Flat Rock Brook’s 150 acres of forested land is a unique sanctuary in a highly urbanized area. It acts as a refuge for plant and animal species in an area otherwise lacking an abundance of green spaces. We implement practical and effective conservation and management projects that ensure a bright future for the forest at Flat Rock Brook. Recently, we have planned or implemented a number of new projects to protect the health and diversity of our forest.
Construction of a permanent Deer Fence, completed in September 2017, was a crucial first step to improve forest health at Flat Rock Brook as overbrowsing by deer has caused significant forest degradation. Through a number of different upcoming land management projects, including a vegetation survey and monitoring project, a wildlife survey, an invasive species mapping and baseline survey project and two large-scale habitat restoration projects, our mission to preserve our forest is supported through our work in the field. All of these projects and initiatives share a set of goals. We are working to increase and conserve biodiversity, increase the viability of our forest as wildlife habitat and support forest regeneration and re-growth of native vegetation.
Flat Rock Brook Nature Center’s forest has experienced extensive habitat degradation caused by the overpopulation of deer feeding on native tree seedlings and saplings. Overgrazing deer prevent the forest from naturally regenerating. The shrub layer disappears, leaving a barren understory that is no longer able to function as habitat for wildlife. This problem, combined with the rapid spread of non-native plants, or invasive species, is compromising the overall health and biodiversity of our forest. This has become a serious threat to forests across the state of New Jersey.
Our Board of Trustees and staff began discussing deer management options several years ago. After careful research and consultation with authorities that weighed various solutions, it was decided that a deer exclosure would be the most effective resolution. Creating deer exclosures on the preserve offers the most sustainable and effective method for long-term forest health and regeneration. The fencing in of crucial habitat within our preserve will give the forest understory a chance to regenerate and rebound after years of extensive damage. Native plant communities will return, biodiversity will increase and viable wildlife habitat will become more readily available.
Construction work on our deer exclosure was completed in September 2017. The fencing project resulted in two separate deer exclosures, a small area located at the Jones Road Picnic Area (approximately 20 acres) and a larger section surrounding a majority of the remaining forest (approximately 80 acres). An estimated 50 acres of the park will remain unfenced and accessible to deer.
This project is an essential first step in protecting the health, biodiversity and wildlife of our precious forest. The primary objective of fencing is to keep deer out of sensitive areas in the park to prevent further damage to our native vegetation. Success of the project will depend on hikers and community members responsibly closing access gates within the preserve. The gates will be located in areas where the fence line intersects with a trail. Please be sure to close these gates behind you after walking through these entrances. The installation of a cattle grate at the park’s Main Entrance gate will allow it to remain open during normal park hours without re-entry of deer into the park. This will allow us to keep the main parking area open during visiting hours so that your access to the preserve will remain undisturbed. Thanks so much for your cooperation on this important project that will benefit the health of our forest.
Flat Rock Brook is planning to conduct a comprehensive wildlife survey and assessment. The study will cover the entire 150-acre property and focus on surveying for birds, bats, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and pollinating insects. The survey will provide crucial information about the presence, abundance, distribution, location and patterns of the wildlife species that call Flat Rock Brook home.
The survey will act as a baseline study, which allows us to have a solid reference point while considering or managing local wildlife populations. We will assemble a team of specialized biologists and wildlife trackers to expertly survey our forest over the course of a year for wildlife species of all shapes and sizes. The team’s findings will paint a highly descriptive picture of the interrelated wildlife populations of Flat Rock Brook.
This study will have five important outcomes:
• The wildlife survey and assessment will provide us with a baseline data set describing the wildlife species currently present at Flat Rock Brook.
• The baseline survey will also act as a parameter for measuring the impacts of our newly constructed deer fence.
• The wildlife survey and assessment will also identify and assign “bio-indicator” species, or species that are representative of overall forest and ecosystem health at Flat Rock Brook.
• Finally, the survey will identify if any endangered species, threatened species or species of conservation concern exist at Flat Rock Brook.
A site-specific guide for managing and improving wildlife habitat at Flat Rock Brook will be created based on findings and conclusions.
With the new addition of the deer exclosure at Flat Rock Brook, forest regeneration and rebounding native vegetation are expected to occur in the next several years. The decrease of deer browsing on new plant growth will have a highly beneficial effect on overall forest health, which will result in better habitat for wildlife species.
Through the generosity of private donations, we will begin a study in Spring 2018 to survery the current vegetation communities that make up our 150-acre forest and monitor them over time to see how they change in their structure, composition, stability and overall health. This study is one of the most important steps we can take to measure how the forest is responding to the management changes we are implementing. It will also identify areas of high priority in our forest that need more focus and resources. The primary goal is to facilitate regeneration of native plant communities and allow the forest understory to recover and return.
The vegetation study and monitoring project will have three important outcomes:
- Providing a baseline data set of plant species in our forest, including characteristics and location
- Monitoring the health of the forest allowing us to identify management actions to facilitate regeneration and stability
- Creating public, student and professional opportunities to engage in land management at Flat Rock Brook
The takeover of invasive plant species has become evident in the forest at Flat Rock Brook. Invasive species quickly spread through a forest ecosystem damaging it in a number of ways. These invasive plants kill off native vegetation and prevent native communities from growing back; they prevent regeneration of a healthy forest by dominating the forest understory and crowding out new woody plant growth that is supposed to replace older trees; and they decrease the levels of overall biodiversity within the forest ecosystem. This is detrimental for forest health and for the survival of numerous wildlife species. When the forest loses its diversity, the habitats available for wildlife will eventually decrease or disappear.
Flat Rock Brook is planning a comprehensive survey of the invasive species that are present within our preserve. The survey will produce a GPS mapping of the entire forest, which will describe where invasive species are currently thriving, their cycles of growth and dispersal and their impacts and intertwined relationships with native vegetation. This mapping survey will allow us to track, monitor and predict the distribution, abundance and resilience of invasive plant communities over time.
Using this information, we will create a 10-year management plan that focuses specifically on the targeted eradication, effective management and consistent monitoring of invasive plant species.
The installation of the deer exclosure at Flat Rock Brook is our first step towards the regeneration of the forest. There are some areas of the forest that have become severely degraded and are not likely to regenerate naturally. A complete disappearance of standing trees, communities of native vegetation and useful wildlife habitat has occurred. We are targeting these areas as restoration projects. A team of botanists and specialists will assess and survey the two restoration areas and craft site-specific design plans characterized by select native plant species.
Woodland Restoration Project: Located inside the Summit Street entrance, is a 1.5 acre land parcel that has been badly damaged by deer grazing and is dominated by invasive plant species. The number of standing trees is exremely low. Invasive vines threaten those trees that do remain. It is a thorny, meadow-like patch of land with little biodiversity. Flat Rock will begin work to restore this area back into a thriving woodland habitat that is dominated by native vegetation and understory.
Pollinator Meadow Restoration Project: Flat Rock Brook has a .2 acre meadow that has been impaired over time. Deer browsing and the proliferation of invasive species has compromised its value to wildlife species and pollinating insects and birds. Meadows are a crucial component of a healthy forest, and ours is a high area of priority for management and maintenance on our preserve. We are planning restoration of our meadow into a lush, highly diverse habitat dominated by an array of native plant species that are a resource for pollinating wildlife year-round. Pollinating species are essential for the reproduction and distribution of plants. We are in the process of creating a restoration design and list of plant species for the meadow, which will be followed by planting, restoration and continued maintenance.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION FOR WATER QUALITY MONITORING PROGRAM WATERSHED INSTITUTE GRANT
Much of the water flowing through Flat Rock Brook comes from runoff of rainfall and snow melt throughout the surrounding suburban developments. We are monitoring the following water characteristics to help people understand the impact they can have on aquatic ecosystems, to identify specific problems, and to work towards solutions of those problems. We regularly sample water from several locations along Flat Rock Brook, including both the northern and southern tributaries upstream from McFaddens Wetland, and in the stream at the picnic area along Jones Road.