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Hackensack Meadowlands, New Jersey, Biodiversity

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Vegetation and Habitat Types in the Meadowlands

The wetlands of the Hackensack Meadowlands have been studied more than the (largely fill) uplands; among the wetlands, the herbaceous wetlands (marshes and wet meadows) have been studied more than the remnant wooded swamps. Common reed-dominated vegetation has received a lot of attention in the literature of the Meadowlands, yet even those areas have not been described in detail. Along with reed–dominated areas, the Hackensack Meadowlands contain many kinds of freshwater and brackish wetlands, rivers, creeks and upland habitats. At the proposed site of the Meadowlands Arena, for example, McCormick & Associates (1978) mapped vegetation on 291 (720 acres) which included 53% reed stands, 29% barren recent fill and waste, and 13% goldenrod-ragweed on fill. The vegetation zonation of tidal marshes is largely determined by elevation, drainage, and soil type (Day et al. 1989), and similar factors, along with fire, animal activities, and distribution of plant propagules, shape vegetation patterns in other Meadowlands habitats. The following descriptions of the major vegetation (habitat) types are based closely on HMDC (1984) and USFWS et al. (2000).

Tidal and nontidal wetlands are the predominant habitats in the Hackensack Meadowlands. Marshes, especially tidal marshes, are the areas of most concentrated primary productivity in the estuarine system. The wide range of habitat types, their complex interspersion, and the occurrence of many large blocks of habitat (e.g. more than 40 hectares [100 acres]) contribute to the importance of the Meadowlands region to wildlife.
Subtidal Habitats
Estuarine Deep Water: These tidally influenced areas are permanently submerged by at least 2 meters of water at low tide. Estuarine deep water occurs in the Hackensack River and major tidal creeks. This is an important habitat for adult and juvenile estuarine fishes and migrating and wintering waterfowl. Mud crabs (Rhithropanopeus) and other invertebrates are abundant in estuarine deep water. Unlike most other habitats in the Meadowlands, estuarine deep water areas lack vascular vegetation.

Estuarine Shallow Water: The substrate elevations of these areas are between Mean Low Water (MLW) and 2 meters below MLW. Estuarine shallow water habitats are typically located between areas of estuarine deep water and mudflats. The mid-channel habitats of many of the smaller creeks and the upper reaches of the larger creeks in the Meadowlands are estuarine shallow water. These areas support aquatic vascular plants, algae, and benthic invertebrates that are important food sources for all life stages of fish as well as for waterfowl, wading birds, and migratory shorebirds.

Intertidal Habitats
Salt Marshes
Salt marsh is a general category that includes a diversity of habitat types and vegetation assemblages, including mudflats, salt panne, low marsh, and high marsh. There is a gradient of vegetation assemblages within the salt marsh with shallow water occurring at low elevation or adjacent to creeks, mudflats between creeks and adjacent to shallow water, then low marsh and high marsh occurring with increasing elevation. (It should be noted that, in common usage among East Coast ecologists, low and high marsh in tidal salt marshes refer respectively to the zone between mean sea level and Mean High Water [MHW] and to the zone between MHW and the elevation of higher high tides. In freshwater tidal marshes, however, low marsh refers approximately to the lower half of the intertidal zone or between MLW and mean sea level, whereas high marsh refers to the upper intertidal zone between mean sea level and MHW.) Salt pannes are non-vegetated or sparsely vegetated areas of hypersalinity that form on the high salt marsh where most vascular plants are unable to grow. We differentiate Meadowlands “salt” marshes from “brackish” marshes by vegetation (e.g. salt marshes have communities dominated by saltmarsh cordgrass, saltmeadow cordgrass, saltgrass, black rush, or glasswort) as is the practice of many East Coast biologists; in reality, all the tidal marshes of the Meadowlands are brackish.
Mudflats: Mudflats are exposed at low tide and flooded at high tide. They lack vascular vegetation or support a low biomass of vascular plants (e.g., dwarf spikerush [Eleocharis parvula]); however, mudflats typically support productive and diverse mats of mud algae (also called benthic microalgae or microphytobenthos). Diatoms are prominent components of this algal community. Mudflats typically occur between areas of shallow water and low marsh. These areas, along with shallow open water, attain the second highest salinities of the estuarine system (salt pannes being the highest). When high tide waters travel up the river and into creeks, they transform mudflats into shallow open water. Then as low tide approaches, water levels drop and the mudflats are exposed. Mudflats support a variety of mollusks, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. Exposed mudflats are particularly important foraging areas for migratory shorebirds. Additionally, mudflats provide feeding areas for dabbling ducks and wading birds. While inundated at high tide, mudflats provide habitat for juvenile fish. Shallow open water and mudflats comprise approximately 379 hectares (936 acres) of the Hackensack Meadowlands. The most significant area of this type of habitat exists in the Sawmill Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA). There are smaller shallow bays and mudflats located throughout the Meadowlands.

Low Salt Marsh: Low salt marshes are vegetated areas that receive regular tidal inundation twice daily. The dominant vegetation in these areas in the northeastern U.S. is saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), which often grows 1.2-2.1 meters (4-7 feet) tall. Other species that commonly occur in the low salt marshes of the Meadowlands include marsh-fleabane (Pluchea odorata [P. purpurascens]), dwarf spike-rush, and glasswort (Salicornia; Labriola [2000] reported Salicornia europaea but most authors have not identified the species). The low salt marsh is a major source of primary productivity in the estuary. Low salt marshes support a variety of fishes including juvenile anadromous species, estuarine dependent species, and forage species. Low salt marsh borders much of the Hackensack River and its tributary tidal creeks, although these borders may be very narrow upriver. The largest areas of low salt marsh lie to the north and south of Sawmill Creek. There are also significant areas of this habitat surrounding lower Berry’s Creek in Lyndhurst and Rutherford (HMDC 1984). In the northern end of the estuary, saltmarsh cordgrass is found at salinities that are 50-75% of the Sawmill area salinity. Saltmarsh cordgrass is believed to have colonized these historically low-salinity areas as a result of increased salinities that occurred due to alteration (damming) of freshwater sources. There are ca. 342 hectares (845 acres) of low salt marsh in the Meadowlands.

High Salt Marsh: High salt marsh areas are mainly flooded during monthly spring (full moon and new moon) tides and during storm and wind-driven tides. Local variation in elevation, soil type and disturbance creates a mosaic of plant associations within the high marsh. Native high marsh consists of a salt meadow community dominated by saltmeadow cordgrass, spike grass (Distichlis spicata) and black rush; a dwarf salt marsh cordgrass zone; a sparsely vegetated salt panne zone dominated by glasswort; and an upland fringe shrub zone dominated by groundsel-tree (Baccharis halimifolia), marsh-elder or high-tide bush (Iva frutescens), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens). High marsh provides habitat for birds, reptiles, and mammals. There may be as few as 22 hectares (55 acres) of this habitat type in the Meadowlands (HMDC 1984).
Brackish Marshes
Brackish (mesohaline and oligohaline) marshes in the middle reaches of estuaries are subject to a wide range of salinity levels, ranging from fresh (due to precipitation and springtime river discharge) to saline or nearly saline (in late summer and early fall). There are 713 hectares (1,760 acres) of this habitat type in the Meadowlands (HMDC 1984), making it the largest mesohaline marsh complex in northern New Jersey (Tiner 1985). Most of this marsh type is locally dominated by common reed, but some brackish marshes also contain remnant stands of narrowleaf cattail (now rare), big cordgrass (Spartina cynosuroides), and Olney three-square. Princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa), an exotic, is frequently found growing on dikes and levees within brackish marshes.
Brackish marsh is found predominantly northward from Route 3 in Lyndhurst, continuing to Overpeck Creek in Ridgefield on both sides of the Hackensack River. Diking previously excluded tidal flow in these areas and allowed common reed to spread vigorously. Tidal flow has since returned to some areas and there the communities are changing. Even in areas seemingly dominated by common reed, other plants often grow among the reeds (HMDC 1984). Creek edges have stands of saltmarsh cordgrass, big cordgrass, and tidemarsh water-hemp (Amaranthus cannabinus [Acnida cannabina]). Dwarf spikerush, cordgrass, softstem bulrush (Scirpus tabernaemontani [S. validus]), and tidemarsh water-hemp are found in isolated pools. There is an area north of the WNEW radio tower in Carlstadt where one can see saltmarsh cordgrass growing beside softstem bulrush (a freshwater sedge).
Freshwater Tidal Marshes
Freshwater emergent wetlands occur along tidal freshwater rivers; small remnants persist in the Meadowlands, generally above MHW and behind naturally occurring levees. Common reed dominates disturbed sites, while sweet flag (Acorus calamus s.l.), narrowleaf cattail (rare), pickerelweed, purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), marsh-fleabane, sedges (Carex spp.), and bulrushes (Scirpus spp.) may also be present. Giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) is abundant along natural and artificial levees, along with goldenrods (Solidago spp.).
Because of the reduction in freshwater discharge into the Hackensack River estuary caused by the Oradell Dam, and probably also due to the small size of this estuarine system and the dredging that has occurred “downstream,” e.g. in Newark Bay, even areas far up the Hackensack River estuary are subject to oligohaline or mesohaline conditions during dry seasons. For example, salinity at Hackensack River County Park just north of Route 4, on 3 September 2001, was estimated to be 8 ppt (parts-per-thousand) (Joseph Labriola, personal communication to EK), and mean salinity in the Hackensack River just above Overpeck Creek is 4.4 ppt (HMDC 2002). This suggests that true freshwater tidal marshes are very limited in extent in the Meadowlands and presumably occur only where fresh surface or groundwater enters tidal marshes. A small, slightly brackish tidal marsh on the north side of the von Steuben House (historic site) at New Bridge Landing (on the Hackensack River but above the Hackensack Meadowlands District) is dominated by common reed and purple loosestrife, with jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum), iris (probably Iris pseudacorus), and arrow arum (Peltandra virginica) common, and at least 20 other species of vascular plants (EK, personal observation, 2001).
Wild-rice (Zizania aquatica) is a conspicuous plant of many freshwater tidal marshes in the northeastern states. Wild-rice was evidently at least locally abundant in the Meadowlands 100 years ago (Chapman 1900; also see Brooks 1957). The last record of wild-rice in the Metropolitan Flora database is from 1948 (Table 1). Populations of this annual grass are apparently sensitive to water quality and consumption by animals.
Non-Tidal Habitats
Brackish Impoundments: Brackish impoundments form when tidal flow is restricted by diking but limited flow of brackish water continues through leaking dikes. One such area is north of Route 7 and south of Sawmill Creek WMA. There is also the 40 hectare (100 acre) Kingsland Impoundment in Bergen County where significant numbers of wading birds and shorebirds stop during migration. Common reed often dominates the vegetation of brackish impoundments. As a result of salinity intrusion into impoundments, however, most of the common reed and duckweed (Lemna minor) have died in some areas. There are now 168 hectares (414 acres) of brackish impoundment in the Hackensack Meadowlands.
Freshwater Marshes and Impoundments: Various depths of freshwater cover certain areas of the marsh where flows of creeks have been impeded by diking and salt water is not able to penetrate with the tides. There are 200 hectares (494 acres) of freshwater marsh in the Hackensack Meadowlands. Three substantial freshwater marshes exist in the Hackensack Meadowlands: at Kearny Marsh, in the Penhorn Creek Basin, and in North Bergen. There are also numerous smaller pockets of freshwater marsh scattered throughout the Meadowlands. Kearny Marsh West (also called “Kearny Marsh” or Kearny Freshwater Marsh) was once densely vegetated with common reed but in 1975 became inundated with an additional 0.6-0.9 meter (2-3 feet) of water so that the average water depth is now 1.2-1.5 meters (4-5 feet) according to HMDC (1984). (However, water depths measured at 15 sediment sampling stations in April 1999 ranged from 2.0-5.0 feet, with a mean of 3.17 feet [Langan 1999].) These high water levels created large freshwater ponds interspersed with stands of common reed; duckweeds (Lemnaceae), purple loosestrife, and marsh-fleabane are abundant. Rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos [H. palustris]) occurs along the channels in these freshwater marshes. Other important plants include water shield (Brasenia schreberi), arrow arum (Peltandra virginica), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), white water-lily (Nymphaea odorata), mild water-pepper (Polygonum hydropiperoides), pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata), broadleaf cattail (Typha latifolia), and spatterdock (Nuphar). Such areas offer important foraging grounds for waterfowl and wading birds, as well as breeding habitat for marsh and water birds. Although Kearny Marsh West is considered a freshwater impoundment, mean salinity is actually 1.8 ppt at the MERI monitoring station and a maximum salinity of 4 ppt has been recorded (HMDC 2002).
Forested Wetlands: Forested wetlands lie along the headwaters of rivers and streams in the Meadowlands and are characterized by the presence of woody vegetation taller than 6 meters (20 feet). These forests consist of red maple (Acer rubrum), silver maple (Acer saccharinum), gray birch (Betula populifolia), eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), princess tree, pin oak (Quercus palustris), American elm (Ulmus americana), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), black cherry (Prunus serotina), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), black willow (Salix nigra), and other trees. American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) and arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum s.l.) are common understory trees. The shrub layer is well-developed and includes common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and alder (Alnus). Vines are abundant and include poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), riverbank grape (Vitis riparia), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia s.l.), and common greenbriar (Smilax rotundifolia). Historically, coniferous swamps dominated by Atlantic white cedar covered large areas in the Meadowlands, but these forests were eliminated by hydrological alteration with associated salinity intrusion, harvesting, and fire. Many species of today’s hardwood swamps would also be sensitive to more than very modest levels of salinity.
Swamp forests occupy small areas in the Meadowlands. The most notable remnants of this forest type are in several riparian corridors along the Hackensack River north of the official Meadowlands District and also include the forests at Teterboro Airport, at the headwaters of Losen Slote, and in Schmidt’s Woods in Secaucus. Forested wetlands are important for migrating and nesting forest songbirds. Other aspects of these habitats have apparently not been studied; we would expect mammals, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and plants that do not occur elsewhere in the Meadowlands.
Ponds on Landfills: Ca. 1.6 hectares (4 acres) of (presumably freshwater) ponds have formed on top of closed landfills. These ponds are important habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl, especially gadwall broods (Day et al. 1999).
Upland Habitats
Upland Meadow and Shrubland Communities: Upland herb (meadow) and shrub (shrubland) habitats in the Meadowlands are located principally along roadsides, on abandoned lots, on dredge spoil and other fill, and on the slopes of landfills. Meadow and shrubland may be intermingled in patches. Meadow communities are often dominated by exotic warm-season grasses with other herbaceous plants. Commonly occurring native grasses are switchgrass, broomsedge or big bluestem (Andropogon virginicus), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), with planted areas of big bluestem, little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and Canada wild-rye (Elymus canadensis) at some sites. Patches of dense, short, spindly common reed may occur. Common meadow forbs include yarrow (Achillea millefolium), common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). Shrubs can be locally diverse and include gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa [C. foemina]), smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa), groundsel-tree, and common elderberry. Upland meadow may be floristically rich; McCormick & Associates (1978) described “aster/ragweed forb land” with common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), Indian hemp (Apocynum), aster (Aster), pigweed (Chenopodium album), Mexican tea (Chenopodium ambrosioides), thistle (Cirsium), Queen Anne’s lace, fleabane (Erigeron canadensis), fescue (Festuca ?elatior), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), evening-primrose (Oenothera biennis), panic grass (Panicum dichotomiflorum), common reed, pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), Pennsylvania smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum), foxtail grass (Setaria), goldenrod (Solidago), common mullein (Verbascum thapsus), cocklebur (Xanthium [strumarium], tree-of-heaven, bittersweet (Celastrus [orbiculatus], [white] mulberry, princess tree, eastern cottonwood, black cherry, bramble (Rubus), and common elderberry.
Much of the 648 hectares (1,600 acres) (Kane and Githens 1997) of inactive landfill is developing upland meadow and shrubland habitats. Restoration of native forests is being undertaken on several old landfills (see Robinson and Handel 2000). Meadow and shrubland are especially important to butterflies and other terrestrial insects, and to breeding grassland and shrubland birds. Fruits of sumacs are important food for birds in winter and spring, e.g. at DeKorte Park (EK, personal observation, 2001), and we expect that fruits of common elderberry and gray dogwood, as well as grass and forb seeds, are also important fall, winter, and spring foods for birds and mammals. Upland meadows may also be important foraging habitats for raptors preying on meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) or other “upland” animals. Rawson (1993) found 15 species of birds and 6 of mammals in upland habitats (mugwort [Aremisia vulgaris], reed, “range” [meadow], and trees) on the Old Lyndhurst Landfill.
An example of upland meadow and shrubland, apparently on dredge spoil, is in the northwestern part of Oritani Marsh along Berry’s Creek Canal. A large herbaceous and shrubby meadow, apparently on fill, is between the Meadowlands Convention Center and the Turnpike in Secaucus. An area of dry meadow, shrubland, and hardwood forest on natural sandy soil, unusual in the Meadowlands, is located in Hackensack River County Park (Boro of Hackensack), north of the official Meadowlands District. Some of the species in this area are pin oak, gray birch, black locust (some of which is stunted and shrub-like), bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), yarrow, blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum), sandbur (Cenchrus longispinus), and a flatsedge (Cyperus lupulinus) (EK and other participants in Torrey Botanical Society field trip 2 September 2001, personal observations).
Rights-of-way and Margins of Developed Areas: Corridors of habitat associated with land uses such as highways and pipelines, as well as the margins of parking areas, building sites, and highways, have not been described in the literature on the Meadowlands. Many of the larger trees of the region, for example, occur in these habitats, and these trees may have a high value to birds, insects, and fungi.
Non-vegetated areas: Non-vegetated upland areas in the Hackensack Meadowlands include portions of railroad embankments, road and pipeline berms, and dikes, as well as surfaces of landfills and dredge spoil disposal areas that have not yet become vegetated with vascular plants. In these areas, soils are often droughty at the surface. Non-vegetated areas provide exposed soil or fill that may be important habitat for nesting diamondback terrapin, least tern (Endangered), spotted sandpiper, killdeer, horned lark, and other birds, as well as resting, basking, dustbathing, and foraging habitat for upland species that also utilize marsh habitats, e.g., ring-necked pheasant, snakes, and small mammals. Non-vegetated areas potentially support rare insect species that have affinities for sandy soils or other specialized habitats.

Buildings and Other Artificial Stuctures: The myriad of buildings, bridges, towers, and other built structures in the Meadowlands, both active and abandoned, provides a variety of habitat functions for certain species. Least tern (Endangered), common nighthawk, and killdeer potentially nest on gravel rooftops. Peregrine falcon (Endangered) nests on bridges and a large building in the region. Double-crested cormorant, several raptors, and swallows, among other species, use towers and wires for perching and roosting. Northern rough-winged swallow nests in artificial structures such as drain pipes in bridges, and presumably does so in the Meadowlands. Barn-owl, barn swallow, eastern phoebe, and bats may nest or roost on bridges or in abandoned buildings. Guy wires of the many radio towers may be a collision hazard for peregrine falcon (Endangered) (Wander and Wander 1995), and radio towers as well as other elevated structures that are illuminated at night are a potential collision hazard for nocturnally migrating birds. We have seen no data on bird mortality at towers and tall illuminated structures in the Meadowlands.

In this section the sites are listed in the same order as in Appendix Table 3, i.e. in a loop that goes from south to north on the west side of the Hackensack River then from north to south on the east side of the river. The description of each site is based primarily on the reference(s) cited at the end. The differences in the numbers of plant species listed for different sites may be due more to uneven treatment in the literature than to real differences among sites; one should not assume that a particular site is more or less species-rich than another based on our descriptions. Analysis of the attainment of goals of the mitigation projects at e.g. Cromakill-Mill Creek, Harrier Meadow, TransCo (“Meadowlands Mitigation Bank” in the Carlstadt-Moonachie marshes), and Skeetkill Marsh is not included in our purview for this report, and we lack adequate field experience and sufficient access to data and reports from monitoring programs to conduct such an analysis.

Kearny Marsh: This site is a largely non-tidal marsh consisting of common reed stands, marsh-fleabane, and open water (NJTA 1986). Cattail occurs in small patches. There is permanent standing water. Dense duckweed (Lemnaceae) exists in some places, especially in late summer. The major water source is runoff from adjacent areas. A pipeline berm and a roadway impound water here. The site also contains meadow, shrubland, and trees growing on landfills (NJTA 1986). Abbott (1907) described a deepwater, ponded marsh with extensive cattail-duckweed stands and an exceptionally rich breeding marsh bird community, reached by walking along the railroad from Newark; this may have been Kearny Marsh West or a nearby area.
Kearny Marsh East (Kearny Brackish Marsh). Kearny Marsh East is located west of the S-curve in the Hackensack River in Kearny. It stretches from the river on the east to the triangle formed by the New Jersey Turnpike Western Spur and Belleville Pike on the west. It is bounded on the north by the Conrail railroad, below the Sawmill Creek WMA. The southeastern boundary is the Amtrak railroad. Brackish water enters the marsh through intake pipes at the Hackensack River. There is always at least a small patch of open water in the winter. Shallow reed marsh is interspersed with large areas of open water, ideal for many breeding marsh and water birds. An island where subadult night herons roost is a potential rookery site. The WMCA radio towers are a potential nesting site for double-crested cormorant. This marsh is important for flood control and has been called the best unprotected wetland in the Meadowlands (Kane and Githens 1997). Management of water levels may be required in the future.
Kearny Marsh West (Kearny Freshwater Marsh). This well-known site lies west of the Turnpike Western Spur and Belleville Pike (Route 7) which divides Kearny West from Kearny East. The 142 hectare (350 acre), triangular marsh is surrounded by railroad embankments which isolate it hydrologically. (NJMC considers the area of this marsh to be 126 hectares [311 acres].) There is brackish water intrusion from a broken tide gate, and the area has become more brackish recently, causing changes in the fish community and vegetation. Several old landfills adjacent to the railroad embankments and the marsh are changing from dominance by mugwort, pokeweed, Japanese knotweed, common elderberry, and other shrubs to poplar, white mulberry, princess tree, tree-of-heaven, and wild cherry. Kearny Marsh West formerly supported a large black-crowned night-heron (Threatened) rookery that is apparently no longer present. The site now has a yellow-crowned night-heron (Threatened) rookery on an old railbed in mid-marsh, and is used by both night-herons for foraging (Kane and Githens 1997).
To the northwest and west of Kearny Marsh West are two large landfills covering ca. 182 hectares (450 acres); slightly more than 8 hectares (20 acres) were in recent use. Most of the other ca. 430 acres is revegetating with grasses and forbs. The small mammals of the landfills and other disturbed upland areas support an abundance and diversity of hawks and owls throughout the year, especially in winter, and these habitats also provide important migration and nesting habitat for a variety of passerine birds (Day et al. 1999).
Sawmill Creek: Located predominantly between the Hackensack River and the Turnpike Western Spur (a portion is west of the Turnpike), this site extends from the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad on the north to the Conrail tracks across the Hackensack River from Laurel Hill on the south. This is a prime site for migrant waterfowl with flyway-level significance, as well as an important site for wintering waterfowl (Kane and Githens 1997), and a large area is protected as Sawmill Creek State Wildlife Management Area. This 304 hectare (751 acre) tidal marsh area contains low salt marsh, open bay, and mudflat habitats (NJTA 1986). Closer to the Turnpike, much of the wetland is dominated by common reed and cordgrass. Both saltmarsh and saltmeadow cordgrasses are present but saltmarsh cordgrass predominates as clumps and narrow fringes along the reed-mudflat edge and along ditches. Near the Boonton Branch railroad, [saltmarsh] cordgrass becomes much more abundant, occupying major expanses, especially along the Hackensack River (NJTA 1986).
Around 1920, this area was diked and drained for mosquito control. The area was subsequently dominated by common reed. A severe northeastern storm in 1950 washed out the dikes and tide gates and restored tidal flooding to the area. Common reed began to die off in all but the higher dredge spoil islands. Saltmarsh cordgrass established itself at the tidal flat edges and spread throughout the area. There is now a patchwork of large mudflats interspersed with stands of cordgrass (Smith 1974). In 2000, we saw a complex pattern of saltmarsh cordgrass, common reed, and mudflats. Over the long term, cordgrass should continue to increase with sea level rise and increasing salinity (Kane and Githens 1997). The strong tendency of common reed for vegetative (colonial) dominance presumably slows the change from reed marsh to saltmarsh cordgrass and mudflats.

Harrier Meadow: This tidal marsh was dominated by common reed and had sparse populations of saltmarsh cordgrass (Hartman and Smith 1999) at the initiation of mitigation activities. There were also areas of exposed mudflats prior to mitigation (NJTA 1986). The Harrier Meadow Wetland Mitigation Site encompasses 31 hectares (77.5 acres) (Hartman 2001a). Restoration goals include return of tidal flow to the interior, control of common reed and purple loosestrife, creation of open water areas, and establishment of native vegetation along upland-wetland edges (Hartman 2001a). The mitigation “resulted in the creation of approximately 22.2 acres of open water-mudflat, 16.7 acres of low-high marsh, 3.7 acres of scrub-shrub border, and 8.02 acres of enhanced uplands” (Hartman 2001a). Vegetation sampling in the low-high marsh zone demonstrated that two species dominated the site, spike grass and black rush (Hartman 2001a). The scrub-shrub zone of the site was dominated by groundsel-tree and black rush (Hartman 2001a). Common reed dominated 9.25 acres of the site (Hartman 2001a).

Kingsland Marsh: This large site is bordered by the Conrail railroad and the Berry’s Creek marsh on the north, the Belleville Pike on the south, the Turnpike Western Spur on the east, and a railroad and development in North Arlington on the west. The site includes the NJMC buildings, the Kingsland Impoundment (40 hectares [100 acres]), a large tidal flat (at least 283 hectares [700 acres]), a large active landfill, and several overgrown, inactive landfills (NJTA 1986, Kane and Githens 1997). In the south, the site overlaps Sawmill Creek WMA. Kingsland Marsh contains low salt marsh (NJTA 1986). In Richard W. DeKorte Park, the sides of one landfill have been planted with flowers, shrubs, and pines. Maples and sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) have been planted on the road to the environment center. There are trails on the landfill and a long boardwalk through the impoundment (Kane and Githens 1997, Anonymous no date a). The Kingsland Marsh area contains a confusing complex of jurisdictions and facilities, including the Richard W. KeDorte Park, Lyndhurst Nature Reserve, NJMC offices, and the Hackensack Meadowlands Environment Center.
Berry’s Creek Marsh: This site is located on the west side of the river and extends from the Lyndhurst Corporate Park, on the west, to the river on the east, and from Route 3 on the north, to the Erie-Lackawanna railroad (Conrail) on the south, just south of the Jersey City Aqueduct. The site includes Berry’s Creek (southern portion), Berry’s Creek Canal, and Oritani Marsh. The site consists of marshlands interspersed with fill, some of which is becoming forested (Kane and Githens 1997). Most of the wetlands are tidal except for some common reed and cattail patches, which occur in non-tidal, ponding depressions. Both high and low salt marsh occur (NJTA 1986). Most of the wetland is common reed marsh though [saltmarsh] cordgrass occurs as a multitude of clumps and a few large stands. Much of the northern portion of this area does not flood during spring high tides, whereas most of the southern portion does (NJTA 1986).
Along Berry’s Creek and tidal ditches, patches of [saltmarsh] cordgrass are frequently encountered but common reed is dominant in many places. The areas away from the water courses are “hyperdominant” (dense, near-pure stands, sensu Kiviat submitted b) common reed with an occasional rose mallow. Along the open water edge, saltmarsh cordgrass may dominate instead of common reed. There are several large pockets of saltmeadow cordgrass, rush (Juncus), spikerush, orache (Atriplex patula), marsh-fleabane, and a blue-green “alga” (blue-green bacterium). These are usually connected to larger canals or creeks and are sites of intense muskrat activity including denning. NJTA (1986) refers to wetlands with relatively deep standing water through the year that are densely covered by duckweed in late summer.
Oritani Marsh (a portion of Berry’s Creek Marsh) is in the triangle bordered by the Hackensack River, the New Jersey Transit railroad (Bergen County line), and Berry’s Creek Canal. Oritani Marsh includes tidal common reed marsh, saltmeadow cordgrass stands (uncommon), non-tidal common reed stands, and upland meadows. Tidal areas are drained by mosquito control ditches. Areas of [saltmarsh] cordgrass mainly exist along the river and ditches (NJTA 1986). Plant diversity is highest in the large common reed stand south of Berry’s Creek Canal. At higher elevations there is an herbaceous layer beneath the continuous common reed canopy with marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis), jewelweed (Impatiens [capensis]), rush, and composites (Asteraceae) being common. There are patches of cattail, spikerush (Eleocharis sp.), and water-plantain (Alisma) adjacent to a gas pipeline fill, and scattered stands of common elderberry and groundsel-tree. West of the pipeline, common reed dominates, with small patches of other emergents including cattails, spikerush, water-plantain, and marsh-marigold (Caltha palustris). East of the Turnpike there is a saltmarsh cordgrass section along a small ditch and Mary Ann’s Ditch (Mary Ann Creek), with groundsel-tree, glasswort, and orache on the edges (Kane and Githens 1997).
Meadow vegetation occurs along the landfill road north of Berry’s Creek, the TransCo pipeline easement that runs parallel to the Turnpike, the service road north of Berry’s Creek Canal, the Conrail railroad right-of-way, and on the two dumps north of Berry’s Creek. Dredged material from the canal has been deposited on the south bank of the canal. In some places, the dredge spoils were deep enough to have shifted the plant community from marshland to mesic meadow and shrubland. Stands of tree-of-heaven, staghorn sumac, aspen (Populus), and shining sumac (Rhus copallina) are common (NJTA 1986). Other plants on the upland portions of the site include sunflower, mugwort, wormwood, occasional shrubs such as common elderberry, and stands of princess tree, tree-of-heaven, [quaking aspen], wild cherry, and white mulberry (Kane and Githens 1997). The corporate center at the edge of the site has some wetlands and planted conifers.
The marshes around Berry’s Creek are heavily used by wintering raptors. The last confirmed northern harrier (Endangered) nest site in the Meadowlands and a harrier winter roost are located here (Bosakowski 1983, NJTA 1986, Kane and Githens 1997). The nest successfully fledged young in 1995 and 1996 when observations were last made. The site is also important because it links the lower river marshes with the upper marshes at Route 3 and provides continuous habitat through the middle of the district (Kane and Githens 1997).
Walden Swamp: This site is located farther north along Berry’s Creek (mostly between Berry’s Creek and the west side of the Meadowlands Sports Complex). Walden Swamp is highly contaminated with mercury. The marshes are dominated by common reed (Sullivan 1998; EK, personal observation 2001).
Eight Day Swamp: This site is still farther north along Berry’s Creek. It is apparently being fragmented by development. Vegetation is primarily common reed, with a small area of upland meadow on fill (P. Weis, personal communication to EK, 2002). Sediment levels of mercury, chromium, lead, copper, and zinc are high but small annelids and other invertebrates are abundant (P. Weis and J. Weis, personal communications to EK, 2002).
Carlstadt-Moonachie Site (in part, “Empire Tract”): This site is bounded by Route 120 (Washington Avenue) on the west, Route 3 on the south, Moonachie Avenue and Empire Boulevard on the north, and the Hackensack River on the east. The site contains one of the largest remaining expanses of wetlands in the Meadowlands, linking the upper and lower river marshes on the west side of the river (Kane and Githens 1997). Included are Bashes, Moonachie, and Doctor’s Creeks, a diked freshwater area, tidal reed wetland, and, near the Hackensack River, an area dominated by common reed and [saltmarsh] cordgrass. The upland reed stands grade into reed marsh and the tidal common reed association dominates (NJTA 1986). Saltmeadow cordgrass and saltgrass were reported from several of the 16 stations studied by Grossmueller (2001), suggesting remnant salt meadows may be present. Water levels fluctuate depending on rainfall and stormwater runoff (HMDC 1984). In dry years, flooding is restricted to the creek and ditch channels. But during exceptionally wet years, fresh water ponds and pools form across the area (HMDC 1984). The area flooded in 1968-71 with construction of the Turnpike (HMDC 1984). The numerous creeks and ditches allow tidal inundation of some of the interior areas, especially during spring tides and storm surges. Areas west of the Turnpike are minimally tidal due to fill adjacent to the Turnpike (NJTA 1986) and to tide gates. Common reed is dominant along the river with some areas of cordgrass. In some common reed wetlands, common plants of high elevation marshes, such as sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) and blue vervain (Verbena hastata), co-occur with the reed (NJTA 1986). An extensive mosaic of reed patches interspersed with patches dominated by bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis) is located west of the TransCo “Paterson Lateral” gas pipeline, and a small area north of Paterson Plank Road where reed has been harvested annually has high floristic diversity (EK and KM, personal observations). Extensive portions of the reed burned on 23 April 1994 (Kane and Githens 1997), and a smaller fire occurred in 2000. There are stands of [quaking aspen], tree-of-heaven, and princess tree on filled portions (Kane and Githens 1997). East of the Turnpike is an extensive mitigation project known as the Meadowlands Mitigation Bank; fill has been removed and the marsh surface lowered to increase the frequency of tidal flooding and partially replace reed with other plant communities (Terry Doss, Louis Berger Group, Inc., personal communication 2002). West of the Turnpike is the site of the proposed Meadowlands Mills development (USACOE 2000). The Carlstadt-Moonachie site supports a variety of breeding and non-breeding birds, some of which are listed species in New Jersey, including yellow-crowned night-heron (Threatened), northern harrier (Endangered), and least tern (Endangered) (Kane and Githens 1997, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2000; also see Kiviat 2000).
Losen Slote: This site is bounded by Losen Slote on the west, the Hackensack River on the east, and the Boro of Little Ferry on the north. It includes the Bergen County Utility Authority property, a large pond, and a well developed forest of pin oak with white oak, red oak, black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), sweet gum, and red maple. Part of this land is in Losen Slote Creek Park, which is mostly forested but includes field, marsh and a portion of Losen Slote Creek. Shrubs include dogwood (Cornus), blueberry (Vaccinium), spicebush, and arrowwood. Vegetation on the forest floor includes netted chain fern (Woodwardia areolata), cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), trout lily (Erythronium americanum), violet (Viola), bellwort (Uvularia), Turk’s cap lily (Lilium superbum), and other woodland herbs. Portions of the meadow are overgrown by gray birch. The site is an oasis for migrant neotropical songbirds. Only 5.7 hectares (14 acres) of forest remain, but this is one of the few forest remnants in the Meadowlands (Kane and Githens 1997). Losen Slote is spelled “Losen Slofe” on the U.S. Geological Survey Weehawken quad.
Power Plant Peninsula: This peninsula is located at the confluence of the Hackensack River and Overpeck Creek, includes the west and east edges of the river, extends east along Overpeck Creek to the New Jersey Turnpike, and south to the Losen Slote site. CSX and Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) own this site. The area is very developed, but the mudflats and the mouth of the creek are heavily used for foraging by migrant and resident birds (Kane and Githens 1997).
Teterboro Airport Forest: This area contains large remnants of lowland forest, mostly with young trees, and dominated by gray birch and pin oak with a variety of other species. The forest has been extensively ditched which has resulted in much drier soils.
Overpeck Creek and Hackensack River: The Overpeck Creek area east of the Turnpike is common reed marsh. Upland common reed stands are adjacent to the marsh (NJTA 1986).

Skeetkill Marsh and Bellman’s Creek Marsh: Located east of the Hackensack River opposite Losen Slote, this site extends from the Hackensack River and the New Jersey Turnpike on the west to the Conrail tracks and developments in Ridgefield and Fairview on the east. It is marshland with intruding development. The southern end of the site is at a narrow point at the creek mouth. The north end of the site is at a cemetery and power substation. One side of the creek is vegetated with shrubs, including common elderberry and groundsel-tree. Bulrush (Scirpus sp.), rose mallow, and spikerush were reported in the wetlands. This area is notable for its nesting marsh birds (Kane and Githens 1997). Hartman and Smith (1999) describe the Skeetkill Marsh as dominated by common reed with sparse areas of saltmarsh cordgrass. A 16.3 acre portion of this site is part of an ongoing restoration project to create open water and mudflat, upland, and enhanced wetland habitats (Hartman 2001b) (restoration of the wetland portion has been completed; MERI, personal communication to EK 2002). Control but not complete eradication of common reed was a stated goal of the mitigation (Hartman 2001b). In the enhanced wetland areas, dwarf spikerush and marsh-fleabane covered 46% and 42%, respectively (Hartman 2001b).

Cromakill Creek Marsh: This site is located east of the Hackensack River in Secaucus and is bounded on the west by the Eastern Spur of the New Jersey Turnpike, on the north by development in North Bergen, on the east by the North Bergen [rail] Yards, and on the south by a development north of Paterson Plank Road. The fills are overgrown with [quaking aspen], tree-of-heaven, and princess tree (Kane and Githens 1997). Kane and Githens (1997) say that diamondback terrapin and fiddler crab are common; MERI (personal communication to EK, 2002) has not observed this. Cromakill Creek Marsh contains extensive reed marsh that is at least partly tidal. Areas of common reed were removed in the Hartz Mountain mitigation project (see Mill Creek, below). Northwest of the Meadowlands Convention Center is a large meadow on fill dominated by groundsel-tree, stunted mugwort, dense low grass (unidentified), patches of stunted reed, and groves of eastern cottonwood (EK, personal observation, 2002).
Mill Creek: The site is located east of the Hackensack River in Secaucus, and is bounded by the river on the west, Cromakill Creek on the north, the Turnpike Eastern Spur on the east, and by Route 3 and Park Place on the south (Kane and Githens 1997; MERI, personal communication to EK 2002). Part of this area, the Mill Creek wetland enhancement site (Hartz Mountain Industries), encompasses 84 hectares (207 acres). In the falls of 1984 and 1985, the area was treated with an herbicide, glyphosate, to kill common reed. Then, the elevation of the marsh was lowered by removing fill, and channels were dredged. The low areas were planted with saltmarsh cordgrass. Elevated islands were created with dredge spoil and were planted with salt-tolerant shrubs. The goal was to create shallow subtidal areas, mudflats, lower-intertidal brackish marsh, and a variety of upland habitats (TAMS 1985). Vegetation on the mitigation site includes tidemarsh water-hemp, saltmarsh cordgrass, marsh-fleabane, groundsel-tree, and pilewort. Except for the mitigation area, the marshes are mostly dominated by common reed.
The artificial islands retain some open sandy areas. Waterfowl nest on the islands, and the area is important for migrant green-winged teal (Kane and Githens 1997). The islands are also used by raptors, killdeer, gulls, and songbirds (Wargo 1989, USEPA and Gannett Fleming 1992). Certain bird species may be taking advantage of sparsely vegetated, upland soils to nest and roost. Soils of the islands are acidic and contaminated with metals (L. Windham, personal communication to EK and KM, 2001), which has evidently inhibited development of vegetation. Some of the islands have become densely overgrown with gray birch (EK, personal observations).
A second mitigation project to restore about 56 hectares (138 acres) of wetland adjacent to the Hartz Mountain site was initiated in 1999 and has been completed (Yuhas 2001; MERI, personal communication to EK, 2002). The goals of this mitigation project were to increase open water areas through the creation of impoundments and tidal channels, re-establish tidal flow, enhance upland and emergent fringe vegetation and create nesting habitat for least tern (Sterna antillarum), an endangered species in New Jersey (Hartman 2001c). Monitoring of various ecological parameters, including vegetation development, is ongoing at the site (Hartman 2001c).
Anderson Creek Marsh: This site is dominated by common reed. There are some mudflats exposed at low tide and half the site is inundated at high tide (USEPA and Gannett Fleming 1992).
Laurel Hill (Snake Hill) and Little Snake Hill: This is a mass of diabase bedrock which rises ca. 53 meters (ca. 175 feet). Laurel Hill originated as a volcanic neck (Manspeizer and Olsen 1981). The mountain was extensively mined from the late 1800s until 1982. It now supports areas of open-canopy forest, meadows, and nearly bare rock some areas of which are graffiti-covered. Tree species include chestnut oak (Quercus montana), red oak, hackberry, and black cherry (Quinn 1997). Tree-of-heaven, white mulberry, white ash, princess tree, and eastern red cedar are also present (EK, personal observation, 2002). A small area of chestnut oak woodland with dense low grasses on the northeastern knoll of Laurel Hill appears to represent “natural” vegetation on a non-quarried area (EK, personal observation, 2002). Labriola ([2000]) referred to a chestnut oak - hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa) community.
The Torrey Botanical Society reported 115 vascular plants and NJMC reported 145 species from Laurel Hill (Quinn 1997). One of the species was wafer-ash or hop-tree (Ptelea trifoliata) which is listed as Endangered in New Jersey and ranked G5 S1 by the New Jersey Natural Heritage Program, i.e. globally secure but very rare in the state. Wafer-ash was reported as recently as 1999 on Laurel Hill (Labriola [2000]). A single individual was observed then, raising the possibly that wafer-ash was planted, along with other ornamental species (e.g. paper-mulberry [Broussonetia papyrifera]) that occur on Laurel Hill (W. Standaert, personal communication to EK, 2002). Wafer-ash should be protected until its origin can be determined through recourse to historical documents or other information. Violet bush-clover (Lespedeza violacea s.s.), ranked S3S4 in New Jersey, was provisionally identified on Laurel Hill, also in 1999 (W. Standaert, personal communication to EK, 2001). Among other interesting native species reported at Laurel Hill are starry campion (Silene stellata) and Virginia mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum) (Labriola [2000]).
In February 2002, EK found several species of lichens on Laurel Hill (see Fungi and Lichens, below). A dry meadow on fill or mine tailings (and possibly crushed stone from railroad ballast) at the southwest foot of Laurel Hill bears a community of small eastern cottonwoods, staghorn sumac, mullein, mugwort, white mulberry, switchgrass, and other herbs (EK, personal observation). Labriola ([2000]) reported sessile tooth-cup (Ammania robusta), from a meadow at the base of Laurel Hill.
Southeast of Laurel Hill is Little Snake Hill, a smaller diabase knob 24 meters high (Widmer 1964). Little Snake Hill has not undergone much alteration; in 2002 there were the remains of a large billboard (see Brooks 1957) on the summit, a small area (perhaps 100 m2) that appeared to have been excavated, very limited off-road vehicle use, and graffiti on rocks (EK, personal observations). Little Snake Hill has extensive bedrock outcrops, and there are talus slopes on the east and north. The most common woody plants were black cherry, chestnut oak, other oaks (Quercus), winged sumac, choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), and dewberry (Rubus flagellaris). The flora was diverse and included basswood (Tilia americana), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), post oak (Quercus stellata), switchgrass, wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), blue toadflax (Linaria canadensis), and pale corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens) (EK, personal observations, 2002). Snake Hill (Laurel Hill) was reported to have served as a winter denning area for snakes that frequented the surrounding wetlands (Waldman 1999); this was presumably true of Little Snake Hill as well. Ledges on Little Snake Hill contain fissures potentially suitable for bat roosting.

The New Jersey Transit Authority is removing rock from the eastern slopes of Laurel Hill to reduce hazards of falling rock to the Turnpike below. An equipment road and parking area, as well as the rock removal activities, are causing loss of vegetation and soil (Bill Sheehan, personal communication to EK, 2002; EK, personal observation). We do not know if wafer-ash or violet bush-clover is threatened by these activities.

Penhorn Creek Marsh: Penhorn Creek Basin is a large freshwater marsh where tidal flow has been restricted by a tide gate on the mouth of Penhorn Creek (HMDC 1984). There are extensive stands of common reed (MERI, personal communication to EK, 2002). Accumulation of pollutants in the lower and middle reaches of the creek has created anoxic conditions; however, the headwaters of the creek are less affected (HMDC 1984).
Riverbend Marsh: The site is highly dominated by common reed. It also has several patches of high marsh vegetation, including saltmeadow cordgrass, spikegrass, and glasswort (Bart and Hartman 2000).

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