691 acres added to Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve in South Jersey

The nonprofit New Jersey Conservation Foundation has purchased 691 acres of a former cranberry farm to add to its Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve in Burlington County — opening a new swath of prime Pinelands habitat and trails to the public.

That increases the total acreage of the preserve from 1,227 to 1,918 acres, a more than 50% increase.

The foundation bought the property on Aug. 18 for $863,875 from the United Talmudical Academy Torah of Lakewood (UTA), which received the land as a donation six years ago. The property was once used for berry farming. It lies off state Routes 72 and 70 in Woodland Township in an area of the Pinelands known as a preservation district, which limits uses to agriculture and “low intensity” recreation use. Motorized vehicles are banned, except for necessary uses.

“This is a beautiful property crossed by several tributaries of the Burrs Mill Brook and containing mature stands of Atlantic white cedar, a native tree that has been greatly reduced in New Jersey over the centuries due to logging and mismanagement,” Stephanie Kreiser, the foundation’s director for South Jersey, said in a statement announcing the acquisition.

The land was paid for with help of $215,958 from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program, as well as help from the Open Space Institute, and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service North American Wetlands Conservation Act-Ducks Unlimited grant.

Kreiser said that as much as two-thirds of the new property may once have supported Atlantic white cedars. However, the land was heavily logged in the early 1900s and also used for agriculture. About 65 acres of the trees remain.

“Acquiring this land as open space provides an excellent opportunity in the future to restore Atlantic white cedars in places they historically grew,” Kreiser said.

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation said the property connects to other large swaths of protected land and is likely a habitat for threatened and endangered species. It has 8.6 miles of stream and 29 acres of open water.

Martha Sullivan Sapp, director of the Green Acres program, said the preservation “advances the DEP’s priorities of preserving endangered species habitat, protecting water quality, and maintaining forested areas that help mitigate the effects of climate change.” Preserving and restoring Atlantic white cedar is a priority, she added.

The Open Space Institute provided funding for the project through its Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund, which gets money from the William Penn Foundation.

Bill Rawlyk, Mid-Atlantic field coordinate for the Open Space Institute, called the project, “a natural fit” for the fund and will protect the waterways at the preserve, part of the Delaware River watershed.

“The Pinelands forests and wetlands filter and recharge water for the Kirkwood Cohansey aquifer, one of the largest underground reservoirs of clean drinking water on the East Coast,” he said.

Jim Feaga, a biologist for Ducks Unlimited, said the additional tract will protect 608 acres of wetlands important to migratory birds and other wildlife.

The pitch pine and scrub oak forests of the original section of the Huber Preserve are prime breeding habitat for the prairie warbler, a migratory songbird. The preserve contains Four Mile Spring, one of several tributaries of the Rancocas Creek that spring from swamps.

The preserve currently has about five miles of footpaths and sand roads, including multiple loop routes, open for hiking and mountain biking. It is named for Michael Huber, who served on New Jersey Conservation Fund’s Board of Trustees before he died in 2009.

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