Sparta Mountain WMA has been part of the Central Hardwoods Ecosystem with oaks and hickories dominating the forests for the past 10,000 years. These forests were perpetuated by wildfires and droughts, as evidenced by concentrations of both charcoal and oak pollen in the soils in that timeframe. In the late 1800s, Sparta Mountain was drastically changed by the mining operations - soils were moved, a railroad was built, and essentially all the trees were cut down to make charcoal.
Today, with the suppression of fire and lack of forest management, the oak forests in northern NJ are slowly converting to northern hardwoods as maple, birch, and beech trees grow in the shade of the oaks that began growing about 100 years ago. Another effect of fire suppression and lack of forest management is the lack of regenerating forests, also known as young forests or early successional forests. These shrubby areas within the forest are used by a large diversity of wildlife and are home to many songbirds, including the endangered Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera).
The Sparta Mountain Forest Stewardship Plan calls for creating disturbances in the forest large enough to regenerate oaks and restore young forest habitat as well as maintaining maturing forest for old-growth stands. While there are scattered trees over 120 years old, there are no old growth forests in Sparta Mountain WMA.
This project creates a forest disturbance, done by cutting a lot of trees, to restore young forest habitat for wildlife. This restoration work may seem counter-intuitive, but it has demonstrated an amazing positive impact on the bird species in the area (see below) and will help the forests of Sparta Mountain be more resilient in the face of the threats of climate change and invasive pests.
Response of bird species to forest disturbance on Sparta Mountain WMA from before treatment to four (4) growing seasons after treatment.
Solid blue line = all bird species
Solid red line = bird species of concern
Dashed lines = all bird species (green) and bird species of concern (lavender) detected in shrubby wetlands (control).
Click to enlarge