A primary objective of Natural Area System is to conserve the State’s biodiversity by designating sites rich in rare species and rare or exemplary ecological communities, and then promoting ecological management to maintain these biodiverse habitats. The Natural Heritage Program tracks the status of over 800 plant species, 356 of which are listed as Endangered in the state. The Endangered and Nongame Species Program is responsible for monitoring and managing New Jersey’s rare fauna. However, many State Natural Areas were designed around the distribution of ecological communities, some of which are considered rare in New Jersey by the Natural Heritage Program, such as the dwarf pine plains, riverside savannas, and Atlantic white cedar swamps of the Pinelands, the ridgetop barrens, limestone sinkhole ponds/fens and glacial bogs of northern New Jersey, or the maritime forest and barrier island ecosystems of the coast (Breden 1985, Breden et al. 2001).
Management activities in State Natural Areas may include conducting inventories and monitoring the status of rare species and ecological communities, and studying the natural and historic processes that sustain ecosystems. Further actions may then be required to maintain or restore these species, habitats and ecosystems. These can include ecologically-based prescribed burning, ecological forestry and restoration of early successional habitats.
The Department of Environmental Protection is required pursuant to N.J.A.C. 7:5A-1.8 to prepare and approve management plans for each Natural Area in the System. These plans describe the natural features of the area and prescribe management practices and public uses to ensure preservation in accordance with the management objective of the natural area. At present, 20 plans have been completed and approved for the 44 designated Natural Areas. Click here to view or download the approved management plans.
A current focus for Natural Area Program staff is management of the state endangered broom crowberry (Corema conradii) and its globally rare dwarf pine plains, also known as pygmy plains habitat, in the East Plains and West Plains natural areas in the central New Jersey Pinelands. The East and West Plains natural areas are administered by the Stafford Forge Wildlife Management Area, Division of Fish and Wildlife, and Bass River State Forest, Division of Parks and Forestry, respectively. Areas supporting broom crowberry have been managed with ecological forestry and fire management to carefully reduce excess fuel loads and restore the historically common, open-canopy forms of pine plains habitat without damage to these remnant populations.
The Natural Areas Program has surveyed and monitored globally-rare pine barren riverside savannas and populations of the state endangered bog asphodel (Narthecium americanum), a yellow-flowered lily restricted worldwide to only a portion of the New Jersey Pinelands. In the Oswego River Natural Area, Wharton State Forest, the Office of Natural Lands Management, in cooperation with Raritan Valley Community College, plans to restore populations of bog asphodel and associated rare plant species by managing their critical habitat in riverside savannas by suppressing succession by young Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) which is displacing these open habitats.
The Swartswood Natural Area, Swartswood State Park, was designated to the Natural Areas System to protect upland and wetland rare plant species and rare ecological communities, including calcareous forest and sinkhole ponds. The Office of Natural Lands Management, in cooperation with Swartswood State Park, will implement invasive species control in upland calcareous forest and four calcareous sinkhole pond wetlands to protect populations of the State Endangered Appalachian Mountain boltonia (Boltonia montana) and 11 other rare plant species in the Swartswood Natural Area, and to monitor the results over a five-year period. Appalachian Mountain boltonia is imperiled globally and is an obligate wetland plant species that occurs only in New Jersey and Virginia. In NJ it is restricted to calcareous sinkhole ponds in the Kittatinny Valley. Only two of the NJ populations occur on state land and the best population in the world of this species occurs at Duck Pond in the Swartswood Natural Area.
Since 2000, the Office of Natural Lands Management, using funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has performed annual surveys for seabeach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus), a federally and state endangered plant. The habitat for seabeach amaranth is preserved in New Jersey’s coastal State Parks and Natural Areas. These include Island Beach Northern and Southern natural areas, North Brigantine Natural Area, Corson’s Inlet State Park, and Cape May Point Natural Area. Preserving habitat in these areas is vital, not only for the survival of this species in NJ but for conserving upper beach habitat, which harbors a myriad of species, including rare and endangered plants and animals. Upper beach habitats are compromised in over 80 percent of the New Jersey coastline due to beach raking and ORV use. The Division of Parks and Forestry implements a beach management approach where recreational vehicle use in sections of the beach is discouraged. This allows for continued recreation while still conserving habitat for rare and endangered plants, such as seabeach amaranth.
Seabeach amaranth is an annual plant, meaning that each plant will set seed and die at the end of the growing season. Because each plant survives for only one growing season and in such a harsh and dynamic environment, it is considered a “fugitive” species, having created ways to adapt, thrive, and reproduce successfully. A single large plant can produce over a thousand tiny seeds. The hard seeds are encased in a waxy coating, allowing them to last decades in the wild before germinating.
In NJ, statewide populations of seabeach amaranth are concentrated in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. The Natural Areas at Island Beach State Park significantly contribute to this species’ survival in Ocean County, where populations peeked in 2019, with 1,438 plants occurring within the two Natural Areas. Atlantic and Cape May Counties historically and presently support low populations of seabeach amaranth. Habitat protection in North Brigantine Natural Area, Corson’s Inlet State Park, and Cape May Point Natural Area is important to the success of this species in southern NJ due to the lack of other protected areas and small population sizes. Often, the only locations seabeach amaranth will appear in any year in Atlantic and Cape May counties is solely within these protected Natural Areas.