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Department of Environmental Protection

New Jersey Forest Service

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Atlantic White Cedar Restoration

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has a robust natural resource damage program that compels polluters to not only clean up their environmental contamination, but also to restore impacted natural resources to their pre-discharge condition. When direct in-kind or in-place restoration of injured natural resources is not possible, DEP implements projects that indirectly restore or enhance the injured resource. Restoring a large area of Atlantic white cedar is such a project. Funding for the project comes from settlements with polluters who have contaminated the public’s ground water and surface water resources.

Atlantic white cedar forests provide many ecological services including tremendous benefits to the hydrology and water quality of the Pinelands, a region specifically protected for its ground and surface water resources. Underlying much of the Pinelands is the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, a vast reservoir estimated to contain over 17 trillion gallons of some of the purest water in the country. Adjacent counties and municipalities rely on clean and plentiful water flowing from the Pinelands.

Atlantic white cedar once occupied approximately 500,000 acres in its range along the East Coast, from Maine to the Gulf states. Now less than 125,000 acres remain range wide. In New Jersey, Atlantic white cedar occupied over 125,000 acres historically. That acreage is now down to less than 25,000.

Through this project, the New Jersey Forest Service seeks to restore 1,000 acres of cedar per year for 10 years, for a total of 10,000 acres. Restoring such a large area of Atlantic white cedar will go a long way in offsetting the impacts of pollution.

Why cedar?
Why Cedar?

Atlantic white cedar swamps provide numerous benefits to plants, animals, carbon storage capacity, water quality, and people of New Jersey.

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How we got here
How We Got Here

Since early colonial times, cedar wood has been highly prized for its durability, quality, and light weight.

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What we are doing
What We Are Doing

Today, our cedar resource is at a tipping point.

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Double Trouble State Park - Restoration Timeline
What We've Done

We've been busy restoring cedar.

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Why Cedar?

Atlantic white cedar swamps are habitat for swamp pink (Helonias bullata), a federally-threatened and state-endangered flower of the lily family, as well as many other plant species distinct to the pinelands. In addition to plants, cedar swamps are a valuable habitat for the fauna of the Pinelands. At least one member of the butterfly and moth family, Hessel’s hairstreak (Mitoura hesseli), is exclusively dependent on Atlantic white cedar swamps, and is a species of special concern in New Jersey. Cedar swamps provide winter hibernation habitat for the state-endangered Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).

The microsite conditions that make cedar swamps valuable to wildlife also make these sites valuable in their provision of ecosystem services, like water quality. Wetlands in general, and cedar swamps in particular are moderated environments in comparison to the surrounding landscape. Cedar swamps provide continuous cover throughout the year, creating a cool, shaded environment in the summer, and radiative cover in the winter.

Streams in the Pinelands are almost exclusively supplied by groundwater; the cedar helps to moderate base flow and acts as a filter for nutrients in water. Peat formed in the muck soils of cedar swamps removes and stores nutrients and pollutants from the water including significant quantities of carbon, providing a stable long-term carbon sink. The natural organic compounds found in the muck soils of cedar swamps contribute largely to the Pinelands region’s characteristic red-brown water color. The contribution of cedar swamps to the character of the Pinelands and its water cannot be understated.

Atlantic white cedar has experienced severe decline across its range, with New Jersey being the last stronghold of the resource. However, New Jersey’s resource is extremely vulnerable with less than 25,000 acres across the State. Much of this acreage is imperiled by coastal saltwater inundation directly resulting from increasing rates of sea-level rise due to global climate change.

How We Got Here

Since early colonial times, cedar wood has been highly prized for its durability, quality, and light weight. For centuries this caused it to be harvested without an eye towards re-growing the cedar that was extracted.

For hundreds of years, swamps with cedar were picked over, so that only the cedar was cut. The undesirable wood of gnarled swamp hardwoods (like red maple and blackgum) meant that those trees were left behind, allowing them to rain seeds on cut areas. In the places where maple and gum were cut, their ability to sprout from stumps allowed them to grow faster than and overtop tiny cedar seedlings.

Cedar also suffered because it is so sought-after by hungry deer of the Pinelands. Seeking out what may be their favorite winter food, during the latter half of the 20th century excessive deer populations overbrowsed cedar and caused disturbed areas to fail to regenerate in cedar, whether or not they were cut by humans.

Hydrologic change continues to cause losses that may or may not be balanced by gains elsewhere. Ongoing sea-level rise, ditching and wetland drainage, impoundment due to roads, flooding for agricultural water storage, and flooding from rebounding beaver populations all contribute to stand-specific declines.

What We Are Doing

Today, our cedar resource is at a tipping point. The natural ecological processes that led to its formation have been interrupted for hundreds of years, threatening its existence. Rather than let this unique and valuable ecosystem be whittled away to meaninglessness, we can achieve ecosystem restoration through attention and forest management. We must allow the ecological processes that sustained cedar through the millennia back on the landscape – continuous stands of cedar along drainages, and encouragement of self-sustaining natural regeneration following disturbance.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has a robust natural resource damage program that compels polluters to not only clean up their environmental contamination but also to restore impacted natural resource to their pre-discharge condition. Funding for the Atlantic white cedar restoration project comes from settlements with polluters who have impacted the public’s ground and surface waters with their contamination. Atlantic white cedar forests provide tremendous benefits to the hydrology of the Pinelands, a region specifically protected for its ground and surface water resources. Restoring 10,000 acres of Atlantic white cedar will go a long way in offsetting the impacts of ground and surface water pollution.

The New Jersey Forest Service led a rigorous stakeholder process to identify and prioritize suitable areas for Atlantic white cedar restoration on State-owned property.

Techniques such as seed tree harvests, fencing, and supplemental planting will be utilized to facilitate recruitment of new age classes of cedar within lowlands whose cedar stands have been fragmented from centuries of exploitive land use. The goal of this project is to expand and reinforce the integrity of existing Atlantic white cedar forests in the New Jersey Pinelands. This is best achieved by restoring the continuity and connectivity of cedar forests through forest management.

If you are a property owner in NJ with 5 acres of forest who wants to manage your property to restore Atlantic white cedar please click here for more information.

Young Atlantic white cedar

To learn more about what Atlantic white cedar restoration work has already taken place in the state click here.