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.