Monday, July 27, 2009

The Highlands

The Highlands of New Jersey is another one of those areas that people from other parts of the country just don't associate with NJ. (The Pinelands is another area like that.) The forested ridges, rocky cliffs, and the streams, lakes, ponds and reservoirs for fishing and recreation are all there.

The Highlands covers 840,000 acres and includes 188 municipalities. There are 7 Highlands counties – Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon and Somerset – and all contain a diversity of forests, wetlands and grasslands. That habitat diversity is also the home to threatened and endangered wildlife.

There are 72 New Jersey-listed endangered, threatened and rare animal species including mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and mussels, and 2species (the Indiana bat and bog turtle) are Federally-listed. There are also 137 endangered, imperiled and rare plant species.

The Highlands also contains historic structures and archaeological heritage sites that need protection.

Hikers can find miles of trails, including both the Appalachian Trail and the Highlands Millennium Trail.

For over half of New Jersey’s residents (4 million+), the Highlands is a critical area for their drinking water. The NJ Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act was passed in 2004, dividing the 840,000-acre region into a “Preservation Area” with strict NJDEP regulations and mandatory Regional Master Plan conformance, and a “Planning Area” with voluntary Plan compliance.

As is often the case in NJ, suburban sprawl is the greatest threat to the Highlands’ drinking water supply, and to the forests, farms, wildlife habitat, and historic, recreational and scenic resources.

There are a number of areas in NJ that are a focus for Highlands Coalition.

The Wyanokie and Farny Highlands (Passaic and Bergen) contains unprotected lands in nearby Wanaque and Split Rock reservoirs that would connect existing State and county parks and forests in these two heavily utilized recreational areas. This focal area was ranked highly due to its value for water resources and recreation, and secondarily for biodiversity and forest land.

The Pequannock Watershed (Morris, Passaic, and Sussex) serves as the core of the northern New Jersey Highlands and serves as a major hub connecting existing open space areas. This focal area was ranked highly due to its multiple values for water resources, forest land, biodiversity, and recreation.

The wooded ridges of Sparta Mountain/Lubber’s Run NJ (Morris and Sussex) provide an important greenway corridor connecting Mahlon Dickerson Reservation in the north and Allamuchy Mountain State Park in the south. Major gaps in conservation protection include the nearby areas of Mase Mountain. This focal area was ranked highly due to its value for productive forest land, biodiversity, and recreation.

Upper Pohatcong/Pequest area (Warren) also contains forested ridges and wetlands centered around the Pequest Wildlife Management Area which serve as an important ground water recharge, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation area. This focal area was ranked highly due to its value for water resources and recreation and secondarily for its productive forest and farm land.

Scott Mountain/Musconetcong Ridge in Warren and Hunterdon counties and the neighboring productive farmland of the Delaware, Pohatcong, and Musconetcong valleys form a large contiguous area of high-quality rural landscape. This focal area was ranked highly due to its value for biodiversity and productive farmland, and secondarily for forest land and recreation.

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