Highlands Mountain Keeper Project - while access on NJ State lands is protected by the wavier system one must be
alert for other issues in and around the North Jersey Highlands. Thus is the onus for forming the Highlands Mountain
Keeper. Further details will follow.
JERSEY’S TALUS SLOPE WOODLANDS
This paper highlights the spectrum of NJ’s talus slope
woodlands. Awareness brings understanding, protection and stewardship. Cliffs, ridged slopes and rocky outcroppings are found in 3 of the 5 physiographic sections of New Jersey. Talus Slope Woodlands (TSW) are found in particular rocky outcrops and cliff sites. TSW’s are the habitats of endangered and threatened plant and animal species
in the complex ecosystems of New Jersey’s natural diversity.
TSW are found
throughout the NJ, predominantly in the Highlands. The base of Mt. Tammany at the Delaware Water Gap is a classic example of a TSW.
TSW are found at the base of Johnsonburg Cliffs, at Bearfort, Hamburg, Green Pond and Kanouse Mountains in the NJ Highlands
and in other areas such as the NJ-NY Palisades and at Cranberry Ledges. A TSW
is found in Sourland Mountain Preserve in Somerset County. This is an example
of an eroded talus field. Talus here is characterized by boulders 20 to 35 feet
high and is known locally as the “Devils Half Acre”.
Talus is found at the base of cliffs and rocky outcrops and
is formed by the constant crumbling and dropping of boulders from cliffs and outcrops precipitated by natural movements of
ice, water and wind. Such boulders , scattered and piled about, are at times
in excess of 1,200 to 1,500 tons. Found between the boulders and rocks are crevices,
nooks and slots where microhabitats exist. Temperatures in such areas are often 10 to 15 F degrees cooler then the ambient air.
Talus is often loosely consolidated, building over time. Talus is treacherous
for the uniformed. (Graydon, p. 84).
There are four distinct types of TSW communities. The ice cave talus community is characterized by ice sheltered by overhanging walls, hollows and crevices
in the talus. This talus emits cold air from where winter ice remains through
the summer. The nearest ice cave talus community is located in the Shawngunks
Mountains of New York State. There are no known ice cave talus communities in
NJ. Calcareous talus woodland has an open or closed forest canopy on slopes composed
of calcareous bedrocks such as limestone or dolomite type rocks. Groundwater
and soils found in association with calcareous bedrock and outcrop areas are generally rich in mineral nutrients. Acidic
talus slopes are composed of non-calcareous bedrock such as granite, quartzite or schist. Shale type talus slope woodland
are usually unstable, well drained, with shallow soils and dry. Canopy cover
is less then 50% (National Fish and Wildlife Service, 2001). TSW are unique
natural areas of the NJ Highlands.
The natural history of TSW appreciates complexity. Successional plant communities are found on TSW. First, appear
crustose lichens that appear as gray, block or yellowish stains or encrustations on rocks.
Other types of lichens include foliose, rock tripe and fruitose type lichens.
On the corpse of lichen, arise mosses and then mats of mosses before the soil mantle is formed. Once the soil mantle is set herbaceous, plants develop from seeds left by critters and the whims
of wind. Interspersed among the talus boulders are shrubs, pitch-pines and finally
open talus slope woodlands.
Endangered and non-threatened species are found in TSW. Five-Lined Skinks, Peregrine Falcons, Bobcat and Bear. Smooth cliff-brake (Pellaea
glabella) is a rare plant species often associated with TSW. Solution caves that are created in talus, as well as talus
mines, serve as hibernating sites for bats such as the small-footed bat (Myotis sodalis), northern long-eared myotis
(Myotis septentrionalis), and the federally listed endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis). (National Fish and Wildlife Service, 2001).
NJ’s TSW are distinctive. When accessing NJ’s craggy and rocky outcrop areas respect the fragility of the talus. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. Follow
established trails, respect the ecosystem’s critters, be alert. TSW deserve
protection through responsible access, well planned and appropriate land stewardship management practices and individually effective low impact ethics.