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Jersey Central Power & Light Provides Key Improvement To Critical Habitat Project In New Jersey

MORRISTOWN, N.J., Feb. 15, 2013 /PRNewswire/ --  Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) initiated its first habitat restoration project as part of the company's  participation in NJ Audubon's Corporate Stewardship Council (CSC), at the South Branch Wildlife Management Area.  Volunteering to remove and recycle nearly a mile of old wire, 18 transformers and 40 utility poles left on site by the former owner, JCP&L provided this key improvement to the critical habitat at this 422-acre site that has been undergoing large scale restoration efforts over the last four years.

Identified as one of the most important in the region for protecting nesting populations of threatened and endangered grassland birds, the South Branch Wildlife Management Area has become a model site for how both wildlife and agriculture can coexist. Working with a local farmer, a unique partnership between the Hunterdon County Department of Parks and Recreation, the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, and New Jersey Audubon was formed in 2006 with a goal of managing the site for grassland habitat and grassland dependent species. Consequently, portions of this site have since been transformed from scrubby invasive plant habitat to native grasses that provide critical habitat for a number of rare species including Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Savannah Sparrows.

"Grassland birds require large, open treeless areas of grass and sedge meadow. One issue at the South Branch WMA site was that the old utility wires and poles remaining on site were attracting Brown-headed Cowbirds," said John Parke, Stewardship Project director for New Jersey Audubon.  "Cowbirds were a big concern in that they are nest parasites, laying eggs in other birds' nests for the hosts to raise as their own.  The wires and poles at the South Branch WMA were used by cowbirds as vantage points to observe the activity of host birds and identify locations of the nests of these rare grassland species.  Grassland birds typically require large contiguous areas of grassland with few trees or perch sites for species such as cowbirds and hawks. One of the keys to discouraging cowbird parasitism or controlling populations of Brown-headed Cowbirds, is to remove perch sites, especially within or surrounding the grassland habitat.  This is exactly what JCP&L has done and it has improved the habitat value at the South Branch WMA immensely! Over the next several breeding seasons we expect to see many more grassland birds successfully raise young.  New Jersey Audubon and the other partners involved in the project cannot thank JCP&L enough for this work and their commitment to help steward this habitat," added Parke.

A few utility poles were strategically left standing to allow for nest boxes to be attached to them. JCP&L assisted with the installation of the nest boxes specific for other grassland dependant birds that are also state listed species, specifically American Kestrel and Barn Owl. Both species are cavity nesters and require large expanses of open grassland to forage, which South Branch WMA provides.

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