Avalon purges pesky pines from dunes

By BEN LEACH Staff Writer
| Posted: Sunday, January 10, 2010 |

The thought of cutting down and removing trees from Avalon’s treasured maritime forest might seem like the last thing environmentalists would want to do. But Brian Reynolds expresses no remorse as workers removed portions of trees along 74th Street on Thursday morning.

“We have to get them out,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds, who chairs Avalon’s Environmental Commission, is talking about only one kind of tree; the Japanese black pine. When planted in the 1960s, the trees were a great way to keep the dunes from eroding.

As the years pass, however, the problems caused by the trees far outweigh the sole benefit that they provide of stabilizing the soil. The borough has recently launched a long-term project to remove as many of the invasive pine trees as possible.

The pine trees spread and grow quickly, and they’ve pushed other native species out of the way.

“We’ve been finding some of the trees growing as far (from 74th Street) as the primary dunes,” Reynolds said, referring to the dunes found at the northern end of Avalon closer to Townsends Inlet.

The pines also prevent anything from growing. The sand under the trees along 74th Street is covered in 6 to 8 inches of dead needles and other debris.

The damage doesn’t stop at plant life. There’s no food for birds and small mammals to find in the trees. The dead pine trees could bring with them insects and bacteria that could destroy other wildlife in the area.

The pines were brought in to grow and hold the sand in place. But by bringing in non-native plant species, the consequences can affect all surrounding plant life.

“We’ve changed the forests,” said Bob Williams, an independent forester whose company is based in Glassboro, Gloucester County. “We’re ending up with this sort of degraded habitat.”

This isn’t the first time a coastal plant species has gotten out of hand in New Jersey.

“There’s a lot of nonindigenous species in New Jersey,” said Robert Cartica, administrator for the Office of Natural Lands Management in the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. “But there are relatively few that are harmful to the ecosystem.”

Cartica said a similar example would be Asiatic sand sedge, another plant that was used to stabilize the sand but has also pushed out native species.

The borough of Avalon can’t simply bulldoze the black pines out of the ground, according to Reynolds. For all the problems they’re causing, they’re necessary to keep the dunes intact.

That’s why Avalon brought in the Lomax Consulting Group, a Cape May Court House-based firm that specializes in environmental issues, to investigate the project.

The firm studied which species would create the same dune reinforcement effects that the Japanese black pines have without the negative consequences. That meant finding species that were native to the area that could grow roots in the sand and thrive in the coastal environment.

“Not all of the vegetation on the dunes is invasive,” said Peter Lomax, principal consultant for the project.

Trees such as the Eastern red cedar and black cherry and shrubs such as the Northern bayberry and wax myrtle are all local species that thrive in coastal environments while protecting the dunes. They’re the species Avalon plans to use to replace the black pines.

In order to replace the pines properly, workers in Avalon are first removing the dead pines, then trimming the live pines. Reynolds said the borough plans to remove the tops of the trees while leaving the roots to keep the beach stabilized.

When they’re ready to plant the native species again, Reynolds said, they will finally remove the roots of the black pines.

Tree removal has begun, and planting may start later this year. However, Reynolds said that planting can occur only in the spring or the fall when the weather conditions aren’t as extreme.

While the project is beginning, there’s no deadline as to when it should get done. Reynolds said the borough is more concerned with getting the project done right than done fast.

“This isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight,” he said.

Contact Ben Leach: 609-463-6712

BLeach@pressofac.com

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