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What's the rush at Warren Grove Gunnery Range?

A large population of the Knieskern's beaked-rush (Rhynchospora knieskernii), a threatened plant, was discovered recently at the Air National Guard's Warren Grove Gunnery Range in New Jersey. Until the discovery, fewer than 50 occurrences had been documented in New Jersey. Historically, Knieskern's beaked-rush has always been considered rare, and today its range is restricted to the Pinelands region of New Jersey. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Knieskern's beaked-rush in 1991 as a threatened species and completed a recovery plan in 1993.

The generic name Rhynchospora comes from the Greek and means "beaked seed." Prior to its listing under the Endangered Species Act, many populations of Knieskern's beaked-rush grew on private land. Unfortunately, many of these populations have been lost to development. Most of the remaining populations are on state and federally owned lands.

The Service has been working to maintain the health of the species through cooperative management. Conservation and management for Knieskern's beaked-rush involves site protection, active management, and habitat manipulation necessary to maintain vegetation in an early successional stage.

The Warren Grove Gunnery Range is located in the heart of the New Jersey Pinelands. The Pinelands are a fire-maintained ecosystem, and its native plant and animal species are well adapted to the high frequency of forest fires common to the region. The 9,416 acres (3,810 hectares) at Warren Grove Gunnery Range make up a broad mosaic of upland and lowland habitats that support a high diversity of plant species, including Knieskern's beaked-rush and the bog asphodel (Narthecium americanum), a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Biologists inventoried another 26 state- and locally-listed plant species during a comprehensive floral survey conducted at Warren Grove Gunnery Range in support of an Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan.

Dr. Walter F. Bien, a biologist at Drexel University, found Knieskern's beaked-rush growing in disturbed sites near and within target zones on the gunnery range. Typically, patches of plants within a local population may range from a few plants to several thousand plants spread over the population. However, at one location on the Warren Grove Gunnery Range, he estimated that more than 10,000 plants were growing in a target sight line (i.e., a strip of land on approach to a target that has been cleared of visual obstructions). The large number of sites and individual plants represent one of the largest and most significant remaining populations of Knieskern's beaked-rush in New Jersey. The population at Warren Grove Gunnery Range appears to be secure, and military operations, such as mechanical disturbance, ordinance delivery, and prescribed burning, appear to be providing the necessary disturbance regime required for maintaining established sites and colonizing newly disturbed sites.

The Service has identified several management needs for Knieskern's beaked-rush. These include studies of demography, reproduction, seed bank dynamics, seed viability, dispersal, seedling establishment, and habitat requirements. In addition, the Service has identified the need to assess the role that disturbance from fire plays in the ecology of Knieskern's beaked-rush. Meanwhile, the Air National Guard environmental office and the Service are working cooperatively to manage this species at Warren Grove Gunnery Range. A long-term monitoring program is assessing the effects of military operations on the plant. In addition, future research is planned to assess effects of prescribed burning on seed banks, germination, dispersal, and colonization.

Cooperators in the Air National Guard's conservation program include not only the Fish and Wildlife Service but the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, Pinelands Commission, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, New Jersey Office of Land Management, and scientific research partners such as Drexel University. With their help, the Guard is meeting its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act while maintaining the military mission at Warren Grove Gunnery Range.

Walter F. Bien is Director of the Office of Pinelands Research at Drexel University in the Department of Bioscience and Biotechnology.
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Author:Bien, Walter F.
Publication:Endangered Species Update
Geographic Code:1U2NJ
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:643
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