Executive Summary:

Preserving the mountain’s resources is a local and regional priority. All five townships have taken bold policy and regulatory initiatives to protect the extremely limited water supply that is a lifeline for the people, plants, animals and natural systems that occupy the mountain.

This plan includes options for local land stewards to come together to explore ways that they can collectively exercise their home rule powers in a more coordinated fashion to protect the Sourlands.

The future health of the Region will rely heavily on municipal collaboration and citizen participation if it is to succeed.

As work to protect the Region moves forward, the success of the program will relate directly to how well the citizenry can be informed and municipal actions can be coordinated.

The Comprehensive Management Plan calls on local policymakers to join hands across municipal boundaries, in order to advance a series of shared goals. Through a “Sourland Alliance”, modeled after successful inter-municipal agreements designed for similar purposes, these communities can align their efforts toward what is best for the region, as well as their backyards.

The Sourland Alliance hopes to bring municipal planning and regulatory agencies together to explore the variety of ways their efforts can be combined. These efforts include non regulatory and regulatory strategies and innovative planning opportunities to protect the Region’s resources and its residents.

Results of Public Meetings (2007):

The majority of comments focused on preserving the area as is.

In addition to recreation and wildlife, many comments referred to the history of the area.  In order to preserve what has stayed the same, the project team was encouraged to develop tools and options for keeping that history alive.

Perhaps the greatest number of comments focused on the development of the land that occurs throughout the region.  Each community within the Sourlands faces its own challenges, but the overall concern was largely the same: no new development within the Sourland boundaries.  Residents and visitors feel that development that has already occurred on the mountain has made significant impacts to wildlife, the quality of the waterways, the wooded areas, the open areas, the historic and cultural landmarks, and the farmland.

Vision Statement:

The Sourland Alliance envisions a place where a series of cooperative efforts by municipalities will produce increasing collaboration toward the protection of the Sourland Mountain Region and its myriad rare and threatened resources.
The stewardship goals for the Sourland Mountain will be reflected in a coherent land management ethic for the Region that is taught in local schools, shared by homeowners and businesses alike and aided by the coordinated actions of municipal and county governing entities.

Goals and Objectives:

A priority goal of this plan is for the Sourland mountain communities to form a partnership. For the purposes of this plan, we refer to this partnership as the “Sourland Alliance” in order to advance the following goals:

  • Expand and regenerate forests, and protect wetlands, wildlife habitats, and scenic vistas;
  • Maintain the rural character of the communities including the preservation of farmland and shifting farmland practices to those more harmonious with the environment;
  • Identify environmentally sensitive natural areas and protect them from development;
  • Protect, defend and manage the region’s scarce water resources;
  • Develop a series of model environmental ordinances;
  • Become leaders and educators in the effort to build awareness of the biodiversity of the Sourlands as a “living classroom”;
  • Work to identify and preserve scenic corridors, byways and vistas, recognizing their importance in helping to create the special quality of the Sourlands;
  • Strengthen our commitment to identify and preserve historic resources;
  • Seek agreement among stakeholders on matters such as road widths, allowable speed limits, and clearing and removal of brush along roads;
  • Strengthen commitment to “dark skies”;
  • Develop rational consensus on treatment of undersized lots in light of water and other resource limits;
  • Work towards creating an extensive new NJ State park designated strictly for passive recreation – The goal should be to acquire as much of the contiguous undeveloped forestland as possible from Bald Pate in the West to East Mountain Road in the East.

Natural Resources of the Sourland Mountain Region


The region’s low water yield and the competition for this supply between anthropogenic activities (wells, irrigation) and natural systems (stream flow, plant growth, animals) has already challenged the limited Sourland Mountain water supply.
The low infiltration potential of the dense rocks of the mountain’s forested core make them poor aquifers, highly susceptible to contamination and threatened by overuse.

Riparian Areas:

Riparian areas, found along the streams that drain the mountain, are a diverse and important part of the ecosystem that protect water quality by buffering the impacts of surrounding land uses.

Wetlands and Vernal Pools:

Wetlands play a particularly valuable role on the Sourland Mountain, filtering clean water into headwaters streams and capturing and retaining precipitation to recharge water-poor aquifers, a critical function on the mountain, where recharge is extremely low.


The expansive mature deciduous forest in the Sourlands, with its many important habitat types, is a unique ecological treasure.  The size, shape and composition of the relatively unfragmented forest and adjacent land use make the Sourlands a haven for scores of woodland bird species. Biological diversity increases with the area of contiguous forest as habitat is better protected from intrusion of invasive species and disturbance.


The grasslands that flank the Sourland ridge in the Amwell and Hopewell valleys continue to provide critical habitat for a number of bird species.

Critical Habitat for Threatened and Endangered Species:

The Sourland Mountain region is rich in habitat suitable to support populations of threatened and endangered species and includes forest, grassland, emergent and forested wetland areas.

The task of preserving and effectively managing critical resources in order to safeguard one of the last unbroken habitat areas in the State relies on the actions of government and landowner. This plan lays out a variety of tools to achieve its goals, such as private and public land stewardship principles, preservation and conservation of public lands and regulatory policies that minimize the impact of land development and developed land uses on the ecosystem.

Conservation Plan:

The goals of this Comprehensive Management Plan focus on stewardship, sustainability and regeneration. As new land development and existing developed uses place increasing demands on water resources, water quality and quantity are challenged.

In recent years, weather patterns have shown increasing drought periods for the region, with rainfall periods becoming more infrequent and severe. The result of this has heightened need to determine the sustainable water yield and the contaminant effects of non point runoff and improperly functioning septic systems.

Collaborative land stewardship that makes a concerted effort to preserve and protect important lands will contribute to the long-term sustainability of the Region.

Stewardship Goals and Strategies:

Implementing and encouraging long-term stewardship practices are key to achieving the goals and objectives of this Plan. While much of the Sourland Mountain Region is privately owned, encouragement of sustainable practices and educational efforts regarding proper land use can help to contribute to overall ecosystem health.

For instance, Low Impact Development (LID) which is an element of smart growth achieves improved protection of environmental resources. It is an environmentally sensitive approach to land use planning that uses a variety of landscape and design techniques which manage development activities in order to mitigate potential adverse impacts on the natural environment.

In the Sourlands, where water resources are already stressed and unprotected habitat is increasingly threatened, LID standards are particularly important. Given the shared municipal goals of protecting the forest, avoiding disturbance, minimizing impacts, and mitigating adverse modifications to critical habitat, LID strategies can be meaningfully applied by Sourland Mountain municipalities both on the mountain and in the valleys beyond.
For the purposes of developing a regenerative approach to this plan, the planning, management, regulatory and educational activities identified in the Phase I Sourland Mountain Plan are no less relevant today, and should be use as building blocks to form a firm foundation for long term sustainability.
Many of those activities were identified in the Phase I plan as follows:

  • Develop a Sourland Alliance modeled on the Ten Towns Great Swamp Watershed Management Committee. This approach recognizes that municipal home rule will continue to shape landscape changes on the Mountain, and relies on intermunicipal cooperation in the exercise of municipal planning and regulatory powers.
  • Identify the forest core and corridors for preservation
  • Identify an agricultural retention area. The Sourland Mountain region identified in this plan includes areas well suited to farming as well as those where farming is not appropriate. A coherent regional planning approach will acknowledge the importance of supporting agriculture on prime farmland where water is relatively abundant, while also discouraging or preventing agriculture where it would damage a fragile ecosystem or overstress limited water supplies.
  • Prepare a comprehensive Forest Management Plan for the region, including detailed forest stand delineation, to actively manage impacts to the forest from development, timber harvests, farming and other activities.
  • Prepare a comprehensive cultural resource management plan for the region incorporating local historic preservation plans.
  • Develop a greenway plan for headwater riparian corridors and other conservation areas.
  • Develop a coordinated indicators program to measure and monitor the ecological health of the region.
  • Promote aggressive deer management strategies at the local, county and State level and conduct studies of the effect of deer harvest on the forest.
  • Promote the eradication of invasive non native plant species and promote the restoration of native species.
  • Promote use of best management practices to conserve critical woodland, grassland and wetland habitat, including trail maintenance.
  • Protect surface and groundwater quality and quantity to maintain the ecological integrity of natural ecosystems and human health using best management practices and effective land use management.
  • Explore enhanced environmental protection standards. The municipalities should adopt more protective standards for native vegetation and wildlife within the Sourland Mountain region through local ordinances.
  • Manage limited growth to be compatible with ecological constraints. This would involve a “zero tolerance” approach to pollution, destruction and degradation.
  • Continue to explore the option of a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program for vacant undersized lots to relocate development from the Sourland Mountain core area to less environmentally constrained areas.
  • Develop equitable strategies to phase out and prevent new incompatible agricultural activities within the water-poor forested core area.
  • Establish protective and regenerative environmental protection strategies, ordinances and design and performance standards for new development and redevelopment.
  • Require each buildable lot to have a primary and a reserve septic field.
  • Develop land stewardship programs for farmers, woodland owners and homeowners and discourage the planting of invasive vegetation.
  • Provide public education about resource conservation to guide those who will live, work and play on the Sourland Mountain.

Best Management Practices and Policies for Resource Protection:

Best management practices (BMPs) relate to the most appropriate and efficient uses of land that will, at the very least, minimize the overall impact on natural resources.
Regulatory strategies can be designed to accomplish a variety of objectives that include: reducing forest penetration and fragmentation and development disturbance to protect areas with high resource values.
Non-Regulatory Strategies generally fall into three major categories: Land acquisition, inventory needs and land stewardship.

Ground Water:

The water that lands as rainfall does not know political boundaries. Waters of the five Sourland Townships eventually make their way to the Stony Brook, Millstone and Delaware Rivers.  This plan encourages the five municipalities to work across their political boundaries. Whether it originates on or below the surface, when water comes out of the tap in the Sourlands, it likely traveled under the surface from higher points of the watershed through cracks and faults until it was pumped up from a well.
Ground water is a resource often forgotten until the well runs dry.  Our typical relationship to water involves turning on the faucet to fill a glass, brush our teeth, or wash the dishes.  In the Sourlands our efforts to conserve water and promote infiltration of rain into the ground help to keep clean water flowing through our faucets.

The Sourland Alliance should promote the following benefits of water efficiency:

  • Fewer sewage system failures caused from water overwhelming the system.
  • Healthier natural pollution filters such as downstream wetlands.
  • Reduced water contamination caused by polluted runoff from over-irrigating yards and agricultural lands.
  • Reduced need to construct additional dams and reservoirs or otherwise regulate the natural flow of streams, thus preserving their free flow and retaining the value of stream and river systems as wildlife habitats and recreational areas.
  • Reduced need to construct additional water and wastewater treatment facilities.
  • Reduced surface water withdrawals that degrade habitat both in streams and on land close to streams and lakes.
  • Enhanced water well yield.


Stormwater management should be designed to employ a “design with nature” approach, as defined in the New Jersey Stormwater Best Management Practices Manual, prepared by the NJDEP – Division of Watershed Management. Stormwater should, to the greatest extent possible, be managed in a decentralized manner and utilize low impact mechanisms wherever feasible. In order to promote best management practices, municipalities should be encouraged to strengthen their stormwater ordinances to be more protective than the general state model ordinance.

The SA should encourage the retrofitting of existing detention basins and other non structural vegetative practices.
Additional recommendations from the NJ DEP’s Best Management Practices manual for promoting water conservation and infiltration of ground water include natural landscaping and pervious pavement.

Wetlands and Vernal Pools

Wetlands and vernal pools provide benefits such as protecting the water quality of lakes and streams; removing excess nitrogen; reducing flooding (wetlands act like a sponge); keeping streams flowing in dry periods.
The Sourland Alliance should work to ensure that adequate buffer areas are in place to protect wetlands and vernal pools, in addition to the regulated transition areas.

Steep Slopes

Protecting steep slopes, hillsides, and ridgelines helps preserve unique qualities of a landscape that might otherwise be lost to development.  In addition to protecting the natural landscape, steep slope regulations should be enforced as a precaution for public health, safety and environmental protection in a manner that allows a landowner use of the land, while avoiding drainage and stormwater problems.

Grassland Habitat Management

Improved management approaches are being advanced by Federal, State, County agencies and non-profit conservation organizations that will aid grassland habitat and resource conservation in the Sourland Mountain.

Some Non-Regulatory Strategies:
A variety of practices could be employed to alleviate these impacts and provide beneficial results for wildlife and farmers, including:

  • Implementation of a delayed mowing program. Hay producers should conduct their first harvest no earlier than July 15 to permit one brood of grassland birds to fledge.
  • Restoration of agricultural/hayfields using native warm season grasses which may require herbicide treatment for establishment and management but do not require annual fertilizer or insecticide applications.
  • Planting warm season grasses which are more resistant to drought and pests.
  • Restoring meadows with native warm season grasses.
  • Restoring meadows with native warm season grasses to allow for wildflowers and other plants to grow in the open areas, attracting insects for nesting grassland species to feed on.
  • Encouraging landowners, planners, and/or stewards developing restoration plans or conducting plantings to consult with experts (i.e. Natural Resources Conservation Service) for technical assistance.
  • Requesting private landowners to mow fields with blades at 6-8” high to minimize injuries and deaths to native turtles and snakes. In addition, encourage hay producers to harvest the field from the inside outward rather than the outside inward. This will allow some ground nesting birds to escape injury or death from haying activities.

Forest Management for Habitat Improvement:

The species diversity and abundance of intact habitat on the Sourland Mountain fits the definition of a priority habitat site.

To determine the appropriate management techniques to improve habitat, the SA must assess the types of wildlife, their specific habitat needs, and the dates they thrive in this habitat. The SA should explore mitigation requirements such as no net loss of habitat value occurs.

Forest Management Recommendations:

In the Sourland Mountain region, forest management for purposes of preferential property tax treatment is currently undertaken by individual property owners with little clear coordination toward a common goal. The future health of the forest would be enhanced if these individual harvesting decisions were coordinated through a centralized oversight process, where the long-term resource management goals for the region could be advanced. The Forest Stewardship Law passed in early 2010, when implemented, will provide for required specific stewardship activities without the necessity of cutting down trees unless the plan so requires.
Identifying forest subwatershed integrity within the Sourland Mountain region should remain a component in determining levels of protection for each type of forest subwatershed.
An analysis of the species of wildlife present, as well as the times of year, duration of time they inhabit the area and their pattern of movement is needed to better understand the diversity of wildlife in the Sourlands, and appropriate levels of protection / management.  This can be done by following the NRCS’ GAP Analysis Process which will produce a “Species Richness Map”.
Some Non-Regulatory Strategies:

  • Encourage and provide incentives for implementing “no management” and “infrequently harvested” strategies on privately-held land, wetland, and wetland buffer easements.
  • Identifying preserved open space and interior forest blocks within the Sourland Mountain region can aid in identifying and prioritizing interstitial areas that would be valuable to add as additional core areas or connecting corridors.
  • Provide for regional-scale review of individual harvest plans and review harvest plans as they are submitted in order to consolidate proposed cutting into shelterwood cuts up to 10 acres and located, whenever possible, away from forest patches and clustered in such a way to preserve the maximum amount of core forest and reduce edge.
  • Harvest boles and the largest limbs only.
  • Retain screens of mature forest between cuts and adjacent private lands and public roads where aesthetics are of concern.
  • Educate the public on the value of these techniques and provide outreach and education materials and signage for cut areas on publicly-held lands.
  • Address deer overpopulation through a community-based deer management plan.
  • The management of invasive plant species, especially those near the Core Forest, should be prioritized.
  • Special attention should be paid to safeguarding the numerous rare and declining plants which currently live in the Sourlands, especially deep-forest herbs.

Some Regulatory Strategies:

  • The Core Forest (continually forested area which has never experienced soil disturbance from agriculture) should be precisely delineated utilizing GIS and searching through the oldest possible records to determine its extent.
  • Require publicly-held land, wetland, and wetland buffer easements to remain undisturbed, especially in core areas of mature forest.
  • Prohibit within any portion of the Sourland Mountain Region, any forest disturbance that by definition constitutes deforestation.
  • Adopt a woodlands and tree protection ordinance.
  • Management, when it must take place at all (for example in situations where landowners are compelled to manage in order to obtain farmland tax assessment) should manage for regeneration of the disappearing understory: native shrubs, understory trees and forest herbs.

Riparian Area Habitat Management Recommendations

When a riparian area is protected, it functions as a filter, removing sediment, nutrients, and pollutants by providing opportunities for filtration, absorption, and decomposition.  It reduces stream bank erosion by slowing stormwater velocity, which aids in allowing stormwater to be absorbed in the soil and taken up by vegetation. In addition, a properly functioning riparian buffer prevents flood-related damage by storing stormwater and releasing it slowly; provides shade to maintain cool water temperatures needed to provide a suitable habitat and nutrients for terrestrial and aquatic species; helps to maintain biological diversity and adequate flows of water to underground aquifers; and provides greenway corridors for wildlife.

Some Non-Regulatory Strategies:

  • Maintenance of forest areas to prevent streambank erosion and non-point source pollution and to reduce sediment entering the waterway.
  • Maintenance and restoration of the streambank vegetation with native species trees, shrubs and grasses.
  • Education of homeowners of Best Management Practices for the proper discharge of pool water.
  • Encouragement of residents and businesses to practice good land stewardship by removing invasive species and choosing native vegetation for plantings on uplands and riparian areas and minimizing the use of pesticides and fertilizers as much as possible.

Some Regulatory Strategies:

  • Adopt a stream corridor ordinance.
  • Seek stream protection through enhanced stream classification (i.e. Category One) under Surface Water Quality Standards (SWQS) (N.J.A.C.7:9B) and Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules (FHACA) (N.J.A.C. 7:13).

Environmental Health Monitoring

Protection of the Sourlands can be enhanced with the development of an indicators program that identifies and measures a variety of indicators of environmental health.  Indicators should include: stream chemical and physical quality; stream biomonitoring; groundwater quantity and quality; breeding bird surveys; land use/land cover; plant species inventories and maps; amphibian monitoring; and other.
Open Space and Recreation Opportunities:
Open space lands include active and passive recreation areas, gardens, naturalized areas (including stormwater techniques such as naturalized swales), trail systems, and critical environmental areas such as steep slopes, habitat lands, wetlands, water bodies, riparian corridors, and forests.  In the Sourlands, the preservation and conservation of unique and scarce resources is key to the long term viability of the Region as a critical habitat and home to human population.
In addition to the preservation of land, there is also a concerted effort to create a contiguous trail system throughout the region and beyond. The D&R Greenway Land Trust and other nonprofits, including the New Jersey Trails Association, have been working toward identifying and expanding the current trail system. One of the goals of these efforts is to create greenway linkages between the Delaware River and the Sourland Preserve in Somerset County, as well as north-south trails between the agricultural valleys and historic settlements.
The following are examples of evaluative criteria when ranking or considering open space purchases: critical water resource areas, greenways/linkages, increase of contiguous holdings, development of new linkages, cultural/historical lands, scenic viewsheds and development pressure.

Land Use and Management Plan:

Despite a scattered pattern of low density housing, sloping farm fields and a small complement of commercial uses, the distribution of land cover types in the Sourland region reflects and reinforces the high resource values that are unique to the region.
According to 2007 Land Use/Land Cover data, published by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), not quite half (44%) of the Sourland Mountain region is covered by forest, while 16% is in urban land use (residential, commercial, industrial, government, etc.). Agriculture (25%), wetlands (13%), barren land (1%) and water (1%) account for the remainder.

Between 1995 and 2007, development generally occurred outside of the forested ridge of the Sourlands and was generally located on the fringe of the ridge.

Reinforcing the pattern of historic development, the lands converted to development are generally outside of the forested mountaintop, along the foothills and in the valleys surrounding the Sourland Mountain.

Models of Municipal Cooperation:

The Ten Towns Great Swamp Watershed Management Committee (Ten Towns Committee) was established in June 1995 to coordinate regional watershed management efforts. The model recognized that a top-down approach would be opposed by local municipalities and suggested harnessing the collective land-use decision-making powers of the affected municipalities. The result was Ten Towns Committee, created through an inter-municipal agreement adopted unanimously by the ten municipal governing bodies (Bernards Township, Bernardsville, Chatham Township, Harding Township, Long Hill Township, Madison Borough, Mendham Township, Mendham Borough, Morris Township, and Morristown).
The specific purpose of the agreement was the development and implementation of a watershed management plan for the Great Swamp watershed.

Framework for Regional Land Use Regulations:

Effective protection of the Sourland Mountain Region will depend on regional initiatives that look beyond political borders and focus on the broader ecosystem function and extended human neighborhood.

Current management standards that categorically regulate steep slopes, wetlands, floodplains, forest resources, critical habitat, and water quality all address important issues.  However, a more systemic approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of these resource areas can result in the sum of the whole system approach being greater than the combination of the separate parts.
In order to achieve this goal, creative ordinances should holistically approach all resource features within the watershed as they relate to each other, from the lowest drainages to the highest ridges and everywhere in between. Recognizing that the ecosystem also varies throughout the region, ordinances should be creative and flexible enough to allow for best management practices that can be expanded as the need arises. To this end, the Plan seeks to identify regulations and best management practices that will provide protection to the ecosystem but which can be uniquely adapted to fit local circumstances. The appendix provides Model/Sample Ordinances addressing the following resource management concerns:

  • Stream Corridor Protection
  • Woodlands Protection/Forest Management/Tree Conservation
  • Well head Protection

Municipal Sustainability Initiatives
Municipalities are increasingly embracing more sustainable practices and educating residents and businesses about these principles.
The SA should seek to coordinate and guide such education efforts toward practices that are most beneficial, efficient and cost-effective. In the long run, cost considerations will help drive society toward a greener future.



  • Develop a Sourland Alliance
  • Identify the forest core and corridors for preservation
  • Identify an agricultural retention area
  • Prepare a comprehensive Forest Management Plan for the region
  • Prepare a comprehensive cultural resource management plan for the region
  • Prioritize open space acquisitions
  • Develop a greenway plan
  • Promote diverse partnerships to assure enhanced stewardship
  • Develop a coordinated indicators program to measure and monitor ecological health


  • Promote effective deer management
  • Promote use of best management practices for woodland, grassland and wetland habitat
  • Protect surface and groundwater quality and quantity
  • Prepare a comprehensive cultural resource management plan.
  • Protect the core forest
  • Promote forest revitalization


  • Explore enhanced environmental protection standards.
  • Manage limited growth to be compatible with ecological constraints.
  • Explore use of a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program
  • Limit anthropogenic demands on the environment
  • Develop equitable strategies to phase out incompatible activities within the water-poor forested core area.
  • Minimize impervious coverage in aquifer recharge areas
  • Limit water use by new development and agriculture.
  • Require each buildable lot to have a primary and a reserve septic field.


  • Catalog and disseminate sound habitat management
  • Develop land stewardship programs for farmers, woodland owners and homeowners
  • Provide public education about resource conservation
  • Provide learning opportunities about the Sourlands

The formation of the Sourland Alliance should be a joint effort of the host communities with input from the non-profit partners that have been instrumental in conservation and preservation efforts to date. Working through effective alliances, municipalities can better coordinate their efforts, combine their purchasing power for the broadest possible blanket of preservation, and benefit from each other’s experiences and work efforts.