Thursday, June 5, 2014

Did You Know? What’s Planned For the Future of Our Neighbor ---- The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge?

by Jim Northrop

The panoramic landscape at the Great Swamp National
Wildlife Refuge. Credit: A. Kaufman, 2011

In 1997, Congress began requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to prepare a comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and an environmental assessment (EA) for each federal wildlife refuge program. Each CCP/EA was to be revised at least every 15 years. The CCP is a strategic plan guiding management for each respective refuge. A draft of the CCP/EA for the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was published for public review and comment on May 14, 2014. The USFWS will accept comments and suggestions on the plan until June 27, 2014.

The 7,768-acre Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was set aside in 1960 primarily as a sanctuary for migratory birds. However, the Refuge is much more than that. It contains forested wetlands, emergent wetlands, and various successional stages of upland vegetation, provide habitats for a diversity of wildlife species.

What’s the Plan?

In fact, at this “draft” stage there are four alternative plans proposed, each with a different emphasis. The merits of each alternative plan will be outlined and discussed at two public meetings scheduled to take place in June. All members of the public are invited and encouraged to provide comments and suggestions at one of the following meetings:
June 11, 2014, 10 a.m. to 12:00 noon
Chatham Township Municipal Building
58 Meyersville Road
Chatham, New Jersey 07928
Click here for a map and directions.

June 12, 2014, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Long Hill Township Municipal Building
915 Valley Road
Gillette, New Jersey 07933
Click here for a map and directions.
Each Alternative Plan Has A Different Focus

Alternative Plan A --- Continue Current Management Priorities and Activities
(No changes required --- Plan A serves as a baseline for comparing Alternatives B, C, and D)
  • Habitat Management: Maintain a diversity of habitats, including wetlands, about 500 acres of impoundments, 700 acres of grasslands and scrub-shrub, and forest.
  • Visitor Services: Continue to support environmental education, interpretation and wildlife observation, hunting and photography. Maintain the annual five-day deer hunting season, 1.5 miles of boardwalk with three observation blinds, and wilderness trails. Also offer appropriate, compatible non-wildlife-dependent uses including horseback riding, jogging, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, virtual geocaching, and dog walking.
Alternative Plan B --- Enhance Biological Diversity and Public Use Opportunities
  • Habitat Management: Maintain a diversity of forest, non-forested, open water, grassland, and scrub-shrub habitats. Proposed that 161 acres be added to the wilderness area. Reconfigure and maintain habitats to create fewer, larger (greater than 50 acres) continuous patches to promote wildlife use, increase connectivity, decrease fragmentation, increase maintenance efficiency, and reduce associated costs. Emphasize habitat for priority bird species and Federal trust species, including the bog turtle and Indiana bat.
  • Visitor Services: Expand opportunities to reach nearby urban and suburban populations. Expand the hunt program by permitting archery for deer and opening the Refuge to turkey hunting. Improve wildlife viewing and photography opportunities by creating trails, providing more parking, and constructing observation towers. Expand Visitor Center hours. Increase the number of environmental education and interpretation programs.
Alternative Plan C --- Emphasis On Maximizing Forest Habitats
  • Habitat Management: Allow natural succession or regeneration to occur to maximum extent practical, by reducing active management of impoundments, grassland/brush land and by allowing natural succession to forest. In many cases, the areas will become forested swamp. Maintain large patches of consolidated grasslands and managed brush land along Pleasant Plains Road. Continue active management in areas known to support priority refuge species. Actively work with regional partners to address climate change, habitat loss, and water and air quality impacts.
  • Visitor Services: Public use opportunities would be the same as under Alternative A, except add elimination of less-used, dead-end trails in the wilderness area.
Alternative D --- Focus On Expansion Of Priority Public Uses
  • Habitat Management: Would be the same as under Alternative A, except:
    • emphasis on managing for habitats open to the public.
    • maintain open water habitat within impoundments.
    • aggressively expand partnership for conservation initiatives.
  • Visitor Services: Allow fishing in select areas of the Refuge. Expand hunting as described under Alternative B. Provide a greater variety of wildlife-dependent public use opportunities. (For example, open the Refuge to fishing and expand opportunities for biking, canoeing and kayaking.) Increase outreach and publicity to promote the Refuge. Expand infrastructure, including new trails, observation towers, parking lots, and new signage. Collaborate with adjacent landowners to create or link additional trails. Open most management roads to pedestrian traffic.
After analysis of the public input and suggestions received at the two public meetings, one of the alternative plans, or a combination of pieces from several, will be compiled as the final CCP. For the near future, the final CCP will define the management priorities and activities implemented thereafter at the Refuge.

Submitting Written Comments

The Great Swamp Watershed Association encourages all of its members to read the draft CCP/EA for the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and submit written comments to the USFWS. Please use the following contact information when submitting your materials by post or fax:
Bill Perry
Refuge Planner
Northeast Regional Office
300 Westgate Center Drive
Hadley, MA  01035
tel. (413) 253-8688
fax. (413) 253-8468
 To submit your comments electronically, please send an email with Great Swamp NWR in the subject line to

Editor's note: Per a request from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, two corrections were made to the original article on 6/9/2014. The sentence "Proposed that 168 acres be added to the wilderness area," under the Alternative B section was changed to read, "Proposed that 161 acres be added to the wilderness area." The heading "Would be the same as under Alternative B, except..." under the Alternative D section was changed to read, "Would be the same as under Alternative A, except..."

Monday, May 5, 2014

Did You Know? Tree Are Always On The Job Filtering Earth's But Where Are Their Cheerleaders?!

by Jim Northrop, GSWA Volunteer

The Ashokan Reservoir in New York's Ulster County
is one of two reservoirs in the Catskill Water Supply
System delivering drinking water to New York City. Situated
approximately 73 miles north of the city, the Ashokan
supplies about 40% of NYC's daily drinking water needs
Credit: (D. Goehring)

Treating water pollution may be one of the most critical services that trees offer to the world. In "The Man Who Planted Trees," a 2012 book written by Jim Robbins, the author looks at the relationship between New York City and the forests just to the north of the city in the Catskill Mountains. These rolling woodlands form a catchment and filter area for the water that New Yorkers drink. In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the city to build a new water treatment plant at a cost of $8 billion. Their concern was that microscopic intestinal parasites, and some other waterborne pathogens, would find their way into the New York City water supply.

However, city officials decided that the cheaper and better option was to protect the existing two-thousand-square-mile forested watershed that naturally filters water flowing into the city. That plan only cost about $1.5 billion, and the money was spent on such things as buying buffers of natural landscape around reservoirs to act as filters, and negotiating agreements with upstate cities and towns to limit development in watershed areas. While using woodlands to clean the water made economic sense on its own, maintaining tracts of native forest provided many additional ecosystem services, including wildlife habitat, recreation, and carbon dioxide absorption.

Deforestation anywhere can cause many problems for our water supply. Where freshwater once fell as rain (and was filtered by the forest and slowly released) there are now farm fields, lawns, and parking lots that pour polluted sediment into our streams and rivers. In fact, research shows that river basins with the greatest amount of farmland produce the most pollution-laden sediment, while river valleys with the most forest coverage produce the least. Nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural fertilizers and poultry waste increase the proliferation of bacteria that, in turn, consume the oxygen dissolved in the water.

Deforestation along rivers and streams means that there are no woodlands to hold back the water, and so a faster flow is given to more water. Faster-flowing streams reduce the number and array of ecosystem services a waterway can provide. Broad streams with wooded banks flow more slowly than those without streamside forests, allowing more time for contaminants to settle out and be taken up by nearby trees and neutralized by microbes.

Re-forestation can help reverse these kinds of problems. In fact, trees could be used to remedy a lot of modern-day water pollution problems, including some of the worst kinds of human-created chemical waste, such as dioxin, ammonia, dry cleaning solvent, oil and gas spills, PCBs and other industrial waste. The trees take up waterborne toxic waste and then neutralize, metabolize, and/or vaporize it.

Hybrid poplar trees (Genus:
Populous) like those shown being
farmed in this photograph are often used
for phytoremediation. Phytoremediation
addresses environmental issues
through the use of plants capable
of mitigating pollution without
the need to excavate contaminated
material. Credit: National Renewable
Energy Laboratory.
Poplar and willow trees seem to be the most effective choices for scrubbing the runoff that washes into rivers and streams when rain falls across urban and rural landscapes. We have a problem in our cities and suburbs where pavement, driveways, and other impervious surfaces collect oil, lawn chemicals, pet waste, and industrial waste that subsequently washes into waterways during every rainfall event. Stormwater and sewage leaking from aged and broken sewer lines also carry viruses, bacteria, and protozoa capable of contaminating and killing shellfish, fish, and other aquatic life.

Because this runoff water comes from wide-ranging sources, it is difficult to capture and treat in a sewage plant. We cannot catch all of that stormwater and treat it conventionally ---- it would be too expensive. Perhaps the best way to get our streams and rivers cleaned up is to "tree-farm" our way out of the problem. Strategically placed in drainage areas where tainted water collects, willow and poplar trees could work their root zone magic and make very effective water filters.

There are many advocates in favor of "clear cutting" trees to make way for new houses and sports fields, but where are the advocates for our trees? Where are those who stand up in favor of keeping our trees, especially in situations where they really are needed? In the future, perhaps we should better understand and support the important role that trees play along our streams and rivers.

Home & Garden Tour Celebrates Beautiful, Unique Homes Around NJ’s Great Swamp

Home & Garden Tour Celebrates Beautiful, Unique Homes Around NJ’s Great Swamp.

The Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA) is pleased to announce its inaugural Home & Garden Tour on Wednesday, May 28.

This new tour features an assortment of eight classically beautiful homes, impressive gardens, and interesting eco-friendly features located in and around the 55-square-mile Great Swamp Watershed region. New Jersey municipalities represented include the Town of Morristown, Madison Borough, Chatham Township, Long Hill Township, Bernards Township, Harding Township, and Morris Township.

"The organizing committee has identified some truly wonderful homes and properties for this tour," said local realtor and GSWA Trustee Lois Olmstead. "I think everyone who participates will be inspired by the variety on offer."

All participants will begin the tour by checking in with GSWA between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. at the Madison Public Library, 39 Keep Street, Madison, NJ. Tour maps and instructions will be made available at this location only. All tour homes will close promptly at 3:00 p.m.

Tickets may be purchased in advance for $50/person by visiting GSWA online at or by calling (973) 538-3500 x22. Tickets may be purchased at the door on the day of the event for the full price of $60/person. Proceeds will benefit all of GSWA’s local environmental education, stewardship, and advocacy programming.

“It’s been a real pleasure working with all of the generous homeowners participating in our inaugural Home and Garden Tour,” said GSWA Executive Director Sally Rubin. “They are all genuinely nice people who want to share their ideas and create an exceptional tour experience for everyone.”

With spring in full swing, this tour offers the perfect opportunity for would-be gardeners and decorators to find new inspiration and ideas for their own homes.

Want to help? Click here to download and print a Home & Garden Tour flyer to share with your friends, family, and neighbors.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Municipal Cooperation, Information Sharing Focus of New Municipal Alliance

 Great Swamp Upper Passaic Municipal Alliance helps local governments work together on environment, planning, zoning, and other common interests.

On Wednesday, April 16, the Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA) convened the first meeting of a new municipal advisory group known as the Great Swamp Upper Passaic Municipal Alliance (GSUPMA).  The Alliance provides a voluntary, no-cost way for municipalities located along the upper reaches of the Passaic River and around New Jersey’s Great Swamp to coordinate efforts leading to local environmental, planning, and zoning improvements.

“We want the Alliance to provide a forum for holding a conversation among municipalities and their officials,” said GSWA Executive Director Sally Rubin, “Our communities face a lot of the same environmental and planning issues, and sometimes coordinating solutions together, on a regional basis, is going to be more effective and more economical.”

Representatives from ten New Jersey municipalities joined Rubin at the offices of The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in Morristown for a presentation by noted municipal planning consultant Frank Banisch.  Banisch, who is the founder and president of Flemington-based Banisch Associates, Inc., discussed the current demographic trends that are driving renewed interest in living in walkable, more-urban downtowns, and are resulting in high vacancy rates for New Jersey’s suburban office space.  These same trends are prompting many municipalities to re-examine old approaches town planning.

“We used to think that business as usual meant that we would always continue to prefer suburban places,” Banisch said, “but we were wrong.”  “Twenty-five percent of New Jersey’s suburban office space is no longer needed,” he continued, “and there is heightened demand for smaller, more affordable residences, often in more urban areas where jobs and amenities are easily accessed.”

While municipal land-use planning provided the kernel for discussion at the first meeting of the GSUPMA, other issues of shared concern among the participating municipalities will take center stage at future meetings.  Topics for upcoming meetings will include deer management policy and municipal options for reducing damage and speeding recovery from floods.  Alliance organizers also anticipate developing conversations around other important local issues such as wastewater and stormwater management, open space management, and the development of green infrastructure and improvements in low-impact development strategies.

“The Alliance offers municipalities an opportunity to get out in front of these issues and take advantage of the best opportunities,” said Frank Banisch.  “[Municipalities] have tremendous power in New Jersey,” he said, “and as soon as two of them work together to do something in the public interest—like when they engage in regional planning—they cannot be beaten.”

Area municipalities represented at the inaugural meeting of the GSUPMA included Bernards Township, Bernardsville Borough, Chatham Township, Harding Township, Long Hill Township, Mendham Borough, Morris Township, the Town of Newton, the Town of Morristown, and Washington Township.  Jay DeLaney, former Mayor of Morristown and a law partner at Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, was also among those in attendance.

“I was so excited to see this event in Morristown, which is a hot and exciting town in terms of development and zoning," said DeLaney, “It was wonderful to get people together from the various towns in the region to hear…Frank Banisch present the latest in NJ zoning trends, to share their common ideas and problems, and to discuss and work together on solutions for the region.”  “Events like this will make our region even a better place to live and work,” he said.

“I really look forward to doing this again,” said Sally Rubin.  “The questions and comments after Frank’s presentation really spoke to the need for a group like this,” she said, “and I think the information and expertise that was shared got a lot of people thinking about how their towns could benefit from some new perspectives and by cooperating with their neighbors.”

For more information about the Great Swamp Upper Passaic Municipal Alliance (GSUPMA) please visit the Great Swamp Watershed Association online at or call the organization at (973) 538-3500.

A video recording of Frank Banisch’s presentation to the GSUPMA is available online at

For versions of this article that include statements from other meeting attendees, please visit

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Did You Know? A “Crystal Ball” For Trees ---- Where Are Our Trees Headed?

by Jim Northrop, GSWA Volunteer

In 1982, a large glass-and-steel dome called “Biosphere 2” was constructed, intended for the human colonization of Mars. It failed for that purpose, but it has been useful for studying planet Earth because it allows researchers to control variables and play out different scenarios in a way that can’t be done in the real world.
The University of Arizona's Biosphere 2 earth systems
research facility in Oracle, AZ. Credit: (Tim Bailey, CC Attribution)

In 2009, according to Jim Robbins, author of the 2012 book The Man Who Planted Trees, two researchers moved twenty mature pine trees, five to six feet tall, into the dome and split them into two groups of ten. One group was placed in a chamber where conditions were equal to what they are today, and the other group was placed in conditions some seven degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it is now ---- roughly equal to the high end of the temperature rise scientists predict for the next century. Once the trees established themselves, researchers deprived both populations of water.

The human-induced drought killed the trees in the warmer chamber 28% faster than the trees in the chamber with normal temperatures. The conclusion of the researchers was that forest die-offs could increase by a factor of five if the climate warms seven degrees as predicted over the next century. Because droughts can kill trees faster when temperatures are warmer, they suggested that instead of one die-off in one hundred years, the number could increase by a factor of five! This is based on temperature increase alone. However, in addition to the effect of warmer temperatures on trees, we must consider the aggravating effect of warmer temperatures on disease and insects. In concert with water stress, disease and insects kill many more trees than drought alone.

Some scientists believe the earth is on track to see 20% of its tree species become extinct or be on their way to extinction by the end of the century. These scientists see droughts, heat waves, and forest fires of unprecedented ferocity, rapidly rising sea levels, and more storms with hurricane-force winds. While there have been mass extinctions before in the earth’s history, scientists say this one is different from the others. It is brought on largely by humans through their disturbance of the natural landscape, the introduction of exotic species of plants and animals, new pathogens (such as increased carbon pollution), and unsustainable exploitation of plant and animal species.
A view of trees damaged by black mountain beetles
(Dendroctonus ponderosae) in the Black Hills National
Forest in South Dakota. Credit: (Chris M. Morris
CC Attribution).

To be more specific, giant forest die-offs have already begun in the Rocky Mountain West. In the last half century, the two-degree temperature rise that has occurred in the West has already begun to turn ecosystems inside out, and the anomalous behavior of insects is one of those changes. With only a small increase in normal temperature, tiny black mountain pine beetles (Dendroctonus ponderosae) now constantly fly from May until October, instead of a mere two weeks each year. They are attacking trees, burrowing in, and laying their eggs for fully half the year. There is evidence that the beetles are now attacking immature trees, and that they are switching to other tree species. In some high places where the beetles had a two-year life cycle because of cold temperatures, it has changed to a one-year cycle. This means that their populations can increase more rapidly during warm droughts when their host trees are most stressed, resulting in more beetles doing a lot more damage.

A dying forest is problem enough, but when large landscapes die they become contributors to a warming climate, a cycle called a “positive feedback loop.”  One of the most important things forests do for life on the planet is to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as plant tissue. Trees contain half of our terrestrial carbon stores, more than any other single source on land. Without forests, more carbon dioxide would remain in the atmosphere, causing more warming. When forests die or are cut down, they release their stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; in fact, such events are said to comprise 20% of annual carbon emissions.

While we cannot cure global warming, we may be able to slow it down. Understanding the causes and seeing whether we can adapt better to the effects is worth thinking about today as we face this inevitable change in nature.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Treasures In Your Backyard: Celebrating Harding Township’s Natural and Historical Riches

The Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA) is combining efforts with Kemmerer Library Harding Township (KLHT) throughout the month of April to highlight the Township’s natural and historical treasures.  Several programs for children and adults are planned to educate members of the public about Harding’s unique environment and its rich history. Township residents will also have an unprecedented opportunity to participate in a discounted well water testing program.

April’s activities get an early start on March 30 when the Harding Township Treasure Hunt begins. Don your fedora, summon your inner gumshoe, and then head to KLHT between 4PM and 5PM to pick up your special Harding Township treasure hunter’s kit. All participants will have two weeks to scour the landscape in search of answers to several town-specific brainteasers. Budding sleuths can solve these mysteries at their own pace, but the ultimate goal of the hunt is to learn more about the environment, history, and culture of Harding Township.

“We hope this fun adventure will engage families in discovering our Township’s rich history and environmental riches,” says Lotte Newlin, Director of KLHT.

The Harding Township Treasure Hunt will conclude on Friday, April 11, with a special prize award event at KLHT starting at 4PM. All scavenger hunt participants are encouraged to attend and share results.

One week after the treasure hunt, on Saturday, April 19, KLHT and GSWA will hold two workshops about native plants and native wildlife in Harding Township. One workshop will be geared toward adult participation and the other will be for children and their parents. From 10AM to noon at KLHT, GSWA’s Director of Education and Outreach Hazel England will present Wildlife “Berried” Treasures, a program that teaches adults how to use native plants to attract beneficial wildlife into their back yards. Participants will leave the workshop armed with a trove of information about what they need to plant in order to support local bird, bee, and butterfly populations. From noon to approximately 2PM, KLHT and GSWA will offer a special hands-on bird and bee box building workshop for children and their parents. Each child/parent team will create their very own bird or bee box that they can take home and use at the end of the event.

On April 26, from 9AM to noon, local volunteers are needed to assist with a special clean-up of all the natural treasures at Harding Township’s Bayne Park. Under the direction of GSWA’s Director of Water Quality Programs Laura Kelm, participants will tend shrubs and native grasses that were planted around the perimeter Bayne Pond in 2011 in an effort to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff. Following the clean-up activities all volunteers are invited to attend a free luncheon across the street at KLHT.

As all of these special events progress, KLHT and GSWA plan to spotlight another one of Harding Township’s most important natural treasures—its precious water supply. Unlike many other New Jersey municipalities, Harding Township relies on private wells for its water. For many years, residents have taken advantage of a free well water test for E. coli bacteria offered by the local health department. This year, and only during the month of April, residents will be able purchase an expanded water test offered through GSWA at a discounted rate. The GSWA test not only detects the presence or absence of E. coli, it also measures the level of several other important indicators of water purity, including nitrates, pH (acidity), iron, arsenic, and lead. 

Harding Township homeowners who are interested in taking advantage of the new well testing program may register with KLHT or GSWA between March 30 and April 22. All participants will be required to make a $10 deposit and pick up a self-guided water sampling kit when they register. Participants must use the supplied kit to sample well water at their home on the morning of Wednesday, April 23. All samples must be returned to KLHT between 8AM and noon the same day. (Note: Water samples that do not follow specific timetable instructions may not return reliable test results.) Homeowners may customize their well test by choosing specific testing parameters from a prepared list at time of registration. The cost for a basic, multi-parameter test will not exceed $110. Test add-ons may be purchased for an additional charge.

GSWA will collect all water samples from KLHT on April 23 and send them to Garden State Laboratories, Inc. in Hillside, NJ, for testing. Following the testing period, GSWA will mail final results to individual homeowners.

“We hope this initiative will enable Harding homeowners to learn valuable insights about the quality of their drinking water,” says Hazel England, director of education and outreach at GSWA

To register for any of these programs, or to receive additional details, please contact KLHT or GSWA.

Find KLHT online at or call (973) 267-2665KLHT is located at 19 Blue Mill Road in New Vernon, NJ.

Find GSWA online at or call (973) 538-3500 x22.  GSWA is located at 568 Tempe Wick Road in Morristown, NJ.

Friday, March 7, 2014

New Jersey’s Great Swamp, Passaic River Focus of Upcoming Talks

Dr. Lee Pollock points to a number of
macroinvertebrate animals clinging to the
underside of a river rock. May 2010. Dr.
Pollock will present findings from his 2013
macroinvertebrate analysis of Great Swamp
streams at GSWA's Breakfast Briefing event
on May 20, 2014. Credit: Great Swamp
Watershed Association.
The Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA) is pleased to announce the schedule of appearances and topics for its Spring 2014 Breakfast Briefing Speakers Series.

GSWA created the Breakfast Briefing Series to help area residents stay informed about important environmental issues affecting their lives. Briefings take place early in the morning in order to minimize overlap with most traditional business hours. Presentations are kept brief; and coffee, tea, and a continental breakfast are always served free of charge. Unless noted otherwise, all briefings take place between 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. at GSWA’s headquarters located at 568 Tempe Wick Road in Morristown, NJ.

Support for GSWA’s Spring 2014 Breakfast Briefing Series comes from Investors Bank of Madison, located at 16 Waverly Place in Madison, NJ.

On Tuesday, March 11, Peter Coviello, of the Madison-based landscaping firm Coviello Brothers Horticultural Services, offers home owners some tips for growing a healthy and environmentally friendly lawn this spring. Drawing on his family’s 40 years of experience in the landscaping business, Peter will show how careful decision making about landscaping technique, lawn care products, and irrigation can build turf that is beautiful, easy and inexpensive to maintain, and less damaging to nearby rivers, lakes, and streams. An extensive discussion session will follow the presentation, so participants are encouraged to come prepared with their own questions about lawn care.

On Tuesday, April 8, David Kluesner, team leader for community affairs for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2, will discuss his organization’s work on a plan to clean up the last eight miles of the Lower Passaic River. Sediments found along this stretch of river are contaminated with PCBs, dioxins, pesticides, mercury, and other hazardous substances that pose a serious threat to public health and wildlife populations. As EPA develops its plan, the agency will need to effectively address several important issues concerning urban water degradation, environmental justice, and legal compliance. This presentation will outline some of these issues; as well the important role community involvement will play in shaping EPA’s final decision making on cleanup activities along the Lower Passaic.

On Tuesday, May 20, Dr. Leland Pollock, Professor Emeritus of Biology at Drew University, will discuss findings from his 2013 study of bugs, worms, mollusks, and other small spineless creatures living in New Jersey’s Great Swamp Watershed region. Collectively referred to as macroinvertebrates, scientists observe changes in the populations of these aquatic creatures in order to measure the relative health and cleanliness of rivers, lakes, and streams. Dr. Pollock has studied macroinvertebrate wildlife in the streams of the Great Swamp for many years, and both the Great Swamp Watershed Association and the former Ten Towns Great Swamp Watershed Management Committee have used his data to inform short- and long-term environmental decision making. Conducted seven months following the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, this year’s study conclusions may offer some interesting insights on the long-term environmental impact of that storm.

Please note that this presentation is offered free of charge to all and will take place at Kemmerer Library, located at 19 Blue Mill Road in New Vernon, New Jersey.  Kemmerer Library is in no way responsible for the content or views presented during this event.

On Tuesday, June 10, Tom Suro, an hydrologist and surface water specialist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) New Jersey Water Science Center, will discuss his work on a pilot project designed to map inland flooding along the Passaic River Basin.  This presentation will offer important information about flooding and flood dynamics for all New Jersey residents living along the western and northern reaches of the Passaic River and its tributary streams.

For driving directions and additional details about each event, please visit GSWA at

Voluntary donations to GSWA are sincerely appreciated. If you are not a GSWA member, please consider making a donation of $10 per adult at the time of your registration. (Suggested donation amounts for non-member children and family groups are available online.)

Seating is limited, so advanced registration is strongly recommended. To register or receive additional information, please visit or call (973) 538-3500 x22.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Great Swamp Advocacy Update - Feb. 2014

The Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA) is closely monitoring new proposals for land development currently under review by the planning boards in Long Hill Township and Bernardsville Borough.

Long Hill Township

In Long Hill, Restore Meyersville LLC has submitted an application to build a new indoor volleyball facility on property located at 596 Meyersville Road near the Meyersville traffic circle. The property, which once housed a business known as Archie's Resale, stands adjacent to a portion of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.  GSWA has participated in several planning board meetings, and questioned the applicant and his experts.  The site is contaminated with asbestos and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  Under the proposed development plan, these pollutants will be cleaned up under the oversight of a Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP).  The same plan will reduce the amount of impervious surface coverage at the site by almost 10%.  In turn, this may lead to a reduction in the amount of stormwater runoff flowing away from the property which will benefit the local environment.

Bernardsville Borough

Proposed site for new TD Bank building off Morristown
Road in Bernardsville, NJ. Credit: S. Reynolds
In Bernardsville, TD Bank has filed a proposal and requested variances to construct a new bank building, drive-thru lanes, and a parking area on vacant land along Morristown Road (U.S. Route 202) between Weichert Realtors and the retail shops at Bernardsville Centre.  (The planning board has not yet determined that the application is complete.)

Nearby Penns Brook has already suffered serious damage as a result of the stormwater runoff emanating from existing building complexes in the area.  Erosion along the brook is extensive.  Water testing reveals unusually high nitrate levels.  Road salt is routinely detected at levels in excess of state water quality standards.

As proposals for new construction along this stretch of Morristown Road have proliferated, GSWA has stepped in repeatedly to represent environmental interests and protect Penns Brook from additional harm.

In 2006, the organization cited concerns over increased stormwater runoff and erosion in its opposition to Weichert Realtors’ plan to construct a new building next to its existing 62 Morristown Road location.  (This construction project was proposed for the same site now under consideration by TD Bank.)

GSWA actively participated in the application for expansion of Bernardsville Centre to ensure appropriate stormwater controls.  GSWA stepped in once again in 2012 when Chase Bank sought to build a new facility immediately south of 62 Morristown Road.  In this case, the organization successfully argued in favor of amending Chase’s original development plan to include stricter stormwater controls.
Construction is currently underway at the Chase Bank
site off of Morristown Road in Bernardsville, NJ.
Credit: S. Reynolds

Slope disturbances at the Chase Bank site have been extreme.  The precipitous embankment that has been created has exposed several soil layers to the elements (see photos).  Although a retaining wall is being constructed, this wall will not be as effective as a stabilized natural slope.

Should TD Bank’s new proposal proceed, more of the same slope is likely to disappear.  And, yet another stand of mature, soil-stabilizing vegetation will disappear along with it.  Without question, the addition of another building and another parking lot will add even more to the impervious surface cover in this already-crowded Morristown Road corridor.

We already know that erosion and stormwater pollution have taken their toll on Penns Brook.  With new construction projects proliferating in the area--first at the Chase site and now at the proposed TD site--Penns Brook’s future must be weighed carefully against the upsides of further development.  And while development may be inevitable, GSWA will vigilantly advocate for it to be appropriate in size, scope, and environmental protections.

Did You Know? Unsung Masters of Flight

by Jim Northrop, GSWA Volunteer

Geese in flight over NJ. Credit: Ann Campbell.
The other day I was walking in a local parking lot, when I heard a persistent honking in the sky. It was getting louder and louder. When I looked skyward, I saw a flight of large birds ---- perhaps 50 or 75 of them, passing overhead. What was most striking was not their quantity, but that they were arranged in a loose “V” formation. “Ah, Canada geese,” I said to myself.

Later, I was thinking about the beauty of that formation of Canada geese. I wondered why we normally see them flying in a “V” formation, so I decided to do a little research. Let me share with you what I learned.

The Canada goose (Branta canadensis) species is native to North America. It breeds in Canada and in the northern United States in a variety of habitats. Annually, the geese migrate south from Canada and the Great Lakes region, for the winter. In the spring, they return north. These annual migrations require them to be able to fly great distances.

The flight in “V” formation has been studied by various researchers. It appears that birds take turns in the lead position of the “V,” since flying in front consumes the most energy. Meanwhile, all the other birds in formation will position themselves in spots that are aerodynamically optimal ---- spots where they can take advantage of the swirls of upward moving air generated by the wing beats of the bird ahead.

Those swirls are very important. As each goose flaps to generate lift, small “whirlpools” of air rise to the right and to the left of the animal. By following one another the right way and timing their wing beats perfectly, each goose can ride the “whirlpools” created by the animal immediately in front of it. The result is a reduction in the amount of energy each bird must expend to gain lift in flight. Unfortunately, the lead bird gets no such lift advantage! And, if one bird happens to get a little too close or a little too far from the bird it is following, it instantly adjusts its wing beats to compensate. The same re-adjustment occurs when a goose chooses to change its position within the “V.”

Formation of Canada Geese.
Credit: (Don DeBold)
How do the birds know to fly in these optimal spots? Researchers say that geese may have evolved “rules of thumb” for flying, or that they have “good sensors” and merely adjust to find spots that feel good. The up-wash of air that helps each bird support its own weight in flight, follows the same principles glider aircraft use to climb or maintain height indefinitely in rising air. Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone. Very quickly, it returns to the formation to take advantage of the lifting power supplied by the other birds.

Anecdotally, it is said that when a goose gets sick, or is wounded by gunshot, two other geese will fall out of the “V” formation, follow the injured bird to the ground, and protect it from further harm. The guardians stay put until the ailing bird is able to fly again, or until their compatriot is dead. Eventually, if the trio returns to the air, they launch out in their own formation or join another flock until they catch up with their own group. This entire scenario may be a myth, but it is a lovely thought.

Researchers apparently have not attempted to calculate the energy a bird might save by flying in a “V” formation, but estimates range from a 30% energy savings to a savings of more than 70%. On long migration flights, Canada geese typically fly at about 40 mph. These noisy groups honk their way along established paths that include designated “rest stops.” Being social birds, they remain in flocks year round, except while nesting.

Scientists do not know how geese in flight find the aerodynamic sweet spot, but they suspect that the birds align themselves either by sight or by sensing air currents through their feathers. Alternatively, they may move around until they find the location with the least resistance. Other questions wait for future research. For instance, how do the geese decide who sets the course and the pace? Can a mistake made by the lead goose ripple through the rest of the flock and cause traffic jams? Whatever future research may tell us, we know already that Canada geese are very effective, amazing birds.