rattlesnake, and the Pine Barrens tree frog.

For species to survive in a fire-prone area, individuals of that species must either survive fires themselves, or must produce young that become established after the fire. Some species of plants produce individuals that have underground stems that survive fires. The above-ground parts of the plant may be killed, but after the fire they are regenerated. Blueberries survive in this manner, and may produce an abundance of fruit in the copious sunlight that reaches the ground after a fire has burned off the canopy. Some animal species burrow, while others flee during a fire. Other types of plants, such as dwarf pitch pines, wait until a fire to release their seeds. The trunks of pitch pines are scorched during a fire, but the thick bark prevents the fire from killing the underlying cambium layer. Although most of the limbs are killed, the trunk survives and produces buds under the bark. The buds grow into small branches. Sometimes, small pitch pines may be killed down to the ground, but the roots survive to send up new shoots after the fire.

The Plains stands' fire history has favored a race of pitch pines that is relatively slow-growing, develops a mature, crooked form relatively early and has serotinous cones. Serotinous cones are pitchy enough to stay closed, at least for several years, unless opened by a fire's heat. By these mechanisms, fire produced the "pygmy forest" that you see hear today; and which was until recently considered a mystery. The pygmy pine forest on the Plains at the northern end of the Wildlife Management Area is a unique, dense stand of dwarf, but mature, pitch pine, blackjack oak and scrub oak trees only 4 to 6 feet tall. Frequent killing fires keep an area covered with small sprouts. Severe fires at intervals of less than 20 years eventually eliminate species that do not bear seed at an early age. This is why shortleaf pine and black, white, and chestnut oaks are absent from existing pine-oak stands. Over 30,000 trees often grow in a single acre in the parts of the Plains, which have burned recently. In other areas where there has been no fire in 25 years or so, only 16,000 trees are found in an acre. This difference in densities is a result of natural thinning during the fire-free period and the presence of a greater proportion of oaks in the older area. Look for pyxie moss and false heather, which are abundant herbs throughout the pygmy forests.

Most oak trees in the forest originated as sprouts after fires, and many have two or more trunks that developed from a single stool. The trunks of these trees are very susceptible to heart rot. The rot fungi, and the excavations of carpenter ants, weaken the trunks. The uppermost sections of many large oaks' crowns have been snapped off by strong winds and the lower branches developed a new oddly shaped crown. These trees are important as nest and feeding sites for many wildlife species, nonetheless. Pine roots support about seven tree stems each while there are usually only two tree stems sprouting from each oak root. In oak-pine forests, half or more of the wood in the tree trunks is represented by pines. This is because pines commonly sprout out from their branches after a fire and a new crown develops on the old trunk. Oaks, in contrast, seldom develop new crowns from the old trunk. After a fire, the old trunk dies and new stems sprout from the roots. In oak-pine forests the root systems of the pines and oaks may be of the same age but the trunks of the pine trees, however, are usually many years older and larger in diameter than the oaks.

Travel north from the entrance to the Wildlife Management Area by foot or car along the sand road. The road passes along the east side of the chain of 4 ponds, arriving at the end of the last pond in approximately 1 mile. Each pond is separated by a dam, which you can walk or drive across. Beaver sign is evident at the northern end of the last pond, near the marsh. Listen and look for hog-nosed snakes, southern leopard frogs, and northern water snakes in the spring and summer. Wintering birds include wood thrushes and American black ducks. Wood ducks and Canada geese frequent the ponds in all seasons. Near the margins of the ponds look for white water lilies, spatterdocks, bladderworts, and other submerged or floating leaf plants. Sphagnum mosses, sedges, rushes, pipeworts, chain ferns and other emergent plants occur in water no deeper than a few inches and along the shore. Lowland broomsedge, bullsedge and other grasses form the small freshwater marsh. Areas such as these are called savannas. At the beginning of this century savannas covered several thousand acres of the Pinelands. Today, individual savannas are small and, collectively, probably cover no more than a thousand acres. Thickets of leatherleaf and highbush blueberry replaced most of the former savannas. These thickets are known as spungs. The ground in spungs is covered by sphagnum moss with scattered chain ferns projecting from it.

Natural area with no facilities. BE CAREFUL DRIVING ON SAND ROADS. Stafford Forge WMA is open for hunting during prescribed seasons.

Directions: From Garden State Parkway exit 58, take County Route 539 north for 0.2 miles. Turn right at the 4-mile marker. Travel 1.6 miles to WMA entrance straight ahead. For the viewing platform in the pygmy pines forest, stay on CR 539 north toward Warren Grove for 2 more miles. The platform and trail are on the right.

Ownership: NJDEP, Division of Fish and Wildlife - 609-259-2132
Size: 11,529 acres
Closest Towns: Stafford Forge, Eagleswood Township

Amenities: parking, hiking, small boats, Stafford Forge WMA map

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Last Updated: December 10, 2008