An Atlantic White Cedar
Bass River State Forest has a storied past, with the Civilian Conservation Corps helping to shape a large portion of it from 1933-1942. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

2015 is indeed a year of many anniversaries — American Forests’ own 140th anniversary, and, as we all know by now, the 25th year of Global ReLeaf. In addition, the site of the next leg of our journey through the past is celebrating an anniversary of its own this year: the 110th birthday of New Jersey’s first state park.

Back in 1905, the New Jersey Legislature acquired the first parcel of land set aside to become a state forest, which was to be utilized for water conservation, wildlife and timber management, and a variety of public recreation activities — including canoeing, hiking, camping, and swimming. The Bass River State Forest also shelters a portion of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a heavily forested coastal plain ecosystem stretching across seven counties of New Jersey. The Pine Barrens, aptly named for the nutrient-poor soil they reside in, house a unique ecology of many plant and wildlife species, including orchids, carnivorous plants, and rare pygmy Pitch pines.

In 2003, American Forests partnered with The New Jersey Forest Service to plant 7,900 Atlantic white cedars on 24 acres of the Bass River State Forest, which had been ravaged by recent wildfire, gypsy moths and an unusual frost/drought sequence. Atlantic white cedar, a declining resource, was planted to restore the area to a hardwood swamp. Working with volunteers and forest service staff, American Forests also installed solar-powered deer fencing around the planted seedlings.

Why install deer fences, though?

American Forests often encourages, enacts and promotes such protective measures for restoration activities, as newly planted seedlings and the leaves from young trees can be seen as prime grazing sources for white-tailed deer — particularly in east-coast forests, which are often threatened by surging deer populations. As a result, American Forests has promoted the use of deer guards across dozens of projects as a protective measure for newly planted trees to thrive.

Over 12 years after this project’s completion, the site has been utilized as an educational tour site for a variety of visitors and ages. The project has also helped provide habitat and a cohesive ecosystem for the timber rattlesnake — the only rattlesnake located in the Northeast — and the threatened small whirled pogonia, a terrestrial orchid that relies on the detritus, or “leaf litter”, of larger trees for survival.