Swaths of Atlantic white cedar forest totaling 10,000 acres to be restored

By Michele S. Byers

Step into a mature stand of Atlantic white cedar trees on a hot day and you will instantly feel cooler. These towering native evergreens grow so dense that they shade out sunlight and create forest floor habitat for ferns, sphagnum moss, liverworts, insect-eating plants, rare orchids and swamp pinks.

In turn, this incredible forest supports rare animals like Pine Barrens tree frogs, barred owls and timber rattlesnakes.

Before European settlement, there were about 500,000 acres of Atlantic white cedar forest up and down the East Coast. New Jersey alone had about 115,000 acres of cedar in the Pine Barrens and in the Meadowlands.

But Atlantic white cedars have suffered a double whammy.

In colonial New Jersey, cedar forests were relentlessly chopped down for their strong, lightweight, rot-resistant timber, prized as a building material. The heartwood was so durable that even logs submerged in swamps for centuries could be turned into excellent lumber.

Cedar wood was used for shipbuilding and shingles for roofs and siding. Unfortunately, in the wake of logging, cedar forests often regenerated into maple, gum and pine swamps due to overabundant deer or altered water tables from nearby agriculture, beaver dams, or road crossings with improper culvert pipes.

Today, Atlantic white cedar forests face the modern threat of climate change. Storm surges and rising sea levels caused by the warming climate are inundating many coastal Atlantic white cedar forests with saltwater, killing the trees.

The “ghost forests” left behind are the subject of a haunting art installation at Madison Square Park in New York City through Nov. 14, featuring a stand of dead cedars from an inundated swamp in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

Today, less than 25,000 acres of Atlantic white cedar forest remain in New Jersey, but there is new hope for these magnificent trees.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently announced plans to restore 10,000 acres of Atlantic white cedar forest over the coming decade, mostly on state-owned lands in the Pine Barrens.

“This is the largest forest restoration project ever undertaken in New Jersey and the largest ever in the nation restoring Atlantic white cedars,” DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said.

“Through this project, we will re-establish once-dominant stands of Atlantic white cedar, but at higher elevations less vulnerable to rising seas and saltwater intrusion, and provide habitat for globally rare plants and wildlife, while capturing and storing carbon and absorbing floodwaters,” LaTourette said.

Source: Swaths of Atlantic white cedar forest totaling 10,000 acres to be restored – centraljersey.com, 2021-10-13

‘Ghost Forests’ May Become More Common as Sea Levels Rise

By Elizabeth Gamillo
Along the mid-Atlantic and southern New England coast, an eerie sight dots the changing landscape. Rising sea levels turn thriving green vistas of hardwood and evergreen trees into “ghost forests,” dried-up terrains filled with gnarled, dead, and dying timber. Under climate change, these could become an even more common sight, according to a new report published by Rutgers University.

Ghost forests are landscapes that form when saltwater begins to flood woodland areas that contain freshwater-dependent trees. The water high in salinity slowly poisons trees, and as they die, all that is left behind are ghostly gray trunks that resemble toothpicks. The trunks can last decades in this dried-up barren state, reports Dharna Noor for Gizmodo.

Researchers at Rutgers University, along with the United States Department of Agriculture, found that coastal woodland forests ranging from Virginia through Massachusetts are dying as a result of heavy rain, saltwater surges, and flooding from rising sea levels, reports Matthew Hart for Nerdist.

The rising salt water not only kills trees but leaves soil unhealthy and forests uninhabitable for new growth, Nerdist reports. This report is alarming as coastal forests are habitats for many rare plants and wildlife, such as the threatened swamp pink plant, Gizmodo reports.

Not only are the ghost forests expanding because of climate change, they could also be making hostile conditions worse through a feedback loop. Forests along the East Coast are riddled with evergreen trees that absorb carbon dioxide almost year-round, making them crucial carbon sinks that can lower carbon dioxide concentrations from the atmosphere, reports Gizmodo. With fewer evergreen trees, less carbon is removed from the air.

“One ecological benefit of healthy coastal forests is the sequestration and storage of carbon both aboveground and in soils. As coastal forests transition to marsh, we lose aboveground carbon. Some of that is released into the atmosphere, and some shifts to other carbon pools,” Lindsey Smart, a ghost forest expert at the North Carolina State University who was not part of the study, tells Gizmodo.ong the mid-Atlantic and southern New England coast, an eerie sight dots the changing landscape. Rising sea levels turn thriving green vistas of hardwood and evergreen trees into “ghost forests,” dried-up terrains filled with gnarled, dead, and dying timber. Under climate change, these could become an even more common sight, according to a new report published by Rutgers University.

Ghost forests are landscapes that form when saltwater begins to flood woodland areas that contain freshwater-dependent trees. The water high in salinity slowly poisons trees, and as they die, all that is left behind are ghostly gray trunks that resemble toothpicks. The trunks can last decades in this dried-up barren state, reports Dharna Noor for Gizmodo.

To mitigate ghost forests, coastal forests need protection from development, and proper planning and collaboration with landowners must be established, according to the Rutgers report. Solutions the researchers suggest include creating living shorelines by planting trees to slow erosion, depositing sediments to help marshes move to higher elevation as sea levels rise, and planting forest vegetation that can tolerate changes in soil.

“This study adds to the growing evidence that this is not a localized phenomenon, given other reports up and down the east coast,” Smart tells Gizmodo. “While the rate and extent varies based on local site characteristics, it’s clear that sea-level rise and the synergistic pressures between sea-level rise and land use modification…are changing our coasts, impacting our coastal forests.”

Source: What is a Ghost Forest? – Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine, 2021-03-19

Ghost Forests: How Rising Seas Are Killing Southern Woodlands

A steady increase in sea levels is pushing saltwater into U.S. wetlands, killing trees from Florida as far north as New Jersey. But with sea level projected to rise by as much as six feet this century, the destruction of coastal forests is expected to become a worsening problem worldwide.

Source: Ghost Forests: How Rising Seas Are Killing Southern Woodlands by Roger Real Drouin: Yale Environment 360