The Pine Barrens are a heavily forested area of coastal plain stretching across southern New Jersey. An internationally important ecological region, the name "pine barrens" refers to the area's sandy, acidic, nutrient-poor soil, to which the crops originally imported by European settlers didn't take well.
At over a million acres in size and occupying 22% of New Jersey’s total land area, the Pine Barrens comprise the largest body of open space on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard between Richmond and Boston. The region is underlain by a series of aquifers, including the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, which provides approximately 90% of all the water to streams, rivers and wetlands in the area. These aquifers contain 17 trillion gallons of the purest water in the land and supply clean drinking water throughout southern New Jersey.
The region harbors the largest example of pitch pine barrens on Earth, as well as globally rare pygmy pine forests. These landscapes rely on natural fire regimes or ecologically prescribed burns to survive. Mixed pine and oak forests and Atlantic white cedar swamps also thrive here, as well as many threatened plants and animals including curly grass fern (Schizaea pusilla) and the Pine Barrens Treefrog (Hyla andersonii). The most common trees are the Jack pine, red pine, pitch pine, blackjack oak, and scrub oak; a scattering of larger oaks is not unusual. The understory is composed of grasses, sedges, and forbs, many of them common in dry prairies. Plants of the heath family, such as blueberry, bearberry and huckleberry, thrive in the unique soil of the Pine Barrens. These species have adaptations that permit them to survive or regenerate well after fire.
The major threat facing the Pine Barrens is development pressure. The water systems running through the Pine Barrens are extremely sensitive to human influences from housing developments, agricultural activities, septic systems, landfills, and the application of fertilizers and pesticides.
The Progress: Lasting Results
In the Pine Barrens, The Nature Conservancy has safeguarded nearly 5,440-acres at five nature preserves. These special places include the 527-acre Oswego River Preserve, which spans diverse natural communities and Forked River Mountain Preserve, 3,104-acres linking neighboring protected lands to form an impressive greenway. Hirst Ponds Preserve, comprising 365-acres along the southern portion of the Pine Barrens, is home to two vernal ponds where a host of globally rare vegetation thrives.
At the Conservancy’s Oswego River Preserve, staff have undertaken a small-scale experiment to evaluate the potential for using mechanical clearing to simulate some of the important immediate impacts of fires, and to evaluate the potential of such clearing to restore more diverse, earlier successional communities. Management techniques including brush-hogging shrubs and chain-sawing the small trees on the study plot were applied in November 2008. In fall 2009, staff surveyed the site. Although it is too soon to expect conclusive results, observations show that our management method may be successful in allowing rare grasses to spread, but that regenerating shrub cover will shade out these too quickly to have any lasting impact.
Using our science-based conservation as well as our creative partnerships and strategies, the Conservancy is addressing threats to the Pine Barrens’ natural heritage—alterations to natural fire regimes and inappropriate development. We also monitor the health of other plants, animals, and natural communities. Partners working to protect the Pine Barrens include the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Forked River Mountain Coalition, state and local agencies, the agricultural community, and corporations.
What types of plant and animal communities make their home in the Pine Barrens? Watch a slideshow to find out!
What types of landscapes and plants make up the Southern Pine Barrens?