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Hackensack Meadowlands, New Jersey, Biodiversity

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No species federally listed as endangered or threatened is currently known in the Meadowlands. Table 4 shows species of the Meadowlands that appear on the state list of endangered and threatened species, or on the New Jersey Natural Heritage Program list of rare species. We have included birds in Table 4 only if the New Jersey breeding population is ranked S3 or rarer. State-listed bird species are an important component of the biological diversity of the Meadowlands. Although the nonbreeding population of double-crested cormorant in the Meadowlands is not considered rare (Heritage rank S4), we expect this species to begin breeding in the Meadowlands based on recent breeding in northwestern New Jersey and on the tidal Hudson River. Saltmarsh bulrush (Scirpus maritimus), ranked G5 SH E (globally secure, known historically, Endangered) in New Jersey occurred historically in the Meadowlands (Day et al. 1999) at location(s) unknown to us. For additional explanation of the New Jersey Natural Heritage Program ranking system see New Jersey Natural Heritage Program (2001).

In this section we outline the extractive and amenity values of the Meadowlands. Use for landfills, construction, and other forms of “development” is well known and is mostly not discussed here. Indirect use of the Meadowlands for water quality maintenance is undoubtedly very important but little information is available (see, however, HMDC 1974). Functions and values as animal habitat are discussed elsewhere in our report.
Current Uses
Fishing: Commercial fishing in the Newark Bay complex, which includes the Meadowlands, has been closed for many years due to contamination from industrial discharges into the rivers and bay (Shaw 1994 cited in Pflugh et al. 1999). The area is still used for recreational and subsistence fishing and crabbing on a daily basis (Quinn 1997, Pflugh et al. 1999). Fish consumption advisories ranging from do not eat, to eat no more than once per month depending on risk group, have been issued for bluefish, American eel, white perch, striped bass, white catfish and blue crab due to contamination with dioxins and PCBs (Pflugh et al. 1999). Angling for striped bass was popular and successful along the Hackensack River mainstem in 2001 (see section on Fish, above). Blue crab (blue-claw crab) thrives in the tidal water bodies, including highly stressed areas, and is harvested for food by local residents (NJTA 1986). A single bait fisher continues to trap mummichogs which are sold as live bait for sport fishing on the Jersey Shore (Quinn 2001b).
Turtle Harvest. We are not aware of any collection of snapping turtles or diamondback terrapins for food from the Meadowlands. These species are, or were until recently, widely harvested both commercially and on a subsistence basis in eastern coastal states. Probably there is a small amount of harvesting in the Meadowlands. Collection of turtles for food should not be encouraged because of the vulnerability of freshwater turtle populations to loss from the adult stage (Congdon et al. 1994), and because of the propensity of snapping turtles to accumulate contaminants (see Stone et al. 1980). There is a New York State Health Advisory against all consumption of snapping turtle tissues from the Hudson River.
Hunting: Duck hunting was common in the Meadowlands as recently as the 1960s (Quinn 1997). Baldi (1981) referred to pheasant and rabbit hunting along the Paterson Lateral gas pipeline road in the Carlstadt-Moonachie marshes. There appears to be little hunting in the Meadowlands now, although an occasional blind looks recently used. Some duck hunting still occurs in Sawmill Creek WMA (Conniff 2001).
Fur Trapping: Muskrat trapping was an important industry in the Meadowlands. Chet Mattson (cited in Quinn 1997) states that 12,000 muskrat pelts are still taken on the Meadowlands annually (this appears to refer to the 1990s but seems high). Meadowlands muskrat pelts are of high commercial quality (Brooks 1957).
Ladybug Harvest: Sullivan (1998) mentions commercial collection of ladybugs. They are sold for biological control of aphids.
Reed Harvest: Hasidic Jews from Union City, New Jersey, annually harvest common reed in later summer – early fall for thatching succat (ceremonial shelters used in the Feast of Tabernacles) (Anonymous 1993; B. Sheehan, Hackensack Riverkeeper, personal communication to EK, 2000). Harvest by hand-cutting with sickles has occurred at the Carlstadt-Moonachie site since at least the mid-1980s (B. Sheehan fide H. Carola, 2001). In 1999, Hasidim from Monsey, New York, harvested reed at this site using “weed-whackers” (MERI, personal communication to EK, 2002).
Illegal Waste Disposal: This was evidently a major historical activity in the Meadowlands. We have not seen any information on current illegal waste disposal practices.
Resources from Landfills: Methane gas is collected from closed garbage landfills and burned to generate electricity (Scarlatelli 1997, Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission 1999, Matthews 2001). At least one company is exploring the commercial potential for producing ethanol from organic matter mined from Meadowlands landfills (B. Sheehan, Hackensack Riverkeeper, personal communication to EK, 2001).
Ecotourism, Birdwatching, and Nature Study: Tour boats ply the Hackensack River (Quinn 1997). Motorized small craft (including “personal watercraft”) and canoes use the Hackensack River, and to a lesser extent its tributaries. There appears to be substantial use of public sites (e.g. Richard W. DeKorte Park at Kingsland Impoundment) by birdwatchers, school groups, and others on foot. Some of this use occurs informally (Quinn 1997; EK, personal observations) e.g. on the Paterson Lateral gas pipeline road at the Carlstadt-Moonachie site. NJMC, Hackensack Riverkeeper, Bergen County Audubon Society, New Jersey Audubon Society, Torrey Botanical Society, and other organizations lead field trips for varied audiences. There are marsh boardwalks open to the public at DeKorte Park and Mill Creek Marsh.
Miscellaneous Active Recreation: Various locations on fill in the Meadowlands support public recreation such as organized sports and model airplane flying. There is an abandoned, overgrown par course and paved recreational trail on fill northwest of the Meadowlands Convention Center. Quinn (1997) mentions off-road vehicles on dirt roads (we have seen both motorcycles and “four-wheelers”), and in 2002 there was evidence of off-road vehicle use on Laurel Hill and Little Snake Hill (EK, personal observations). Two trails are being built for hikers and cyclists (Quinn 1997, HMDC 1999). A deepwater cattail marsh in the Kearny area was formerly burned each winter to serve as a skating pond (Abbott 1907).
Mosquito Control: The Hudson County Office of Mosquito Control performs ground-based and aerial larviciding and ground-based adulticiding based on surveillance (monitoring) of mosquito larvae and adults (Rutgers University 2002). The Office also maps mosquito breeding habitats, introduces mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) and “sunfish” for control of larvae, responds to complaints, and conducts public education. The Bergen County Department of Mosquito Control practices surveillance, source reduction (i.e. elimination of breeding habitats), water management, and biological and chemical control (Bergen County Department of Public Works 2002). The bacterial larvicide Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTI) is used, and mosquitofish are stocked. “…hand labor and heavy equipment is used to clear and desilt ditches, streams and ponds to allow for free movement of water. Tide-gates and dikes are inspected and repaied to prevent flooding of low-lying areas and water in ditches and brooks are lowered to minimize mosquito breeding” (Bergen County Department of Public Works 2002). We do not know if nontarget impacts of mosquito control (e.g. stocking of larvivorous fishes, use of mosquito larvicides and adulticides, hydrological manipulation) on other Meadowlands biota have been studied.
Industrial and Transportation Uses: There is a concentration of industrial and commercial facilities sited on fill in the Meadowlands. Railroads and highways criss-cross the Meadowlands. There are two airports, Teterboro Airport at the north end, and Newark International Airport south of, the Meadowlands. A major container port is located at the mouth of the Hackensack River in the Elizabeth area. Although outside the Meadowlands per se, these facilities affect air quality, water quality, and noise levels in the Meadowlands. These uses of the Meadowlands exploit the large flat areas of open space, major highways, and the natural or dredged shipping channels close to the industrial and population centers of northeastern New Jersey and New York City. There are numerous commercial radio broadcast antennas in the Meadowlands (Brooks 1957) (in general, wet soil improves AM radio transmission; David Groth 2001, personal communication to EK). Legal filling of wetlands in the Meadowlands continues for commercial and residential development.
Stormwater and Wastewater: Treated sewage is discharged into some of the Meadowlands waterways. There are also stormwater retention or detention ponds e.g. on the west side of Polito Avenue in Lyndhurst and at the Meadowlands Sports Complex.
The Arts: The Meadowlands have been the subject of art photography (Mortenson 1983), visual art and site art (Potteiger and Purinton 1998); namesake of a book of poems (Glück 1966); and inspiration to other urban artists and writers. Two major recent books (Quinn 1997, Sullivan 1998) have interpreted the human and natural history of the Meadowlands for lay audiences. The search for the historic stone columns of Penn Station in the Meadowlands dumps is a story that has intrigued writers (e.g. Matthews 2001). And the Meadowlands have been the subject of jokes (Dunne 2000).
Historic and Potential Uses
Mining: The diabase of Laurel Hill was extensively quarried for construction (Quinn 1997). The Schuyler copper mine operated in North Arlington from the early 1700s to the late 1800s and possibly later (Woodward 1944). The Granton Quarry, in hornfels and diabase, is at the eastern edge of the Meadowlands in North Bergen (Van Houten 1969, Manspeizer and Olsen 1981). Granton Quarry was identified as a potential “geological natural landmark” with national significance but in serious danger due to commercial development (Butler et al. 1975). Clay mining for brick manufacture occurred on the west bank of the Hackensack River near Little Ferry (Reeds 1927, Brooks 1957) and presumably elsewhere in the Meadowlands. Willow Lake occupies a 2 ha abandoned clay pit in Little Ferry (Brooks 1957). At the northern end of Laurel Hill, a deposit of artificial material which superficially resembles sandy glacial outwash, possibly bottom ash from the old kiln, was being mined in winter 2001-2002, possibly for road work (EK, personal observation). We are not aware of any other hard rock or soil mines in the Meadowlands. Nor are we aware of any historic peat or wood mining, although these activities were likely. The existence of a large body of peat (e.g. Waksman 1942) suggests a future opportunity for peat mining depending on peat quality and demand. Fossil logs of Atlantic white cedar potentially could be mined. Depending on the scale and type of mining, these activities could be destructive to habitats as well as potentially remobilizing contaminants from sediments. Impacts of such mining would need to be examined relative to water bird habitats and other wetland functions and values. Possibly peat mining could be used selectively to lower marsh elevations and increase the hydroperiod of certain reed stands.
Agriculture and Logging: These activities were historically important in the Meadowlands, but in most cases are no longer possible or ecologically appropriate.
Edible Plants and Fungi. The presence of oyster mushroom on dead tree-of-heaven (see above) suggests an opportunity for collection of edible mushrooms. “Huckleberries” were harvested commercially in the 1800s (Mattson 1970); these presumably were Gaylussacia or Vaccinium associated with the cedar swamps. Jelly can be made from the fruits of the introduced shrubs, beach rose (Rosa rugosa), autumn-olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), and Russian-olive (E. angustifolia), which occur in the Meadowlands. Many other potentially edible plants are common in the Meadowlands. Metals or other contaminants could present a problem for consumption of mushrooms or plants.
Beneficial Use of Invasive Plant Biomass. Biomass from common reed, tree-of-heaven, and princess tree is abundant in the Meadowlands and potentially useful (see below under “Restoration”).

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