To the Editor:
Biodiversity is being lost at an unsustainable rate. The North American breeding bird population has decreased by twenty-nine percent in the last fifty years. North American amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and fresh water fish lost thirty-three percent of their population in the last forty years. This loss is not sustainable and if not reversed will result in ecosystem collapse, an acute threat to all of us.
The first step in containing this loss is identifying and protecting areas that still have the species that create functioning ecosystems. Unfortunately, the landscape of most of Central New Jersey is so altered that it does not support a healthy diversity of life. This makes the very few places that still have a functioning ecosystem irreplaceable and in need of the highest level of protection.
Baldpate Mountain has a stressed but intact and functioning ecosystem. The healthy diversity of birds indicates that the insects and plants that birds depend upon have ecologically functioning populations. Baldpate is also fragile because of the small size and long narrow shape. To protect Baldpate, the Moores Station Quarry restoration needs to be carefully planned to minimize the impact on Baldpate.
Only part of Baldpate has high quality habitat for interior forest bird species. This habitat is characterized by Spicebush dominated understory and is used by some of the rarest breeding birds on Baldpate, including Kentucky, Hooded, and Worm-eating Warblers. Unfortunately the most productive Spicebush habitat on Baldpate is adjacent to the quarry. Other areas adjacent or in the abandoned parts of the quarry support other listed species from multiple taxa. The quarry plans need to be carefully evaluated for the impact on Baldpate’s flora and fauna.
All three proposed plans for the quarry restoration contain an overlook and a connector trail to the Baldpate trails which bisects high quality Spicebush understory. The lower connector trail also goes through sensitive habitat containing breeding territories of listed species. Rerouting the proposed trail would transverse habitat of other listed species. There are no potential paths from the Quarry to the Switchback and Northwest trails that would not create excessive disturbance in very sensitive habitat. The overlook and connector trails need to be removed from the plans.
Primitive camping is proposed in Plans A and B near the top of the quarry. The proposed locations are too close to sensitive habitat and would disturb sensitive breeding species with noise and light pollution. A broader buffer zone is needed between human activity and breeding fauna.
Plan B would alter the hydrology of the quarry and adjacent wetlands. This Plan needs to be carefully evaluated for harmful effects on wetland and vernal pool species, especially amphibians and reptiles.
Plan C, which emphasizes active recreation, is not appropriate for a location surrounded by a Continental Important Bird Area (IBA). The Plan C map shows the proposed mountain bike paths extending into the Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate and the overlook located inside the preserve. The proposed rock climbing area is adjacent to sensitive habitat. These activities would be highly disruptive to breeding species in multiple taxa which have no place else to go. Plan C would significantly increase human traffic, activity, and noise pollution adjacent to an irreplaceable and sensitive ecosystem.
The primary reason for the biodiversity crisis is loss, degradation, and fragmentation of habitat. Plan C would cause all of the above. There is no way to reconcile Plan C with maintaining the ecological integrity of adjacent parts of Baldpate. Plan A would have a minimal effect on Baldpate provided that the outlook and connector trails are removed and the buffer zone between primitive camping and Baldpate is extended. If implemented thoughtfully, Plan A’s proposed habitat restoration could have a positive impact on Baldpate’s ecology.
Understandably, people want more areas to recreate but human domination of land use has pushed too many other species to the brink of extirpation, if not extinction, causing an acute environmental crisis. The remaining habitat suitable for a robust diversity of plants and animals is too small to be sustainable. The first step to stemming this tide of extinction is to protect the remaining functional ecosystems in their entirety. This means not extending intrusive human presence into these places. Baldpate is part of the Sourland Mountain Regional IBA, the only Continental level IBA in central New Jersey, and contains some of the highest quality habitat and rarest species in this IBA. A Continental IBA is not the place for active recreation.
Washington Crossing Audubon Society urges you to support us in voting for Plan A in the Mercer County Park Commission survey and voting “strongly opposed” to connector trails to Baldpate in the section of the survey pertaining to individual activities and features. Please help us protect Baldpate Mountain and its very special flora and fauna.
Submitted by Fairfax Hutter, Communications Chair for the Washington Crossing Audubon Society. To read more about the County’s proposal for the Moore’s Station Quarry, see MercerMe coverage here and here. The featured photo is of an American Redstart and is by Sharyn Magee.