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Conservation IssuesHopewell Township's
Martin Tract Contains
Important Grassland Habitat
Pat Sziber

Hopewell Township's Martin Tract Contains Important Grassland Habitat
Pat Sziber

Rolling fields of timothy and other grasses, punctuated with nodding heads of milkweed and yarrow. Mature hedgerows defining the fields and marking the courses of tributaries and headwaters of Honey Brook. A placid farm pond surrounded by scrub and shrub. A substantial mixed deciduous and conifer woodland adjacent to the fields. Such is the landscape beneath the wings of the migrant birds who are fortunate enough to find this habitat gem so rare in our sprawl-blighted region. And such is the terrain that filled the senses of four birders who walked the property in mid-June to see just who might be living there.

In just three hours we came away with a list of 40 species, many of them edge habitat specialists utilizing the wonderful complex of hedgerows. As we walked through the largest of the fields we were quite astonished to find ourselves amidst a flurry of bobolink activity. Agitated male birds indicated the presence of nests nearby and we were delighted to see a mom carrying food to her young, two solid confirmations of breeding activity. We estimated about six pairs of nesting bobolinks. Eastern meadowlark, willow flycatcher and at least half a dozen singing prairie warblers plus one feeding a fledgling were also spotted. These last two species are on the National Audubon WatchList. The presence of these species has been confirmed by other top-notch birders.

This wonderful 251-acre property, which affords one of the finest vistas in our area, is about to be purchased by Hopewell Township at a cost of $5.4 million. This hefty sum will deplete the township's open space coffers. With many more properties on the township's wish-list, and bonding debt service to be paid, the township would like to recoup the funds by carving more than half the property into 50-acre "farmettes" to be sold at auction. Agricultural conservation easements would be placed on the lots before sale and one home would be permitted on each.

We are deeply concerned about the subdivision, construction and the conditions of the easements which, we understand, would require only that the land remain "suitable for farming." The new owners would have the option of converting the current hayfields into pasture, row crops or-in the worst-case scenario-lawns (if they don't give a hoot about losing their agricultural assessment.) The bobolinks and other grassland birds are thriving because the fields are planted in warm season grasses which are mowed late in the summer. A large, open field with an unobstructed view of the landscape is critical for bobolink habitat. For the sake of protecting this state threatened species, the property should stay in single ownership with strict terms for management of the hayfields included in the easement. There are other options besides real estate auction for recovery of the open space funds.

What you can do: Hopewell Township is about to assume stewardship of critical habitat for a bird included on the New Jersey List of Threatened Species. Grasslands are the most threatened habitat type in New Jersey. Township officials should give priority to protection of this exceptional habitat and consider other options for replenishing their open space fund. Hopewell Township residents in particular, who have a vested interest in how their open space tax dollars are used, should write to the Township Committee members, or at least to the mayor, at the Township address. Copy to the Township Administrator. If you would like to receive more information on the Martin tract, including a bird list, or receive electronic updates e-mail Pat Sziber at psziber@molbio.princeton.edu.

Mayor Francesca Bartlett
Deputy Mayor Marylou Ferrara
Township Committee Member Jon Edwards
Township Committee Member Vanessa Sandom
Township Committee Member Arlene Kemp
Township Administrator Christine Smeltzer
Township of Hopewell
201 Washington Crossing-Pennington Road
Titusville, NJ 08560


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Last revision: Thursday, August 28, 2003 - 12:45:30 AM