Thursday, June 27, 2013

Volunteers Honored for Contributions to Environmental Nonprofit

Great Swamp Watershed Association presents awards for outstanding service in 2012-13.

The Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA) honored three area residents for their outstanding service as volunteers over the past year.  The announcements were made during the environmental organization’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Picnic on Tuesday, June 25.

Millington resident Bill Marshall was recognized for his contributions to GSWA’s water quality programs.  For the past two years, he has worked with the organization’s Stream Team to assist with the collection of scientific data from the five major streams of New Jersey’s Great Swamp.

Marshall has been instrumental in conducting scientific visual assessments of waterways, collecting water samples for chemical analysis, and, more recently, helping GSWA launch a monitoring program for waterborne bacteria.

Meyersville resident Ritchie Fullerton and Stirling resident Richard Desch were both recognized for their contributions to GSWA’s outreach and education programming.  Both honorees began their involvement in the organization through events sponsored jointly with Northern New Jersey Cachers (, a group dedicated to promoting the outdoor sport of geocaching statewide.

Fullerton and Desch provided critical support over the past year for two major efforts aimed at increasing awareness of the natural world in and around New Jersey’s Great Swamp.  GSWA’s Halloween-themed Spooky Swamp Walk—held on the 26 and 27 of October, 2012—introduced participants to the organization’s 53-acre, Conservation Management Area—a publicly accessible natural area and demonstration site for environmental restoration projects.  GSWA’s Great Swamp Scavenger Hunt, held on May 11, 2013, introduced a host of geocachers and many others to the sights and sounds of the larger 55-square-mile Great Swamp Watershed region by sending them out to explore outdoor destinations like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and Morris County’s Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham Township, NJ.

In appreciation of their contributions, GSWA presented all three honorees with appropriate swamp-related gifts.  Marshall received a copy of the National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Mid-Atlantic States which includes information about plants and wildlife commonly found in the Great Swamp. Fullerton and Desch each received a northern highbush blueberry shrub to plant at home.  The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is native to the eastern U.S. and commonly found in the Great Swamp region.

The Great Swamp Watershed Association sincerely thanks all of its 2012-13 volunteers for the excellent work they have done to protect the waters and the land of the Great Swamp Watershed we all love and share.  If you are interested in joining one GSWA’s environmental volunteer programs, please visit the organization online at, or call 973-538-3500 for more information.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Accolades for Bernards High School Students Working Toward Cleaner Water

Advanced Placement projects benefit Great Swamp Watershed Association, win award from The Nature Conservancy

Bernards High School students in Karen DeTrolio’s AP Environmental Studies class made a big splash with their year-end projects this June.  Working in teams of 3 or 4, they examined their own relationships with water and turned their discoveries into practical information everyone can use to avoid pollution and conserve natural resources.

The 20 projects, which included everything from a review of the impact of common household chemicals on water supplies, to an explanation of the links between clean water and healthy wildlife, were developed in partnership with the Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA).

Dedicated to protecting the waters and the land of New Jersey’s 55-square-mile Great Swamp Watershed region, GSWA will incorporate the students’ work into the organization’s upcoming Watershed Friendly Homes program.  GSWA Director of Education and Outreach Hazel England worked with DeTrolio to design the classroom collaboration and provided guidance and support to students as their research progressed.

“GSWA was excited to initiate this project and collaborate with students from a school within the watershed,” said England.  “Their work will form a cornerstone for future outreach to residents in Bernardsville and the nine other towns of the Great Swamp Watershed as GSWA launches its new Watershed Friendly Homes program aimed at changing water use behavior in the region.”

Students were asked to present their final projects over the course of two days to an audience made up of their peers and several visiting environmental experts from GSWA and other local community groups.  Visiting experts were asked to assess each group’s presentation, and choose their favorites.

Awards for excellence went to four groups of students.  Seniors Lauren Thomann, Abby Parker, and Erin O’Brien chose to survey their peers and the surrounding Bernardsville community to learn more about local water use and what might keep people from engaging in more conservation-oriented behavior.

Senior Morgan Blain, senior Christian Torres, and junior Jon Carter explored the true cost of bottled water production and what it would take to convince consumers to replace boutique water brands with ordinary, clean tap water.

Seniors Bina Patel, Kathryn Levin, and Edi Lima ventured under the sink to discover more about the environmental effects of those household cleaning products we all use and wash down the drain when we are done with them.

Seniors Addie Clayton, Erin Doran, and Sophie Reddi documented the construction of a rain barrel they and their friends built from scratch.  Their double-barrel rainwater collection system, which cost $200 to construct, is already at work diverting rain from the roof of Bernards High School into a courtyard garden where it nourishes a multitude of watershed friendly native plants.

A fifth group, which included seniors Matt Whitlock, Katie Hildebrandt, and Till Rosscamp, went above and beyond their teacher’s requirements and submitted their project to The Nature Conservancy for consideration in the environmental organization’s Show Us Your H2O competition for school groups and civic organizations from New Jersey’s Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, and Somerset Counties.  Structuring their research to meet stringent contest parameters, the trio created a presentation that carefully tracked the source of drinking water for the Borough of Bernardsville, and systematically analyzed the environmental risks facing that water supply.

Their hard work was repaid in full when they took top honors for their submission.  As a reward, Matt, Katie, and Till will be acknowledged for their integral role in the placement of a new rain garden that The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey will construct free of charge on the grounds of Bernards High.

“I am so pleased with the success of the project for both the GSWA and for my students,” said Bernards High teacher Karen DeTrolio.  “It provided my classes with a meaningful project-based learning experience, and the GSWA with the building blocks for their Watershed Friendly Homes program.  As a teacher, it was incredibly rewarding to watch my students apply what they learned throughout the year to a real-life situation.”

Congratulations to all of the participating Bernards H.S. students for a job well done.  Their work will appear online early this fall as part of GSWA’s Watershed Friendly Homes program.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Did You Know? The Cicadas Are Here!

by Jim Northrop

Most insects follow an annual cycle of birth, life and then death.  Seasonal changes in temperature often cue these insect life stages. However, a very noticeable exception to that rule is presently occurring.
Cicadas have emerged en masse, after 17 years in the ground. They are clambering into trees and singing a distinctive chorus that can be heard for miles because of their numerous voices. While there are many kinds of cicadas, these 17-year cicadas are a specific genus of cicada, called Periodical Cicadas (genus: Magicicada).
What makes this event so remarkable is that it results from 17 years of preparation. The now emerging army of Periodical Cicadas was born in 1996. Their mothers laid their eggs in the branches of trees. There they developed for a few weeks before hatching and heading for the ground. These larvae then squirmed into the dirt and spent the next 17 years sucking fluid from tree and plant roots.
Millions of cicada nymphs have now climbed from the ground in which they have spent nearly two decades. They will have morphed from wingless to winged creatures, and taken to the trees for their famously noisy courtship. The empty husks of the nymph-stage bugs are seemingly everywhere. Now, the newly emerged animals single-mindedly seek to mate and produce the next generation. And shortly after mating and after the eggs are laid, the adults will die. Surprisingly, cicadas barely eat a thing during their time above ground.
Their time in the sun is short, but their 17-year life span makes them the longest-lived insects known.
Cicadas will not emerge in everyone's back yard.  If there are no deciduous trees—trees that lose their leaves each fall, like maples, oaks and fruit trees—probably no cicadas will be seen. Pesticides, construction, extreme weather conditions, and tree removal are also factors reducing the incidence of cicadas. The overall emergence time for cicadas in a particular location typically is 4 to 6 weeks from the time the first nymph crawls from the ground, until the last adult dies.
Cicadas use a defensive strategy we could call "predator saturation." They reproduce by the millions in order to "fill up" the predators. The idea is that all the squirrels, birds, possums, snakes, lizards, raccoons and other predatory animals will become so full of cicadas that they tire of eating them. Then, just enough cicadas will escape and get to mate and reproduce.
Periodic Cicadas don't bother to escape when confronted, and that is because they do not have to escape. Since they emerge in such HUGE numbers, some members of their species are bound to survive no matter what. They can devote their limited energy and time above ground to calling and mating, rather than running away from each and every possible predator. This strategy may explain how an insect that neither bites nor stings, has managed to thrive.
Are cicadas locusts? No, true locusts belong in the same family of insects as grasshoppers. The confusion stems from the fact that both locusts and cicadas emerge in periodic swarms. But, locusts are far more destructive, destroying all plant life in their path. Cicadas do fly around trees and kill a few weakling branches here and there. They DO NOT kill flowers and would not damage shrubs and trees, unless the latter are young and immature. Cicadas do not damage tree leaves by chewing them as other insects do. Unlike grasshoppers and caterpillars, cicadas do not eat garden vegetables. They lack mouth parts that would enable them to chew.
Probably it is not a good idea to combat cicadas with pesticides. New cicadas will continually fly onto your trees from neighboring yards, making pesticides futile. Also, your pets could become poisoned from ingesting too many treated cicadas. Importantly, you will want to avoid the unintended collateral damage of killing honey bees and butterflies by using pesticides to disable cicadas. 
While cicadas in your back yard are a bit of a nuisance, remember that you are not going to see Periodic Cicadas again until the year 2030.