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OSI Grant Helps Safeguard New Jersey Grasslands for Groundwater Recharge, Bird Habitat

Photo Credit: New Jersey Conservation Foundation

PILESGROVE TWP, NJ (April 11, 2018) – Thanks to financial support from the Open Space Institute (OSI), a family business and beloved fixture of this southwestern New Jersey township is now permanently protected. Completed by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the project also marks the first time that funds from a federal grasslands preservation program designed for livestock farmers have been used in New Jersey.

The property, which totals 375 acres, surrounds “Cowtown Rodeo,” the oldest weekly professional rodeo in the country, continuously run by five generations of the same family. The land also contains prime farm soils, large contiguous grasslands, habitat for endangered grassland birds, and wetlands that filter and purify drinking water for local residents.

Horses from the Cowtown Rodeo graze the property's grasslands.
Horses from the Cowtown Rodeo graze the property's grasslands.
Photo Credit: New Jersey Conservation Foundation

The conservation project’s benefits to humans and to wildlife prompted OSI to support the New Jersey Conservation Foundation through its Bayshore Highlands Grant Fund — made possible with funding from the William Penn Foundation. The OSI initiative seeks to accelerate strategic land conservation in the New Jersey Bayshore and the Pennsylvania Highlands.

“This groundbreaking project is a shining example of the innovation possible when public-private partnerships are used to protect drinking water, ecology and economic opportunity for farmers,” said Peter Howell, executive vice president at OSI. “We commend NJCF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program for pioneering the Federal Grassland Reserve Program in New Jersey, achieving an outcome that strikes the perfect balance in sustainably protecting both working farmland and wildlife resources.”

On top of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program funding, the State of New Jersey’s farmland preservation program will preserve another 80 non-grassland acres of Harris property, used to grow corn for feeding livestock.

“In addition to protecting a viable and profitable agricultural operation, this preservation provides conservation benefits,” said State Conservationist Carrie Lindig of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Large blocks of well-managed grasslands like the Harris property support groundwater recharge and bird habitat. Among the several species that may benefit from this preservation is the Upland Sandpiper, a State Endangered species that relies on grassland bird habitat for nesting.”

Cowtown Rodeo is a slice of the cowboy west located only 25 miles from downtown Philadelphia; the rodeo operates every Saturday night from May to September in an arena seating 4,000 spectators. Proceeds from the conservation will allow landowners Grant and Betsy Harris to keep the Cowtown Rodeo in the family, as well as purchase additional land that they have leased for years.

Since its creation in 2010, OSI’s Bayshore Highlands Fund has conserved 7,400 acres in the New Jersey Bayshore and Pennsylvania Highlands. Through the Fund, OSI contributed $420,000 to this $2.9 million project.

In addition to OSI, the State of New Jersey and the USDA, The Natural Lands Trust and Pilesgrove Township also provided crucial funding for transactional costs. “The preservation of the Harris farm helps protect the agricultural viability of this neighborhood, which is also an important agritourism destination,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

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