Need research to support grassland conservation vs. maniac mower

squirrel_girlJune 25, 2006

We live in a subdivision with a committment to preserving nature. That committment is starting to waver. I need some data to keep it from disappearing along with grasslands, woods and pond habitat.

The subdivision has only a few houses right now and an otherwise great neighbor is successfully pressuring the development into mowing more and more of the grasslands.

I need DATA about the value of grasslands and what happens to the environment if you leave them alone vs. if you mow them. I'm interested most on the impact on birds, insects, and vegetation. I figure info on skunks, lettuce eating rabbits, woodchucks, and tree chewing mice might not make as much of an impression as sweet birdies, pretty butterflies, and lush plants. People seem to like the deer and foxes around here too.

I'm thrilled to be here and love watching the wildlife from my back porch. I've seen orioles, goldfinch, barn swallows, redwing blackbirds, woodpeckers, a cute red, white and black guy I have not identified, bluebirds, foxes, coyote, deer, turtles, bunnies, woodchucks, chipmunks, and other more common critters. I don't want the shared areas of grasslands cleared and I've got signs that chunks of the woods and pond edges are next on his hit list.

Does anyone have a site with good supported facts?

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Elly_NJ(NJ z6)

This is a news release from June 2005, from the NJ Audubion Society:

For immediate release
Contact: Eric Stiles
June 15, 2005
(908) 766-5787 ext. 13
Kathleen Bird
(609) 392-1181 or
(609) 273-7750
Groups Urge Restoration and Protection of NJs Rarest Wildlife Habitats

Conservation Partnerships with Private Landowners
Essential to Saving Key Grassland Habitats, Critical Species
Federal, state and nonprofit conservation officials joined forces today to highlight the
importance and process of restoring New JerseyÂs rarest habitats  grasslands and other
habitats in early succession such as shrublands.
Landowners have an essential role to play in preserving New JerseyÂs most critically
endangered habitats and can benefit financially by voluntarily conserving critical natural
resources on private pastures and farmland, the experts said.
"New JerseyÂs grasslands have reached a critical juncture. Strong, voluntary partnerships
are needed to protect these areas and prevent the large number of threatened and
endangered species from disappearing from New Jersey," said Eric Stiles, vice president
of conservation and stewardship for New Jersey Audubon Society. "Grassland
conservation is a private-public partnership, based on financial rewards to willing
landowners, and involving state and federal agencies."
New Jersey has lost agricultural and grassland habitat at an alarming rate, from nearly 1
million acres in 1972 to less than 850,000 acres in 2001, based on the latest available
state data. And in just a six-year period  from 1995 to 2001  nearly 26,000 acres of
agricultural lands were lost to development.
"Grasslands and other early successional habitat are New JerseyÂs most critically
endangered habitats," Stiles said.
Eric Schrading, Senior Fish & Wildlife Biologist and Private Lands Coordinator for the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service based at its New Jersey Field Office in Pleasantville, said,
"Much of the land in New Jersey is privately owned, so protection of our essential natural
resources depends on partnerships with willing landowners. Agricultural grasslands,
which provide shelter, safety and nourishment for grassland birds, are the most rapidly
disappearing land type in New Jersey."
"Since they lack trees, the agricultural landscapes of pastures and farmland that contain
New JerseyÂs grasslands are easier and cheaper to develop and often targeted first by
developers," New Jersey AudubonÂs Stiles said at a press conference today at the ecologically important and strikingly beautiful Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge
in the Sussex County community of Sussex.
The Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge was chosen for the event to demonstrate the
successful grassland restoration and management practices occurring there. The refuge is
a gem in an expansive, historically agricultural area of the northwestern part of New
Nearby Wantage and Vernon townships in Sussex County and Pohatcong in Warren
County feature enormous tracts of grasslands hosting critical bird species whose
populations are in jeopardy. Critical habitat for grassland dependent species, also found
throughout other areas of New Jersey, has been rapidly disappearing due to development.
As habitat dwindles, bird and other species decline.
The U.S. Department of AgricultureÂs Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S.
Fish & Wildlife Service and the New Jersey Department of Environmental ProtectionÂs
Endangered and Nongame Species Program are providing financial and other incentives
to farmers to restore native habitat and to manage their lands to benefit wildlife.
New Jersey Audubon Society, the stateÂs oldest and most respected conservation
organization, is advocating grassland preservation and restoration of native vegetation
that provides habitat for species that are listed as threatened, endangered or of special
concern by the state.
Landowners can learn about how they can manage property of any size to benefit wildlife
through a new handbook, "New Jersey Audubon SocietyÂs Guide to Incentive Programs
for New Jersey Landowners." It is a clearinghouse for information about state and
federal programs that provide financial and technical assistance.
The guide is available on NJ AudubonÂs Web site at:
or by calling (908) 766-5787.
"State and federal habitat management programs provide a win-win situation for farmers
and for natural resources," said Kim Korth, a biologist who oversees the Landowner
Incentive Program under the state Department of Environmental ProtectionÂs Endangered
and Nongame Species Program.
There has been a dramatic loss of grassland and other early successional habitats
statewide and major impacts to the species that use them. Forty percent of the birds on
New JerseyÂs endangered list rely on grasslands, while almost 30 percent of birds listed
as endangered, threatened or of special concern are considered early successional species.
Over 85 percent of New JerseyÂs listed insects including butterflies rely on grassland and
early successional habitat.

New Jersey still contains important grassland and early successional habitat including
habitat for the largest single populations of frosted elfin and arogos skipper globally,"
said Korth, referring to species of butterflies.
Established native vegetation such as Indian grass, little bluestem, big bluestem and
switchgrass have many benefits, including needing less treatment, such as fertilizer and
lime, than traditional grasses.
"Tall native grasses have provided habitat to grasshopper sparrows, bobolinks, northern
harriers, upland sandpipers and more," said Tim Dunne, biologist with the U.S.
Department of AgricultureÂs Natural Resources Conservation Service based in Clinton.
Most farmers traditional hay and pasture crops are cool-season grasses and legumes such
as timothy hay, rye grass, orchard grass and alfalfa. These get their first cutting in late
May or early June  timing that corresponds to the peak nesting season for grassland
birds. As a result, breeding bird pairs selecting these hayfields are doomed to fail.
The result is the destruction of habitat and further declines in both the number of
individual birds and the number of species.
Habitat management to benefit wildlife includes farmers creating buffers, filter strips and
other areas that are undisturbed during the nesting season, said Dunne.
NJ AudubonÂs Eric Stiles added, "Without adequate protection, creation and management
of their nesting habitats, grassland birds will continue to decline in New Jersey until they
are locally extinct. Federal and state incentive programs offer some hope.
"Grasslands are top priorities for these programs. But in order to succeed best, these
programs must focus on areas where converting to grasslands is the most feasible. ThatÂs
not all. In addition, effective management is needed on lands owned by nonprofit
conservation organizations and by federal, state, county and municipal agencies in
regions where grassland management should be a top priority," said Stiles.
The Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge was established by an act of Congress in

  1. It hosts more than 200 species of birds, as well as a variety of plants and other
    animals. While the refuge was created primarily to provide habitat protection for
    migratory waterfowl that inhabit its wetlands, it manages native, warm-season grasslands.
    They provide critical habitat for important threatened and endangered bird species
    including bobolinks and savannah sparrows that inhabit the uplands.

If you Google "grassland" and "endangered" or "Threatened" you should find lots.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2006 at 4:09PM
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Do you have, or can you obtain, any printed material regarding the intention to manage common areas of your property for the benefit of local wildlife? How was the expectation for this type of land use management established? If you can document that native wildlife was to be encouraged as part of the development plan, with meeting notes, or whatever, you can begin to make a case to protect the undeveloped areas of your property.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2006 at 7:34PM
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Squirrel Girl,
Call your local Soil & Water Conservation Office. Not only can you get literature from them, they will probably even come out and give a program at a neighborhood meeting. Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2006 at 9:36PM
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lisa11310(z5 MI)

Maybe have the area declared a "native habitat ' and involve the neighbors in getting the official paperwork and sinage done. Could your red, white and black guy be a Rose Breasted Grosbeak?

    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 1:58PM
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Thank you Elly, Eric, GF, and Lisa. Those resources are exactly what I needed. This weekend's mow fest ended at the drainage ditches and 10' up a hill toward the farm fence. All in all, I suspect subdivision wide, 2-3 acers were mowed. While my goldfinches don't have a great place to hide while they drink from the ditch anymore, at least 95% of what could have been mowed was spared for another week. Thanks to your resources, the rest may have a chance.

Lisa, I wasn't wearing my glasses, and I lost him while I was getting the binoculars. All I could tell was that he had a primarily black head with a white and dark speckled belly. I can't remember where the red was now. It was bright and in a splotch or two somewhere. He was tiny and flitted all around a tree branch. Oh why can't I have bonoculars welded to my head?

    Bookmark   June 27, 2006 at 9:32AM
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