A walk on the edge of the woods

The Pine Barrens around Helmetta are a small, unique ecosystem within the Raritan River Basin, along the edge of its Manalapan River tributary. They are part of the Spotswood Outlier of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

Many who think they know the Raritan River Basin are amazed to learn of this outlier with its acid cedar bogs filled with spaghnum moss and muck, porous soil and pitch pine forest. But Joe Sapia has lived here his whole life. His knowledge and appreciation of this special “neck of the woods” is found in each one of his series of almost 50 photo essays. NWNL thanks Joe for giving us a tour of his “backyard” and sharing this lovely photo essay.

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Changing colors of foliage

A WALK ON THE EDGE OF THE WOODS

The Pine Barrens around Helmetta,
November-December, 2015; No. 46
 by Joseph Sapia

As I hiked through Jamesburg Park, Jimmy Talnagi stood outside his cabin, lighted punk in hand.

Strange, I thought, I just had an online discussion with fellow, local 
baby-boomers about punks, or cat-tails. As children, we would light the 
cigar-like flower, ostensibly to keep mosquitoes away, but more likely to be one of the kids. Jimmy was not part of the recent discussion, but here he was, as if waiting for me, with the smoking punk. And, this being November, was not part of the season for mosquitoes.

I had three punks left from the warmer weather, what am I going to do?  Jimmy said. They just start shredding, like a big puff ball.



True, the fluffy vegetation of this punk was coming apart, sticking to my 
sweatshirt. So, either light them for the heck of it or let them disintegrate.

Jimmy and the punk were one of various unexpected discoveries on today’s walk – a walk on the edge of the woods. The walk was meant to combine two things: one, a hike into nature, and, two, a pragmatic commute to the other side of the woods to Krygier’s Nursery, whose owner, Jimmy Krygier, was giving me a ride to pick up my Jeep, which was getting some mechanical work done about 8 miles away near Englishtown. Because I was tired and busy with house projects, I did not really have the will or the time to get into the woods. So, I compromised, turning down Jimmy picking me up at home, but sort of walking the woods – that is, walking on the edge of the woods – to Jimmy’s house.

So, around 2 p.m. on this overcast day of 55 to 60 degrees that was calm 
to having a light breeze, I set off toward Cranberry Bog. The idea was to 
walk the Pipeline to the ConRail railroad tracks, then to the bog, past 
Shekiro’s Pond into Jamesburg Park and out the woods at Jimmy’s, roughly a walk of two miles.

Walking the edge of the woods is not as good as walking deeply into the 
woods, but I made my first discovery hardly off the beaten track. On the 
natural gas Pipeline, I came across plentiful and huge acorns. This year is a “mast year,” somewhat of a mystery when oaks really kick out acorns. An oak in my yard was covered with acorns; Here, they were huge.

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Huge and plentiful acorns during this “mast year,” here on the Pipeline. Classic Pine Barrens ecosystem of white sand, pitch pine,Virginia pine, and oak.

Continuing on, I turned toward Helmetta, briefly walking the ConRail freight tracks, before turning toward the Bog. Almost immediately I came across a microcosm of the Pine Barrens: white, beach sand-like soil mixed with oak, pitch pine and Virginia pine. If someone doubts this area is part of the Pine Barrens, have that person look at this scene.

As I continued, I came across blazing red tree leaves, the changing colors 
of vegetation during the transition from hot to cold weather. What a 
beautiful scene, but nearby there was evidence a local neighborhood is dumping its vegetative waste in the area. At the Bog, too, I was greeted by another sad scene: invasive phragmites. Not only overtaking the bog as a whole, but overtaking a nice stand of valuable punks.

As I moved on, the phragmites invasion continued. I counted five plants 
growing in Shekiro’s Pond. Five now, but how many in a short time? On the bright side, literally across the unpaved road from the pond, I found nice tands of winterberry. Not only beautiful, but food for birds and decorative material for my Christmas decorations.

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Five shoots of very invasive phragmites, with the tassel at top, begins an invasion at Shekiro’s Pond.

Five shoots of very invasive phragmites, with the tassel at top, begins an 
invasion at Shekiro’s Pond. I dipped back into civilization at the former worker houses of the George W. Helme Snuff Mill, then worked my way out again into the woods passing Jimmy’s cabin and a few other homes. Finally, I was back in the woods, but out all too soon, my walk done.

Sometimes, life gets in the way of doing fun things, such as playing in the woods. So, one has to take advantage of snippets here and there.

As for the lighted punk, Jimmy insisted I take it as I continued hiking. 
But it was dry and leaves heavily littered the woods.

I don’t want to set the woods on fire, I said.

This went back and forth, with me finally agreeing. I took the punk, bit 
into its stem, and held it like a cockeyed version of President Franklin D. 
Roosevelt and his cigarette.

I tromped on, looking like a swamps-around-Helmetta aristocrat.

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Jimmy Talnagi with a lighted punk.

~ ~ ~ 
Joe Sapia, 59-years-old, grew up in and lives in the Pine Barrens around 
Helmetta, where his family has resided for more than 100 years. He can be reached at Snufftin@aol.com or at P.O. Box 275, Helmetta, 08828.

Copyright 2015 by Joseph Sapia.

US: Oregon, Columbia River Basin, foxglove
US: Oregon, Columbia River Basin, foxglove

In all things of nature there is
something of the marvelous. -Aristotle

HEY, TAKE A HIKE on Nat’l Trails Day! – June 7

US: Oregon, Columbia River Basin, Columbia Gorge, Eagle Creek Trail
US: Oregon, Columbia River Basin, Columbia Gorge, Eagle Creek Trail

There are over 200,000 miles of hiking trails in the United States according to the American Hiking Society. Tread lightly and leave no trace! Nature awaits.

Click here to find an event near you.

“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”

– Terry Tempest Williams, testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Forest & Public Lands Management regarding the Utah Public Lands Management Act of 1995.

Related event: Mark your calenders!
NWF’s Great American Backyard Campout on June 28 –

inspiring people of all ages to go outside and connect with nature.

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Lichen is part of the biodiversity of vegetation in our watersheds and serves as tool for water retention.

Kenya: Mau Forest, source of the Mara River
Kenya: Mau Forest, source of the Mara River

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

NWNL expands its watershed coverage: This blog post discusses the Amazon’s Belo Monte Dam

The No Water No Life website will soon expand to include information collected by other conservation photographers and scientists regarding freshwater issues in river basins other than our project’s 6 case-study watersheds. This will allow our website to be a go-to source for fresh-water issues worldwide, not just in our 6 American and African case-study watersheds.

As a disclaimer, NWNL will post such information garnered by other groups in acknowledgement of the universality of our concerns over the management of the freshwater resources. Since NWNL has not researched, visited nor consulted with scientists studying these other ecosystems, NWNL cannot endorse nor guarantee the accuracy of information gathered by the following sources.

Pending this expansion of NWNL coverage on its site, this NWNL blog space will be used for such purposes. The international attention on the effects of building the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil’s Amazon is just one example of extended coverage we are starting to offer. The impacts surrounding the Belo Monte Dam are comparable to those of two NWNL case-study watersheds. Displacement caused by dams was experienced by British Canadians, First Nations and US communities in the Columbia River Basin, and may be forced on the half-million pastoralists in Ethiopia and Kenya hoping to stop construction of the Gibe Dams on the Omo River.

Kayapó Chief Raoni speaking with tribal leaders over the Belo Monte Dam. Photo: Antoine Bonsorte/ Amazon Watch (CC)

As Aug. 22 was the International Day of Action to Defend the Brazilian Amazon, here are a few resources for the issues, actions and activists involved in the Belo Monde Dam project. One of the NGOs focusing on Belo Monte is International Rivers, a colleague of NWNL in its documentation of Ethiopia’s Omo River.

Amazon Watch is also actively behind the international protests against the proposed Belo Monte Dam on Xingu River. These organizations and others, including Conservation International, claim that this dam, recently approved by Brazil’s president, will threaten ecosystem and the extinction of the Kayapó people. Belo Monte Dam, the world’s largest hydro-power project underway, thus represents a defining environmental struggle to protect free-flowing rivers, forests and rights of all indigenous cultures.

Others involved include “Avatar” director James Cameron, who created “Pandora” about the battle to stop this dam on the Xingu River, which he sees as one of the great tributaries of the Amazon River. His involvement stems from the Amazon rainforest parallels to his Avatar film. Sigourney Weaver has visited the Kayapó people also out of concern for the Belo Monte Dam and 60 others intended for the Amazon. Cristina Mittermeier, past President of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), was part of the protests on Aug. 22 in Washington DC at the Brazilian Embassy and commented on this on Facebook. She is also an advisor to No Water No Life.

Conservation International has created a YouTube documentary “The Kayapó Nation: Protectors of the Amazon” (3:03 min) on Kayapó resistance to save their rainforest homeland and culture, and the global importance of the forests endangered by the proposed hydro-electric dams.

White Nile River Basin Exped. – Kibale Forest NP

Welcome to #7 in a series of blogs written by Alison Jones before her departure to Uganda and Kenya as NWNL’s lead photographer.

chimpanzee

Date: Sat–Sun, 3–4 April 2010 /Entry 7
Reporter: Alison M. Jones
Location: Kibale Forest National Park

The 776 sq-km Kibale Forest NP is full of lakes, marshes and grasslands and offers both swamp and forest walks. It’s Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary claims 335 bird species. The forest is habitat to the rare giant forest hog and forest elephant. The forested slopes of lowland tropical rainforest, deciduous forest and mountain forests are perfect for the world’s highest concentration of primates, including 500 chimps, red colobus, L’Hoest’s monkey and 11 other primates. A field of crater lakes lies between Fort Portal and Kibale Forest and there is a superb community development fringing the park. This will be an excellent opportunity for NWNL to document the importance of forests and wetlands to a watershed.

From the field: Kibale National Park comprises both forests and wetlands – key components for tourism, employment and cash flow for communities near such “protected” areas. Ugandan President Museveni requested this month that Africa’s Great Lakes countries protect their wetlands and forests to stem the spread of the desert. He said this was needed to insure future abundance of water needed to help generate hydro-power for industry and reduce the cost of doing business. He also noted transboundary impacts of regional ecosystems on weather: “There are swamps in Southern Sudan called sudds and there are forests in the D.R. Congo that are key in the rain-making process in Uganda.” These regional wetlands and forests, the president claims, contribute up to 40% of the rains in Uganda.

In many parts of Uganda, buildings and farmland now cover former wetlands. It is said that during the dictatorship of Idi Amin caution and the wisdom of elders was thrown to the wind as wetlands were transformed into roads, houses and industrial zones ignoring all planning laws and enforcement agencies.

With this in mind, NWNL documented how Kibale’s wetland sanctuary provides habitat to primates and birds that help disperse indigenous seeds, as well as water for the local people. Although residents have been advised to boil their water, many believe that the swamp water tastes better and has more nutrient value than boiled water. NWNL will pursue the health implications of this local belief.

Kibale National Park’s forest has been spit into two sections due to demand for land for tea farming. Another sign of industry affecting this forest ecosystem was found in the constant cloud of large heavy trucks hauling rock to the Hima cement factory. Kibale District has lost half of its forest cover over the last 20 or so years. Stakeholders are now working to reverse this trend. Last year the National Forest Authority evicted hundreds of illegal squatters, however politicians immediately over-ruled that action and allowed re-occupation of Kibale District forests.

Forests throughout Uganda are suffering from illegal logging and the growing demand for charcoal and firewood. Even though prices for wood and charcoal have probably tripled, this fuel is still cheaper than metered electricity. Thus far, promotion of solar cookers or more efficient charcoal burners has not been very successful. NWNL looks forward to its end-of-expedition meetings in Kampala with stakeholders to learn about the government’s follow-up on recent proclamations that it supports afforestation and resettlement of villages on mountain slopes prone to fatal mudslides that are becoming more frequent.

Mau Forest Degradation

Deforestation in the Mara River's headwaters

On September 22, 2009, Alison Jones, NWNL’s lead photographer, and Alison Fast, a NWNL videographer, had an aerial view of the headwaters of the Mara River. Flying over the Mau Forest, they documented the degradation of this “water tower,” source of 12 major rivers in Kenya. Most of these rivers feed Lake Victoria, the source of the White Nile.

Many years of settlement in this forest – legal and illegal – has resulted in farms replacing trees. This change in land use, destroying the forest’s ability to retain and gradually release water, has caused a critical decrease in year-round water supplies to millions of stakeholders throughout Kenya.

NWNL’s one-month expedition traveled the length of the Mara River from these headwaters to its Lake Victoria outlet in Tanzania. En route, NWNL examined other factors that have caused the Mara and other rivers to lose critical water flow and in some cases run dry. In addition to deforestation, commercial and small-scale farmers’ unregulated extraction of water for irrigation and a three-year drought have wrought havoc.

These drastically reduced water supplies have caused human and livestock deaths, created conflict and forced Kenyans to reevaluate their traditional lifestyles and livelihoods. The continuing effects of climate change and future droughts require sustainable solutions.

Most importantly, NWNL will report on very encouraging and bold answers now being worked on by politicians, farmers and stakeholders, as well as by local, regional and international stewardship organizations. NWNL will further describe its Mara River Basin Expedition findings in future blogs.