Apshawa Preserve in New Jersey is a natural ecosystem managed by New Jersey Conservation Foundation. The Preserve sits on an area of 569 acre with about 300 acre being fenced off from deer. The preserve had a natural structure and dynamic ecological setting before human encroachment. With varying species of plants ranging from woods, shrubs grass and flowers the flora is well represented.
The most dominant animal is deer. Deer is found in the entire state of New Jersey and Apshawa area is not an exception. The deer feeds mainly on flowers, grass and shrubs in the forest. Other animals which are present in this preserve include a few lions, grey wolfs and bobcat but have reduced significantly due to settlement.
There are various species of birds, insects and reptiles. There are fish species too along Apshawa Brook stream which flows through the preserve to the Pequannock River. The various species present in the preserve, are balanced by dynamic ecological processes. With sufficient rainfall and sunlight, plants grow abundantly and generate food through photosynthesis (Jacobson 2011).
There are Herbivorous like deer, wood turtle, birds, insects and rodents. These herbivorous feed on shrubs, grass and some feed on leaves and twigs of large trees. Grass and shrubs, however, are the main food for most herbivorous in Apshawa Preserve.
The main consumers are deer which feed on shrubs. Secondary consumers include a number of carnivorous present in the preserve. They include wolves, bob cats and foxes. In some places which are far from human activities, lions are still present. Some snake species also act as secondary consumers in the preserve.
There are no major tertiary consumers in the area. When theses organisms die, they decompose naturally to nitrogen and carbon compounds which are used by various plants as nutrients. With time the ecological structure has changed. Carnivorous like lions, foxes, bobcats and wolves have reduced due to human inteference.
This has increased numbers of herbivorous which compete for available plant food (Jacobson 2011).There are some human activities which have been responsible for degrading Apshawa ecosystem. The most notable activity is the human encroachment in the name of settlement. For over half a century, human settlement has increased around the Apshawa Preserve. The nearest urban settlement is Milford Township.
The growth of human settlement has resulted in various activities which affected the natural ecosystem of the preserve. Hunting is the most destructive activity. Some hunters have been hunting for decades while others started recently. While some hunt deer for game meat, others hunt rear species like lions and bobcats for their value. Some recreational activities like horse riding, hiking and bird watching have also contributed to the interference of ecological structure and its processes.
Professor Anne H. Jacobson (2011) believes that hunting and other human activities in and around the preserve have led to imbalance in the biogeochemical cycles. The reduction in lions, bobcats, wolves and foxes, led to over population of deer. The deer population on the other hand, has overfed on the underlying plants in the woodlands.
This has made some sections bare, hence reduced infiltration during precipitation. In some areas, “deer Savannas” have been formed, where the canopy of bigger trees lack understory. The lack of understory has made the woodlands clear inside allowing invasive plants to grow in place of native ones.
Extensive knowledge about structure of an ecosystem has helped to conserve and manage Apshawa Preserve. The New Jersey Conservancy Foundation has been engaging various groups with knowledge and experience in ecosystem structures and management in conservation activities.
According to Byers (2010) The New Jersey Conservancy Foundation built a fence on a three hundred acre of land within the preserve to prevent deer from further destroying native plants. With 75 deer per squire mile, Apshawa Preserve had ten times more deer than the required number which can allow plants in the forest to restore and heal. Studies about the effects of various species in a given ecosystem and the structure of the biomass has been instrumental in determining which means to be use to restore forest cover in the Preserve.
With the required number of deer per squire mile being known, the conservancy initiated programs aimed at restoring and managing the ecosystem in the Preserve. In an effort to manage, conserve and monitor the progress of native plants, groups of high school and college students have been involved in these activities. After building the deer exclosure, the conservancy took a detailed census and study of native plants.
With the deer out side, the plants are expected to flourish in the next few years. Knowledge of structure and ecosystem was needed to examine, identify, measure and catalogue required plants within the plots which are being studied. With the available information, the scientists will return after between 10 and 20 years to check which plants have done well since the inception of the project (Byers, 2010).
Allowing controlled hunting also can be used for management of the ecosystem. If hunters are allowed to hunt deer in areas out of the exclosure, the number of deer will reduce allowing the understory of the forest to recover with time. However, the process must be highly controlled to avoid destroying the remaining carnivorous.
Byers, S.M. (Winter 2011 – 2012). New Jersey Conservation, A Publication of New Jersey Conservation Foundation, 9.2, 9-10
Jacobson A.H. (2011). A Stewardship Primer with Philanthropic Considerations, Glenridge: Victoria Foundation