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Atlantic white-cedar Initiative

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Atlantic white-cedar Initiative

Atlantic white-cedar grow in freshwater wetlands along the coasts of southern Maine to northern Florida. White-cedar stands commonly occur in swamps, flood plains, stream headwaters, tidal wetland borders, drainage ways and bogs. Atlantic white-cedar typically forms pure stands with thousands of trees per acre, nearly all the same age. Young cedar seedlings, intolerant of shade, require strong sunlight to grow. Stands will develop only after an area has been cleared and sufficient seed source exists.

In New Jersey, Atlantic white-cedar forests are located principally in the Pinelands region in Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Monmouth and Ocean counties. Atlantic white-cedar forests were once widely distributed across the state, with major stands in the Pine Barrens, the Hackensack Meadowlands and Sandy Hook. Lack of proper management, loss of wetland habitat, theft and illegal harvesting, wildfire, deer browsing, a rise in sea level and other natural factors have contributed to its steady decline.

Atlantic white-cedar branch

New Jersey's Atlantic white-cedar population is steadily declining from its historical average of approximately 115,000 acres to its current area of fewer than 30,000 acres. White-cedar swamps provide essential storage areas for rainwater and water runoff. They help maintain productivity of wetland communities, provide essential habitat for wildlife and plant life, including threatened and endangered species, and add to the diversity and beauty of New Jersey's forest resource. Without conservation and restoration efforts, the Atlantic white-cedar population will continue to decline, eventually causing the loss of pure stands of this increasingly rare tree species.

Within the NJ Pinelands, cedar swamps provide habitat for 19 species of mammals. According to studies conducted by the NJ Pinelands Commission, 14 herpetologic species with declining populations live in the cedar wetlands habitat, including the Pine Barrens tree frog, bog turtle, timber rattlesnake, northern pine snake, and several species of salamander. Unique plant species growing in Pine Barren cedar bogs include the rare curly grass fern, several species of orchids, milkworts, sedges and cotton grasses, and the federally endangered swamp pink.

In a study of Atlantic white-cedar stands in Bass River State Forest, it was determined that the average age of an Atlantic white-cedar stand is 40 to 60 years old. Depending on habitat conditions, as cedar stands get older they tend to break down and begin to convert to hardwood forest. The study revealed that currently there are no young cedar stands growing in Bass River State Forest. Deer browsing has had a negative impact statewide on cedar regeneration.

About 15,000 acres of Atlantic white-cedar stands in the state have begun to convert to hardwood forest, with the dominant species being red maple. If conservation and restoration efforts are not begun soon, the costly regeneration of these stands will become more difficult and require increasingly greater funding in the future.

Disturbances such as flooding, storms, ice damage, indiscriminate harvesting, deer browsing on young stands, beaver damage, cranberry bog expansion, and development continue to adversely affect the Atlantic white-cedar population.

AWC Steering Committee
The NJ Forest Service Atlantic White-cedar Steering Committee comprises representatives of the NJ Forest Service, Rutgers University, Stockton State College, New Jersey Pinelands Commission, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, and the NJ Forestry Association, as well as private resource management consultants. The Atlantic white-cedar Steering Committee began the Atlantic White-Cedar Initiative (AWCI).

Goals and objectives of the AWCI include:

  • Facilitate communication and encourage cooperation among agencies, researchers, private landowners and the public;
  • Explore and demonstrate approaches for restoration and sustainability, and increasing the acreage of Atlantic white-cedar;
  • Providing a management model for the Atlantic white-cedar resource;
  • Increasing Atlantic white-cedar seedling or rooted cuttings production;
  • Developed Best Management Practices for Atlantic white-cedar

Since 1978, the Division of Coastal Resources has protected white-cedar stands from disturbance as part of its permit review process. Development near Atlantic white-cedar stands and the harvesting of cedar also are regulated under the New Jersey Pinelands Commission's Comprehensive Management Plan. In addition, the NJ Forest Service reviews all forest management or harvesting plan submitted to the Pinelands Commission and Land Use Regulation for permitting applications.

Outlook for the Future
The Atlantic White-cedar Steering Committee developed Best Management Practices to provide guidance and assurance that cedar will be maintained and sustained into the future. Better technology, including the use of an electronic mapping system and an ecological classification system, helps the New Jersey Forest Service identify the current cedar resource and potential regeneration areas. Electric fencing also has been effective in controlling deer browsing, which is a severe deterrent to regeneration.

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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: November 9, 2010

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