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Cultivating a culture of health

April 24th, 2015

RELEASE:April 24, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 17

What makes a community healthy – or not? And how can a community with significant health challenges improve? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation spends a lot of time thinking about these questions.

Every year for the past six years, the New Jersey-based foundation has compiled its “County Health Rankings,” an incredibly detailed report with health snapshots of every county in the United States.

The rankings are based on a wide variety of factors affecting the current and future health of communities; factors like high school graduation rates, employment, access to health care, diet and exercise habits, rates of smoking, air and drinking water quality, drug and alcohol abuse, and neighborhood safety.

Here in New Jersey, the results have been consistent over the years, with the more affluent rural/suburban counties posting the best “health outcomes,” defined as residents’ length of life and quality of life.

For 2015, Hunterdon County ranked as New Jersey’s healthiest county, followed by Somerset, Morris, Bergen and Middlesex. Cumberland County got the lowest ranking, with Atlantic, Camden, Salem and Essex rounding out the bottom five.

In the top-ranked New Jersey counties, most residents have medical insurance and access to important health screenings. They also have access to healthy foods and great places to exercise, and their communities have low crime rates. The lower ranked counties, on the other hand, have higher unemployment rates, less access to health care and higher obesity rates.

But must less wealth mean poorer health? Not according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “No matter where a county ranks—bottom, middle, or top—all counties can take action to improve,” the 2015 report concluded.

The foundation encourages communities to cultivate a “culture of health” through collaborations between government agencies, businesses, health care providers, social service agencies, community organizations and other groups. Every year, the foundation gives Culture of Health Awards to communities that have excelled in efforts to help residents live healthier lives.

Here are three of the 2014 winners:

  • Buncombe County, N.C., is a rural area surrounding Asheville. Despite high childhood poverty rates, the community resolved to become a healthier place for the next generation.  Among its initiatives are “Rainbow in my Tummy,” designed to make sure young children have access to and knowledge about locally grown foods.
  • Brownsville, Texas, on the Mexico border, is seriously challenged by high obesity and diabetes rates. The community created a new trail at the site of an abandoned rail line – the first in a planned network of bike paths – with the ultimate goal of having a trail within a half-mile of all residents. They are providing bicycles for children and encouraging them to ride regularly.
  • At over 1,000 years old, Taos Puebla, N.M., is perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. This Native American community is returning to its agrarian roots through a community growers’ cooperative to encourage self-sufficiency and healthy eating. Taos Puebla is also providing exercise programs for residents of all ages.

 Kudos to the Culture of Health winners, and may we all be inspired by their examples! New Jersey has many health challenges, but we also have hundreds of communities working to provide better health care, wellness education, access to locally grown foods, and parks and preserves where people can exercise and refresh their spirits.

To learn more about the health rankings, go to www.countyhealthrankings.org.  If you want to challenge yourself to become more fit, check out the Step Into Nature Challenge at www.njconservation.org/StepIntoNatureChallenge.htm.

And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

‘Let food be thy medicine’

April 17th, 2015

RELEASE:April 17, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 16

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” declared Hippocrates, the Greek physician who lived nearly 2,500 years ago and is considered the father of modern medicine.

If Hippocrates were to visit present day America, he’d surely be dazzled by our array of medical advances and astounded at our immense variety of foods. But after seeing how many diseases are caused by poor diets, he’d probably be more convinced than ever about food being medicine.

And if Hippocrates were to come to Morristown, N.J., on May 2, he’d find lots of others in agreement about the right foods making all the difference in health and vitality.

On Saturday, May 2, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey, better known as NOFA-NJ, will present the “Food as Medicine Conference,” an all-day exploration of the relationship between food and health.

NOFA-NJ is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting organic and sustainable food, farming, and gardening in New Jersey.

Featured speakers include Dr. Linda Robins, a homeopathic doctor who practices in Montclair; Annmarie Cantrell, a Pennsylvania nutrition and wellness consultant who treats childhood illnesses like allergies, ADHD and autism; and Donna Burka Wild, a Colorado-based nutritionist and herbalist who grew up in New Jersey.

Can the foods we eat really change the way we feel? And can healthy eating reduce or eliminate the need for certain medications?

“We are what we eat,” says Dr. Robins. “There are a thousand choices we make every day – eat this or don’t eat that.  Everything we put in our mouths and on our skin has a profound impact on how we feel.” The foods we choose, she adds, can either boost our immune systems and overall health – or harm them.

Dr. Robins sees afflictions like headaches or insomnia as “messengers,” similar to warning lights on a car’s dashboard. Their message they’re sending is that the body is not getting enough of what it needs, or too much of what’s hurting it.

All three speakers are proponents of a nutrient-rich diet that turns back the hands of time to the days before our national food supply became widely industrialized and processed.

“We should eat the foods that our ancestors ate, foods that are high in essential vitamins and minerals,” advises Cantrell. Pasture-raised meats and eggs are high on her list, as well as vegetables and fruits grown from heirloom seeds and plants.

“The better and more wholesome a diet you eat, the less you’re going to spend on medical bills,” said Wild, who would add fermented foods, healthy fats and raw milk and dairy products to the list of should-eats.

In the opinions of these experts, genetically modified foods, processed foods and foods grown with pesticides and fertilizers should be avoided. Foods grown locally, organically, sustainably and humanely are best for good health – and the environment.

So-called “cheap foods” are not actually cheap in the long run, notes Dr. Robins. “You either pay it now or pay it later (in medical costs).  A lot of times, we’re being fed but not nourished.”

The three speakers will offer advice on choosing, finding and preparing foods that act as medicines to promote health and well-being – and doing it affordably.

To learn more about the Food as Medicine Conference, visit the NOFA-NJ website at www.nofanj.org/foodasmedicine.htm.  For more information on healthy eating, visit the Weston A. Price Foundation website at www.westonaprice.org/health-topics.

And for more information about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

New grant funds help New Jerseyans hit the trail

April 10th, 2015

RELEASE:April 10, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 15

Believe it or not, our woods, fields, meadows, lawns and gardens are finally greening up, and it’s time for New Jersey’s “hibernators” to stretch their legs and get outdoors again!

There’s no better – or more economical – path to health and fitness than getting out on New Jersey’s trails. In addition to building muscles and improving heart health, a walk, run or bike ride in nature lifts depression and boosts feelings of well-being.

We’re lucky to have a vast network of trails in this state we’re in! New Jersey’s trails range from short loops in local parks to ultra-long paths like the 72-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail through the Highlands or the 53-mile Batona Trail in the Pine Barrens.  Some trails are for hiking only, and some allow biking and horseback riding. There are even “paddle trails” for canoes and kayaks.  And nearly all are free!

So it’s very welcome news to hear that the state Department of Environmental Protection is once again accepting applications for Recreation Trail Program grants.

Local, county, state and federal agencies, as well as nonprofit groups, can apply for nearly $1.5 million in funds to develop, maintain and restore tails and trail-related facilities. The funds come from the motor fuel excise tax, via the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Since the Recreation Trails Program began in 1993, more than $18 million has been awarded to projects in New Jersey.

“Trails provide recreational and health benefits to people and improve the quality of life in our communities. New Jersey residents of all ages will be able to enjoy the trails that are created and improved with this funding,” said Bob Martin, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

The goal of the program is to improve access to nature, enhance environmental resources, create urban and suburban corridors, and provide additional hiking, biking and horseback riding opportunities in all parts of the state.

Past years’ projects included improvements to the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park, Watchung Reservation, Liberty State Park, Hacklebarney State Park, Round Valley Recreation Area, Patriots’ Path in Morris County, the Batona Trail, Allaire State Park, Stokes State Forest and the Morris Canal Greenway.

A few “water trail” projects were funded, including the Tidal Maurice River Water Trail and the Meadowlands Paddle Trails. Several projects provided summer youth employment through groups like the Student Conservation Association.

Applicants have until April 30 to apply for the newest round of trails funding. If previous years are any indication, there should be a lot of interest; last time there were twice as many applicants as grants awarded.

Get out and enjoy a trail today! The combined benefits of fresh air, exercise and the beauty of nature can’t be beat!

And if you want to challenge yourself this year, join the “Step Into Nature Challenge.”  You decide on your personal goals – for example, hiking 100 miles or biking 500 miles – and New Jersey Conservation will help you achieve them in the state’s great outdoors. Go to http://www.njconservation.org/StepIntoNatureChallenge.htm for information and registration.

To find a trail near you, check out the New York New Jersey Trail Conference website at www.nynjtc.org, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s trailhead locator map at www.njconservation.org/recreation.htm , the New Jersey Trails website at www.njtrails.org or the New Jersey Hiking website at www.njhiking.com.

And to learn more about preserving land and natural resources in the Garden State, visit the New Jersey Conservation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Taking ‘plastic soup’ off the menu

April 3rd, 2015

RELEASE:April 3, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 14

Ever seen “plastic soup” on a restaurant menu or store shelf? Let’s hope not!

Plastic soup is the decidedly unappetizing term for plastic pollution in our waters. You wouldn’t deliberately consume plastic soup … but you may already be without knowing it.

How? Tiny, non-biodegradable plastic particles known as microbeads have become insidious and invisible polluters of our waters.

The size of a grain of sand – and often much smaller – microbeads are found in many facial and body cleansing scrubs and toothpastes.

Microbeads are made of polyethylene or polypropylene, the same plastics used to manufacture garbage containers, grocery bags and much more. They’ve replaced natural abrasives such as pumice and crushed almonds. A single tube of a personal care product can contain over 300,000 microbeads!

Most wastewater treatment plants can’t filter out or break down these tiny plastic particles, so they end up in rivers and streams and oceans. Once in the water, they absorb toxins from other pollutants. They’re then ingested by aquatic life and passed into the food chain. They can also get into drinking water supplies.

Fortunately, the New Jersey Legislature is taking plastic soup off the menu!

A bill banning the manufacture and sale of personal care products and over-the-counter drugs with microbeads was unanimously passed by the Assembly and Senate last year and amended earlier this year. Governor Christie signed the measure into law on March 23, making New Jersey only the second state in the nation, behind Illinois, to do so.

Two-thirds of New Jersey’s drinking water begins in our rivers and streams, so the ban on microbeads is a victory for the health and safety of both human and marine life!

“There are many suitable alternatives to the use of microbeads that are far better for the environment,” said Assemblyman Tim Eustace, one of the bill’s sponsors. “A prohibition against microplastics will save our waters, fishing industry and fragile ecosystem from enduring any further damage or potential harmful effects due to prolonged exposure.”

The new state law bans the manufacturing of microbeads by Jan. 1, 2018, and prohibits the sale and promotion of items containing them effective Jan. 1, 2019. Over-the-counter drugs containing plastic microbeads would be prohibited beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

The time lag before the law takes effect was built in to give manufacturers of toothpastes, exfoliant scrubs and other products enough time to sell off their existing inventory. However, some manufacturers are reportedly voluntarily phasing microbeads out of their products now.

Do you want to make sure you’re not buying products containing microbeads? There’s an app for that, which allows consumers to scan a product’s bar code with their smartphone. To get the free app, go to http://get.beatthemicrobead.org/. To see a list of products with microbeads, go to http://beatthemicrobead.org/images/pdf/RED%20UNITED%20STATES.pdf.

If you want to learn more about worldwide efforts to stop the manufacture and sale of microbeads, visit the 5 Gyres Institute page at http://5gyres.org/how_to_get_involved/campaigns-microbead/.

And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Want to hear a ‘new’ frog species? Now’s the time

March 27th, 2015

RELEASE:March 27, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 13

Here in America’s most densely populated metropolitan area, it’s hard to believe there are still new animal species being discovered!

But thanks to modern technology and the work of Rutgers University doctoral student Jeremy Feinberg, the existence of a previously unidentified species of leopard frog was confirmed last fall.

This thumb-sized amphibian, the Atlantic Coast leopard frog, lives in the swamps and marshes of eight East Coast states, including New Jersey. It looks similar to two other leopard frogs, but its mating call is distinctly different.

 “It was my dream when I was a teen to find a new species,” said Feinberg. “Then it happened and I can’t believe it.”

The confirmation of the Atlantic Coast leopard frog solved a nearly 80-year-old mystery that began with a herpetologist named Carl Kauffeld, who worked as the director of the Staten Island Zoo and at the American Museum of Natural History.

In the 1930s, Kauffeld thought that this region was home to three distinct species of leopard frog – not two, as was believed. But his 1937 paper didn’t have enough proof to convince the scientific community, and Kauffeld died in 1974 without official recognition of his discovery.

Fast forward to 2008, when Feinberg explored a marshy area of Staten Island while researching southern leopard frogs. He knew their mating call by heart, having spent three years studying them at Bass River State Forest in New Jersey.

But what he heard on Staten Island was not familiar. “When I stepped out of my car and heard the chorus, I thought: wow, this is strange,” he recalled. “I had a really strong feeling right then and there” that it was a different species of leopard frog.

Unlike Kauffeld, Feinberg had a host of new technology at his disposal. He and fellow researchers used DNA samples and acoustic measuring techniques to determine that the frog on Staten Island was indeed a distinct species.

He also stumbled upon a YouTube video of the same frog taken at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. It turned out that the video was posted by Brian Zarate, now a reptile and amphibian zoologist with the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife. Zarate became a collaborator in the study, proving that the new frog was also in New Jersey.

Word spread, and scientists and hobbyists identified the new frog in a range extending from Connecticut to North Carolina. As Joanna Burger – Feinberg’s doctoral advisor – put it, the frog had been “hiding in plain sight” all these years.

In a nice turn of justice, researchers named the new leopard frog Rana kauffeldi in honor of Kauffeld.

The Atlantic Coast leopard frog’s mating season is from now through mid-April, and New Jersey frog aficionados can hear its cough-like chorus at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Cape May Point State Park, Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area and Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area.

But it could be found elsewhere in New Jersey, and citizen scientists can help! Atlantic Coast leopard frogs live in places with large, ponded areas of fresh water. Anyone hearing what they believe is Rana kauffeldi  should record the chorus with their phone’s voice memo feature, and make sure to get GPS coordinates or an exact location description.

To listen to the call of the Atlantic Coast leopard frog, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vm0e9-iCOMM  or www.plosone.org/annotation/listThread.action?root=83078. If you capture a recording and location, contact Matthew Schlesinger – another research collaborator – at matthew.schlesinger@dec.ny.gov.

And to learn more about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Lyme disease, polar bears, coral reefs and climate

March 19th, 2015

RELEASE:March 19, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 12

Addressing a crowd of more than 350 people gathered in Trenton, Nobel laureate Dr. Eric Chivian asked a question: How many people have had Lyme disease or know someone who had it?

Almost every hand shot up. This shouldn’t surprise most folks who live in New Jersey.

But why? Dr. Chivian, a Harvard professor and New Jersey native, offered a theory: Reduced vertebrate diversity, caused at least in part by climate change, promotes the disease’s spread.

He explained that the bacteria causing Lyme disease spread only when a deer tick bites an infected mammal capable of passing the bacteria into the tick. Many mammal species are not capable of passing the Lyme bacteria between generations of ticks. But white-footed mice are extremely capable!

In places lacking vertebrate diversity, noted Dr. Chivian, there are fewer “incapable hosts” for ticks to feed on; thus more white-footed mice are bitten.

Less diversity also means fewer rodents competing with white-footed mice … and fewer large predators like gray foxes, bobcats, short-tailed weasels, black rat snakes, barred owls and sharp-shinned hawks available to prey on mice. In that way, places like the East Coast end up with high concentrations of mice and ticks carrying Lyme bacteria – and, eventually, more Lyme disease in humans.

Dr. Chivian was the keynote speaker on March 6 at the annual New Jersey Land Conservation Conference, an educational event for professionals and volunteers in the field of preserving land. His talk centered on how to make global warming more understandable and compelling by focusing on human health impacts.

In 1985, Dr. Chivian and three other Harvard faculty members won the Nobel Peace Prize for establishing the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. The group succeeded, he said, because it described nuclear explosions in terms of human health impacts – third degree burns, skull fractures and radiation sickness.

He suggests using the same “medical model” in talking about climate change.  Here are two other examples:

Polar bears are greatly affected by global warming, because the melting of the Arctic ice sheet harms their ability to capture seals, their main food source.

Polar bears are fascinating to medical researchers. They’re immobile five to seven months a year during hibernation, yet they don’t get osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass that affects humans and nearly every other mammal during prolonged inactivity. They don’t eat, drink, urinate or defecate during hibernation, yet they don’t starve, become dehydrated or have kidney failure. They become massively obese from eating seal blubber, yet they don’t develop Type II diabetes.

“With the loss of polar bears, which must be studied in the wild as bears don’t hibernate in zoos, we may lose with them the secrets they hold that could allow us to treat and perhaps even prevent three largely untreatable diseases – osteoporosis, kidney failure and obesity-related Type II diabetes,” said Dr. Chivian. Together, these diseases kill some 400,000 Americans each year.

“This is what global warming and the melting of Arctic ice and the loss of polar bears in the wild really means for us,” said Dr. Chivian.

Climate change is also causing the loss of tropical coral reefs, mainly from warming ocean temperatures but also because waters are becoming more acidic.

Among the animals that live in coral reefs are cone snails, which paralyze their prey by firing poison-coated “harpoons.” Some 700 cone snail species each make many distinct toxins. Only a small number have been studied, said Chivian, but one has been shown to be a powerful painkiller in humans – 1,000 times more potent than morphine, without causing addiction or tolerance.

“Some believe that cone snails may provide more leads to important medications for people than any other group of organisms in nature,” said Dr. Chivian. But can they survive global warming and ocean acidification? “This is what losing coral reefs really means.”

Dr. Chivian’s message provides serious food for thought. While many of us may be able to imagine life without snorkeling in coral reefs or watching polar bear cubs, it’s far less tolerable to contemplate forever losing pieces of nature that hold the promise of enormous medical advances.

Dr. Chivian will be leaving the Harvard School of Public Health this summer to run his own nonprofit, the Program for Preserving the Natural World. His message is one that deserves to be heard, and we hope the world takes heed!

To learn more about Dr. Chivian’s work, go to www.chgeharvard.org/press/farewell-message-dr-eric-chivian.

And for more information on preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Protect NJ’s water on World Water Day

March 13th, 2015

RELEASE:March 13, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 11

March 22 is World Water Day, a global reminder about water’s fundamental support of life.

Clean and abundant water doesn’t happen by itself, which is why the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 established the first World Water Day. Every year, World Water Day shines a spotlight on a particular aspect of water supply and protection.

This year’s theme is “Water and Sustainable Development,” which is especially appropriate for New Jersey. This state we’re in is the most developed in the nation, with an average density more than 1,200 people per square mile.

By the middle of this century, the Garden State is projected to become the first state to reach “full build-out,” a point where all land is either developed or preserved. And if we don’t safeguard our water, the future of our state will be at risk.

 “It’s all about the water,” said Jim Waltman, executive director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association in Pennington, at the annual New Jersey Land Conservation Conference on March 6. He shared some interesting New Jersey water facts:

New Jersey is actually getting wetter as our climate changes. During the period from 1900 to 1970, the state’s average annual precipitation was 43.86 inches. But in the 21st century, the average has been 49.46 inches, an increase of more than five inches – or 12.7 percent! This wetter weather impacts both flooding and drinking water quality.

Impervious surfaces in the state have been increasing for decades, meaning stormwater has fewer places to soak into the ground. Instead, stormwater runoff gushes toward streams, culverts and storm drains, often causing flash flooding. The state historically has overbuilt in flood plains, so lives and property are increasingly at risk.

At the same time, water quality in streams and rivers is degraded by the increased rainfall. Stream banks erode during heavy rainstorms, filling waterways with muddy sediment. Because much of the state’s drinking water supply comes from rivers, murkier waters make filtration and treatment all the more difficult and expensive.

There are no simple answers, but steps can be taken to protect water quality and control flooding.

One is to preserve more land – especially in places along and near waterways – and restore the natural hydrology of preserved lands. “We need to buy people out (in flood-prone areas) who are willing to be bought out,” said Waltman. This is can be difficult, he acknowledged. Land in New Jersey is expensive and preservation funds are limited.

Individuals and communities can help reduce runoff and sedimentation. One relatively easy way is by installing “rain gardens.” These gardens typically include a depression in the topography to catch runoff water, and the planting of vegetation that thrives in wet conditions. Other measures include green roofs and “rain bladders,” pillow-like storage tanks to maximize collection of rainwater during heavy rainfalls.

Finally, we can defend and support strong regional planning in the Highlands and Pinelands. These regional plans protect forests and wetlands, and steer development toward the most appropriate places and away from natural resources like water supplies.

Celebrate World Water Day by appreciating the H2O we have, and learning more about how to protect this most essential element to life!

For more information, go to the World Water Day website at www.unwater.org/worldwaterday/home/en/.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Endangered bobcat population increasing in NJ

March 5th, 2015

RELEASE:March 5, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 10

Among New Jersey’s native wild animals, few are more shy and elusive than bobcats. Even wildlife biologists who are constantly searching for these magnificent cats consider themselves lucky to see one.

“It’s just a flash that quickly disappears,” said Gretchen Fowles, a biologist with the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species program, and head of a project to track the state’s bobcat population. “They’re pretty rare to see.”

Though bobcats are hard to spot in the wild, it appears that their numbers are increasing. This is great news for a species that had essentially vanished from New Jersey by the 1970s due to habitat loss … and it shows that state restoration efforts are working. 

Bobcats are New Jersey’s only native cat, and they’re far smaller than cougars or lions – about twice the size of a housecat.  Females generally weigh 18 to 25 pounds, while males can weigh up to 38 pounds. Their markings range from spotted patterns to “tabby” stripes, and their distinctive bobbed tail has a black tip.

They’re lightning-fast predators who mostly eat small mammals like rabbits, squirrels and mice – although they’ve been known to take down small or sick deer and catch wild turkeys.

Bobcat restoration efforts began in the late 1970s, when state wildlife officials trapped cats in Maine and brought them back to New Jersey. From 1978 to 1982, 24 bobcats were released in sections of Warren, Sussex and Morris counties north of Interstate 80. In 1991, the bobcat was placed on the state’s endangered species list.

Because bobcats are so elusive, counting their numbers and detecting population trends poses a real challenge to scientists, according to Fowles.

The state uses a number of methods, including trapping bobcats and outfitting them with radio collars, and using a trained detection dog to find scat in the woods that is collected and subjected to DNA analysis. An analysis of sloughed-off intestinal cells in the scat can reveal the cat’s gender and help researchers keep track of individual animals over time.

Sadly, another source of data is dead bobcats found along roadsides, the victims of motor vehicle collisions. On average, said Fowles, about eight or nine dead bobcats are reported by motorists each year. Researchers collect the bodies and test their DNA, and keep track of the locations of “mortality hot spots.”

The state’s Endangered and Nongame Species program has also placed video cameras at several highway locations where animals are known to use drainage culverts and stream crossings to get from one side of the road to the other.

All this research underscores the challenges for bobcats and other animals: how to expand their range in the face of habitat fragmentation by manmade barriers like major highways. According to Fowles, roadways with a volume of more than 10,000 vehicles a day are perceived by bobcats as uncrossable, preventing what might otherwise be a natural expansion of their territory.

The Endangered and Nongame Species Program is launching a new project called “Connecting Habitat across New Jersey,” which maps critical habitat for bobcats and other species and identifies connecting corridors. The state Department of Transportation is part of the study group, and could use information from the mapping to create new safe crossings where roads have become barriers, and make existing passage areas safer in high-mortality spots.

But just because we can now install wildlife crossings does not justify new roads through patches of roadless habitat. It’s impossible to overcome all of the detrimental impacts of new roads on wildlife habitat.

Data collected on bobcats is now being analyzed by researcher at Rutgers University, who will come up with a “conservative” population estimate and identify population trends over time. Those numbers will be used to assist with the recovery of New Jersey’s bobcats.

Celebrate the bobcat’s rebound in New Jersey during National Wildlife Week, March 16-22. And, if you’re lucky, you might one day see one … but only if it doesn’t see you first!

To learn more about bobcats, go to the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey website at http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/blog/2014/12/17/new-jerseys-little-lion-biologists-shed-light-on-elusive-bobcat /.

And for more information about preserving land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Messing with success in the Meadowlands

February 27th, 2015

RELEASE:Feb. 27, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 9

The transformation of the Hackensack Meadowlands over the past 45 years – from a polluted dumping ground and butt of countless jokes to a birdwatcher’s paradise, eco-tourism destination and top-flight sports complex – is a Jersey miracle.

It didn’t happen by chance. It was planned. A regional planning commission was established in 1969 to oversee land use in the 30-square-mile Meadowlands area of Hudson and Bergen counties.

The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission earned national recognition for its regional plan. It pioneered an inter-municipal tax sharing program for the 14 Meadowlands towns, helping to eliminate competition for property tax revenues.  The Meadowlands Master Plan established protections for wetlands and sensitive marshes, and helped guide development to appropriate locations.

Once blighted, today’s Meadowlands are an economic engine, environmental jewel and educational resource. 

So why was nearly a half-century of progress in the Meadowlands jettisoned by the state Legislature in a mere 11 days, without time for meaningful public comment? In the absence of any findings or documentation that would justify this action, it’s hard to find a reason.

The state Legislature introduced a bill on Dec. 11 that would effectively end regional planning in the Meadowlands. It was approved by both houses 11 days later, on Dec. 22.  This may have set a new speed record for the Legislature, and was a clear signal to New Jerseyans that their input was not wanted.

Despite pleas from planning, smart-growth and environmental groups that the bill be vetoed or conditionally vetoed, Governor Christie signed it into law on Feb. 5 while admitting it was “imperfect.” Plans were announced immediately for new legislation to clarify and modify the original. 

The law now on the books, signed by the governor, merged the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and renamed it the Meadowlands Regional Commission. It also eliminated the property tax sharing program. 

Under the new law, towns within the Meadowlands region are now able to grant exceptions to planning and zoning regulations, and are no longer required to conform to the Meadowlands Master Plan. This seemingly reckless action sets back planning by decades, to the 1960s.

Because regional tax sharing has been eliminated, municipalities will once again vie for tax ratables.  According to the new law, a hotel tax of 3 percent will replace the tax sharing program. But much is unclear about how this would work … and the state will be on the hook if revenues fall short, meaning New Jersey taxpayers will ultimately pay.

The law also takes the Liberty State Park out of the control of the state Department of Environmental Protection by empowering the new commission to “evaluate, approve and implement” plans for its preservation, development, enhancement or improvement. This provision raises legitimate fears about potential commercialization of the park.

A bill to clarify and modify the new law – but only as it affects Liberty State Park – was introduced by the sponsors of the original bill, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen) and Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen). But the proposed “fix” does not adequately correct the concerns relating to control of the park.

And it does nothing to address the damage to New Jersey’s regional planning. This overnight move by the Legislature has undone 45 years of comprehensive land use planning – all without meaningful public discussion, debate or justification.

Please contact your legislators in Trenton! Tell them:

           Forty-five years of public investment in regional planning should not be reversed;

           This law sets a precedent for the dissolution of regional planning and sets our state back decades;

           The public interest is not served when laws are expedited without time for public comment;

           Wetlands and environmental protections for the Meadowlands must be maintained;

           The protection of Liberty State Park must be ensured to uphold the public trust and keep it as a public park.

To find your district’s legislators, go to www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp . To learn more about why the new law is a bad idea, go to www.njfuture.org/2015/02/04/veto-meadowlands-bill /.  To understand the work of the Meadowlands Commission go to www.njmeadowlands.gov/njmc/about/who-we-are.htm .

And for more information about preserving land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Buried creek to ‘see the light’ again

February 20th, 2015

RELEASE:Feb. 20, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 8

In downtown Trenton, it’s possible to stand on top of the Assunpink Creek without getting your feet wet. That’s because decades ago this tributary of the Delaware River was channeled into an underground culvert, disappearing from view between South Broad and South Warren streets.

This was never a good idea. The concrete channel prevented fish from migrating into the Delaware, and the natural beauty of the stream was lost to the public. Then, in 2006, part of the culvert roof collapsed, creating a safety hazard that had to be stabilized and fenced off. The area around it turned into an unsightly, overgrown lot.

But, thanks to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the Assunpink is set to rise again – literally – through a “daylighting” project.

The long-awaited restoration means removing the 500-foot culvert and creating a new stream channel closer to its historic location and farther from an existing office building. The stream will be stabilized with river stone and boulders, and native plants will grow along the banks.

The daylighting project will improve stream water quality and migratory fish habitat, and create a welcoming two-acre park near the historic Mill Hill neighborhood. The restoration site is about 1,000 feet upstream from the Assunpink’s mouth at the Delaware River.

The name Assunpink comes from the Lenape word for “stony, watery place,” describing the gravelly springs of New Jersey’s 65 million-year-old ancient coastline, the ironstone “cuesta,” or ridgeline, dividing the inner and outer coastal plains. The creek gathers intensity as it meanders west from Millstone Township in Monmouth County, through the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area and Mercer County Park, across the old, flat clays and silts of the Raritan and Magothy formations into Trenton.

The Assunpink played a role in Revolutionary War history. On Jan. 2, 1777, during the Second Battle of Trenton, the Continental Army and supporting militias held a defensive line along the creek’s south shore. Under George Washington’s command, the Americans repelled charges by British and Hessian soldiers across a stone bridge spanning the creek, as well as an attempt to ford the creek near its mouth.

 “This is a very positive step for our city,” said Trenton Mayor Eric E. Jackson of the Assunpink restoration. “It will enhance our downtown and help attract economic development, while improving the quality of life for our residents and visitors. It also will improve a vital historic location that housed Trenton’s first industrial development and was the site of an important battle in the American Revolution.”

Work is expected to begin on the $4 million restoration this spring, and should be completed by the end of 2016. The project is being financed 75 percent by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and 25 percent by the DEP, which is providing $1 million through a federal Clean Water Act grant.

Congratulations are due to all who helped shepherd the restoration through the long approval process. Cleaner water, an attractive outdoor natural area and the return of a bit of our history are healthy steps forward for our capital city!

For more information on the project, visit the New Jersey Future website at www.njfuture.org/issues/development/assunpink-creek-project/assunpink-daylighting. From there, you can click on a slide show that includes maps and historic photos.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and open space, go to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

 
New Jersey Conservation Foundation           Bamboo Brook, 170 Longview Road, Far Hills, NJ 07931           908-234-1225           info@njconservation.org

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