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Conservation IssuesHabitat damage at the Pole Farm
Pat Sziber

Habitat damage at the Pole Farm
Pat Sziber

There is a box of slides among my photos labeled "New Nikon-Pole Farm." In the summer of 1998 our chapter was in the midst of the biological survey of the 813-acre former AT&T property which recently had been purchased by Mercer County. We'd found wildflowers flourishing throughout the property so it seemed like a good place to take my new camera on its maiden run. Queen Anne's lace, Wild Bergamot, Deptford Pink, Black-eyed Susan, Sneezeweed, Indian Hemp, Steeplebush, Daisy Fleabane, Yellow Sweet Clover posed prettily on that early July afternoon.

To celebrate summer solstice this year, once again I took my camera to the Pole Farm. Along the long gravel lane I came across an abundance of early summer beauties. St. Johnswort, Carolina Rose, Sundrops, Blue Vervain, Common Milkweed, Yellow Loosestrife dappled the tall grasses with nearly every color of the wildflower palette.

The next day they were gone, cut down in their glory, their petals, their nectar, their wasted pollen reduced to clippings along the side of the lane which had been mowed up to 25 feet in width. To make matters worse, fields that only a week earlier were alive with Goldfinches, Field Sparrows, Bluebirds and Brown Thrashers had been mowed to a stubble attractive to nothing more than a handful of crows.

For certain, I am not the only shutterbug who revels in the ample opportunities for nature and landscape photography at the Pole Farm. Nor am I the only person who has sought a way to halt the destructive mowing regimen that has been occurring at the Pole Farm for the past few years-or at least to learn the reason for it-and failed. Early in spring, I was reminded about the damage of previous years by more than one person concerned about the loss of habitat for grassland birds and wildflowers, to say nothing of the lush vistas provided by the fields. We know that, for the sake of nesting grassland birds, mowing must be held off until at least July 15 and, in order to flourish, wildflowers must be allowed to be pollinated, set seed and disperse their fruits.

The chapter board of directors supported my attempt to intervene as Conservation Chair. First, I tried to find out what sort of federal, state or county program might be sponsoring such a mowing regimen. My search was fruitless. Following what seemed like a logical suggestion, I called the Mercer County land management office and spoke with a staff person who said that he "would look into it and get back to me." Despite my several follow-up calls, that was our first and last conversation. Two Pole Farm visitors actually spoke to the farmers while they were out mowing. Those strange conversations seem to indicate that the mowing is not part of any official program or management agreement.

If there is a defensible reason for the excessive and untimely mowing, why are we-taxpayers who helped pay for the land and vigorously supported the open space tax that made its purchase possible-unable to get answers?

The eventual fate of the Pole Farm supposedly is not yet decided; unlike Baldpate Mt. a concept plan has not been released. On April 22nd, WCAS and Sierra Club met with the Executive Director of the Park Commission and gave to him the plan our groups developed for passive use of the park. This plan is based on our Biological Survey Report and the recommendations contained therein. In the interim, regardless of future plans, it seems senseless to allow unnecessary damage to habitat. A follow-up letter has been sent to Mercer County, expressing our concerns and disappointment and offering to work with them on the mowing issue.

Alas, for this year, the damage is done. It is clear to regular visitors that the diversity and abundance of wildflowers at the Pole Farm is declining. The numbers of grassland birds such as Eastern Meadowlarks, Bobolinks and Grasshopper Sparrows seem lower. We are awaiting the County's response to our letter and we hope a fruitful dialogue will follow.

What you can do: Urge Mercer County to look into the mowing practices at the Pole Farm and to develop a habitat-friendly plan for its management. Write to Mr. Frank Ragazzo, Executive Director, Mercer County Park Commission, 640 South Broad Street, Trenton, NJ 08650 and tell him that mowing of the fields should not occur until after July 15 in order to protect nesting grassland birds. Also tell him that native wildflowers are needlessly being destroyed by mowing along the paths. If we do not get a satisfactory response to our chapter letter, we will explore other avenues. Please contact Pat Sziber if you are willing to commit time and energy to working on a strategy and helping to carry it out. You do not need to be an Audubon member. E-mail conservation@www.washingtoncrossingaudubon.org or phone 609.737-1189.



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Last revision: Sunday, August 18, 2002 - 07:39 PM