The New Jersey Pine Barrens
The Outer Coastal Plain of New Jersey is a largely undeveloped pine region in the northeastern US. The pine barrens comprise 550,000 ha of upland and wetland vegetation. The species diversity of the vegetation in the upland forests is relatively low. Pine (pitch pine, Pinus rigida and shortleaf pine, P. echinata) and oak (black oak, Quercus velutina, white oak, Q. alba, scarlet oak, Q. coccinea and chestnut oak Q. prinus) dominate the canopy layer and ericaceous species (blueberry, Vaccinium pallidum and huckleberry, Gaylussacia baccata). dominate the shrub layer. Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) dominates the wetlands. In addition, some 4,000 – 9,000 ha (depending on definition) of this area is occupied by dwarf or pygmy pine plains. Soils underlying this region primarily consist of unconsolidated deposits of sand with some clay, silt and gravel. The soils are not well developed; they are low in organic matter content, strongly acidic and very low in natural fertility, forming sandy podsols of the Lakehurst and Woodmansie soil series.
Much of the forest is owned and managed by the State Forest Service and Fish Game and Wildlife, although some tracts are in private ownership.
The seasonally dry ecosystem is prone to wildfire and many pine barrens plant species have evolved adaptations to cope with this periodic disturbance. This history of fire pre-dating European colonization, logging and fires in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries are largely responsible for the appearance of the forests today. While wildfires are still common, their identification and successful control has improved greatly in the second half of the 20th century. It is estimated that an average point in the pine barrens upland forest burns at about a 65 year interval versus a 20 year interval earlier in the 20th century. Prescribed burning has been used in the New Jersey pine barrens by the forest service since the late 1930’s. Originally used for its effect on stand composition and wildlife habitat management, it is now practiced to reduce fuel load and the consequent risk of wildfire.
The area has been given MAB designation as a reserve as it contains protected and endangered flora and fauna. It was the first such area in the USA to be given state protection through a comprehensive management plan that led to the initiation of the Pinelands Commission as a regulatory body within the state of New Jersey to oversee development and conservation. A number of non-profit advocacy organizations exist in the region (Pinelands Preservation Alliance, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and The Nature Conservancy) that provide information and public education on the history and conservation of the area.
Further reading about the pine barrens:
Boyd, H. P. (1991) A Field Guide to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Plexus Publishing, NJ.
Forman, R. T. T. (Ed.) 1979 Pine Barrens: Ecosystem and Landscape Academic Press, New York.
Collins, B. R. and Russell, E. W. B. (1988) Protecting the New Jersey Pinelands, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.
Collins, B. R. and Anderson, K. H. (1994) Plant Communities of New Jersey: A Study in Landscape Diversity. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.