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Give thanks for wild turkeys

November 21st, 2014

RELEASE:Nov. 21, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 47

Thanks to Thanksgiving, turkeys are one of our most famous native birds. Every preschooler who has traced a handprint to make turkey artwork recognizes the iconic shape of a plump gobbler with a fanned tail.

In the wild, turkeys have become almost as widely distributed as robins in New Jersey. Turkey flocks – known as rafters – are as likely to peck their way across suburban backyards as they are to cluster deep in the woods. They’ve been spotted in parks, along roadsides and have even been known to wander into houses through open doors and windows.

It wasn’t always that way.

Wild turkeys were plentiful across North America at the time of the feast shared by settlers and Native Americans in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621 … now known as the nation’s first Thanksgiving.

But by the mid-1800s in New Jersey, wild turkeys were wiped out due to excessive hunting and loss of habitat. The Garden State had little remaining woods in those days; nearly all of our original forests had been cleared for farming or repeatedly chopped down for timber and firewood.

Forests started regenerating during the early 20th century, as rural citizens abandoned farm life in favor of industrial jobs in cities. But even with new woodlands, wild turkeys couldn’t make a comeback without some help.

In 1977, the state Division of Fish & Wildlife, in cooperation with the New Jersey chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, reintroduced wild turkeys. Twenty-two birds – captured in New York and Vermont – were released near the Delaware Water Gap.

Two years later, biologists began to live-trap and relocate turkeys to establish populations around the state. By 1981, New Jersey’s turkey population had grown large enough to support a spring hunting season; a limited fall season began in 1997.

Wild turkeys are now abundant throughout the New Jersey, with the Division of Fish & Wildlife estimating the population at 20,000 to 23,000 birds.

One reason for their success is their nature. They can thrive almost anywhere. All they need are sizable oak forests, or forest patches interspersed with agriculture or suburbs.

Males, or toms, are polygamous and often mate with several hens during the course of a breeding season. As the Cornell Lab of Ornithology so colorfully describes it, courting toms “puff themselves into feathery balls and fill the air with exuberant gobbling” to attract the ladies.

Hens are no slouches either, laying clutches of up to 17 eggs in shallow nests on the ground. And since the toms don’t help rear their newly-hatched chicks, known as poults, they have plenty of time to chase other hens, resulting in multiple large broods.

Will you spot wild turkeys this Thanksgiving? They’re hard to miss if you come upon them!

Turkeys weigh up to 20 pounds and stand a couple of feet tall, making them one of our largest and heaviest native birds. From a distance gobblers look black, but they actually have a bronze-green iridescence over most of their plumage. 

To see wild turkeys, the Cornell Lab recommends that you get up early, when flocks are foraging in clearings, field edges and roadsides. They’re omnivores whose diets include insects, acorns and nuts, plant buds, salamanders, snails, mosses and underground plant bulbs. They don’t migrate, so they can be spotted in New Jersey all year round.

When you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, give thanks for wild turkeys – and the restoration efforts that brought these spectacular native birds back to New Jersey!

To learn more about wild turkeys, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website at www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/wild_turkey/id. To find out about turkey hunting seasons in New Jersey, go to www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/turkey_info.htm.

And for more information on 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.

Don’t destroy Sandy Hook’s maritime forest

November 13th, 2014

RELEASE:Nov. 13, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 46

It’s been two years since Superstorm Sandy. Up and down the coast, ceremonies marked the state’s progress in rebuilding homes, businesses and infrastructure destroyed by Sandy – and increasing our capacity to weather future storms.

But one ill-advised proposal in particular is being advanced in the name of “resiliency.” The National Park Service’s Sandy Hook Unit proposes to build a large maintenance facility in the midst of a heavily wooded section of Gateway National Recreation Area on Sandy Hook.

The National Park Service is calling it a “resiliency” project, since it would move vehicles and equipment to higher ground and reduce the risk of them being damaged in future floods. But the wooded site is the worst possible location!

The six-mile-long Sandy Hook peninsula is a critical stop along the Atlantic Flyway for millions of migrating birds. In addition to tidal wetlands and dune habitats, it contains significant maritime forest, characterized by fruiting trees and bushes like American holly, hackberry, black gum, bayberry, sassafras, beach plum, red cedar, serviceberry, poison ivy and Virginia creeper.  

Almost all of New Jersey’s maritime forests have been wiped out by development, leaving only a few places for migrating woodland birds to rest and refuel. You can count these forests on one hand – Sandy Hook, Island Beach State Park, Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, and western Cape May.

Just as New Jersey’s beaches are filled to capacity by humans on hot summer days, these scarce maritime forests are filled to capacity as birds hopscotch along the coastline during their spring and fall migrations.

Migrating birds travel thousands of miles from their wintering grounds in the south to their summer breeding grounds in the north, and back again, using the Atlantic coast as their map. Insects, spiders and especially fruits growing in maritime forests are essential to their ability to survive the rigors of migration.

“There’s already not enough forest habitat to support the birds during their migration,” says Dr. Emile DeVito, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s staff biologist. “If you take away more maritime forest, birds will die – it’s as simple as that. There’s no substitute for this forest; there’s no other place for them to go.”

Birders have counted 348 bird species at Sandy Hook. About 100 species are forest birds, and some are in serious decline. Among the rare woodland birds that have been spotted at Sandy Hook are golden-winged warblers, Bicknell’s thrushes and saw-whet owls.

When you think about it, the maritime forest at Sandy Hook was actually created by birds to supply their exact needs, DeVito pointed out. “It’s a spit of sand in the ocean, and virtually every woody forest plant arrived there as seeds dispersed by bird droppings,” he said.

Although the area of Sandy Hook being eyed for a maintenance facility contains a few derelict buildings, it is dominated by forests of fruiting trees, vines and shrubs. Rather than looking to destroy this Garden of Eden for migrating birds, the National Park Service should tear down the abandoned buildings and plant more trees to re-create an unbroken forest. This would also make the forest more resilient to future storms.

Protecting and restoring Sandy Hook’s maritime forest should be a National Park Service priority, given its mission: “The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.”

Yes, there’s a need protect trucks and equipment. But the National Park Service can and should find an alternative location outside the maritime forest in one of the many derelict sites on Sandy Hook or on nearby high ground in Monmouth County.

The National Park Service is now preparing an environmental assessment that should be released in the spring. Let’s hope that those in charge realize the irreplaceable value of Sandy Hook’s maritime forest, for both wildlife habitat and coastal resiliency. Because of Sandy Hook’s geography, a single tree in its forest is a hundred times more important to birds – if not a thousand! – than an identical tree in the middle of Pennsylvania.

Tell the National Park Service to restore, not destroy, the maritime forest at Sandy Hook! Letters can be sent to the Office of the Superintendent, Gateway National Recreation Area, 210 New York Ave., Staten Island, N.Y., 10305.

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.

 

Will asphalt be the last crop? NJ voters say no!

November 7th, 2014

RELEASE:Nov. 7, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 45

For the 14th time since the first Green Acres bond act in 1961, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question to support open space and farmland preservation funding.

This vote marked a critical juncture for this state we’re in, with two million acres of undeveloped land remaining. Will it be paved or preserved? Will asphalt be the last crop?

Fortunately, by a margin of almost 65 to 35 percent, voters endorsed Ballot Question 2, which amends the state constitution to allocate a percentage of existing corporate business tax revenues toward preserving open space, parks, farmland, historic sites and flood-prone areas.

Ballot Question 2 received bipartisan support, sailing through in all 21 counties. Support was strongest in urban counties like Essex and Camden, but rural voters approved it by a comfortable margin, too.

And not a moment too soon! State funds for preservation – farms, parks, natural areas and historic sites – are gone, leaving New Jersey with no money to protect and preserve critical lands.

New Jersey voters know that land preservation is not a luxury! Rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms make protecting lands that mitigate flooding all the more urgent. Watersheds that provide clean drinking water for millions of residents need to be safeguarded. Working farms with some of the world’s most fertile soils must be kept in agriculture to continue producing fresh, local foods. And New Jerseyans need places to play, exercise and experience the restoratives power of nature – close to home.

Question 2 was not a perfect solution. But it was the only approach the state Legislature could agree on after two years of effort.

With the passage of Question 2, land preservation programs will be funded at a much lower level than during the past decade and a half. And there will be less money for park development and improvement projects. But having both programs funded is far preferable to having zero state dollars available for saving land. Once open space and farmland is lost, it’s gone forever. Or, as the expression goes, “Asphalt is the last crop.”

And this method of funding land preservation is reliable and permanent.

The Legislature must now write enabling legislation to put the approved plan into action. A thoughtful process will be needed to ensure that funding is allocated for park development, improvements and stewardship – all in addition to land preservation.

As the first state projected to be fully “built out” by mid-century – with all land either preserved or developed – New Jersey must continue to add parks, preserve farms and forests, and invest in open spaces in our diverse communities to ensure a healthy environment for current and future generations. Passage of Question 2 was a wise choice!

Thank you to voters for making sure that the future will include enough “green” to keep the Garden State green!

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.

Doctors’ orders: Get out and walk!

October 31st, 2014

RELEASE:Oct. 31, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 44

Imagine this: Your doctor pulls out a prescription pad, but doesn’t prescribe a drug. Instead, the doctor orders a brisk walk in a local park.

This kind of “fitness prescription” will likely become more common as we learn more about the relationship between health and regular outdoor exercise.

The current state of American fitness is alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than half of all adults are getting the recommended amount of physical activity … and 29 percent engage in no leisure-time physical activity at all! The numbers aren’t much better for children and adolescents, with only about 27 percent getting enough exercise.

Our sedentary lifestyle is contributing to a national epidemic of obesity, which can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, high cholesterol, congestive heart failure, stroke, colon cancer, gallstones and arthritis, just to name a few!

Fortunately, this problem can be reversed through exercise. And while joining a fancy gym can help, a walk or run in a park is even better.

Hospitals and community health care organizations are teaming up with park advocates to get people exercising outdoors.

One great example is “Outdoors Rx,” a new program created through a partnership between the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and the MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston.  Doctors prescribe regular outdoor activity for their young patients, and AMC’s programs help make it happen.

Parents can register their children on the Outdoors Rx website and choose from a calendar of free, AMC-guided outdoor programs at local parks. Kids can track their activities online and earn points toward cool rewards – everything from outdoor gear to a free stay at an AMC camp.

Of course, better health is the ultimate reward. In addition to losing weight and preventing disease, kids benefit mentally from running around and playing in the fresh air. According to the National Education & Environment Foundation, even a 20-minute walk in nature can help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder concentrate better.

For adults and families, “Walk with a Doc” programs are offered by hospitals and medical practices across the nation. As the name implies, each walk is led by a medical doctor, who is available during the stroll to answer health-related questions. In New Jersey, the first and only Walk with a Doc is held in Haddon Township each Saturday morning at 10.

But programs like “Outdoors Rx” and “Walk with a Doc” are bound to spread. The federal Affordable Care Act requires nonprofit hospitals to offer programs to meet the health needs of the communities they serve, and partnering with local park advocates is a natural!

A major key to success in fighting obesity and improving fitness is ensuring that all New Jersey residents have access to parks, playgrounds, trails and nature preserves.  That’s a terrific reason to vote YES on Ballot Question 2 on Tuesday, Nov. 4. Passage of Question 2 will allow New Jersey to continue to preserve parks, natural areas, farmland, historic sites and flood-prone places.

If you want better health for yourself and your family, discover New Jersey’s great outdoors! To find a trail near you, check out the interactive map on the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org/gsgtrails.htm, or go to www.njtrails.org.  

For information about Outdoors Rx program, go to www.outdoors.org/publications/outdoors/2013/fieldnotes/outdoors-rx.cfm. To learn more about Walk with a Doc, go to www.walkwithadoc.org.

And don’t forget to VOTE YES on Question 2!

Top 10 reasons to vote YES on 2

October 24th, 2014

RELEASE:Oct. 24, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 43

On Tuesday, Nov. 4, New Jerseyans will vote on a critical question about the future of our state. Public Question #2 proposes to use part of the state’s existing corporate business tax to fund open space and farmland preservation.

 Here’s why we should all vote YES:

No new taxes or debt. This proposal does not increase the state’s debt load by selling bonds that must be repaid. Nor does it create new taxes. The proposal would take a small percentage of the existing corporate business tax and use it to preserve open space, parks, farmland, historic sites and flood-prone places. It is fiscally conservative – the only solution in a time of tight budgets and reduced revenues.

Clean drinking water. Preserved lands filter rainwater, removing impurities as the water trickles down into underground aquifers that provide clean drinking water for much of the state. Without clean water, a healthy economy is impossible.

Health and happiness. New Jersey has more people per square mile than any other state, and our nearly 9 million residents need places to get away from it all. Studies show that parks, recreation areas, nature preserves and wilderness areas are very good for us, physically and mentally. With an epidemic of obesity and other conditions caused by physical inactivity, we need parks and outdoor places that are easily accessible to all.

Clean air. Trees are our best friends when it comes to purifying air, absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.  A single tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon per year from the atmosphere.  When in full leaf, mature trees lower air temperature around them by up to 12 degrees by creating shade and releasing water vapor from their leaves.

Fresh, nutritious food. It’s no accident that New Jersey is called the Garden State. Anyone who has savored our famous tomatoes, corn, blueberries and cranberries – and lots more – knows we have some of the best soils in the world for growing produce. But development pressure is high. Preserving farmland by purchasing its development rights is the best way to ensure that these incredibly fertile soils will always be able to grow healthy food.

Flood control. Wetlands, forests, fields and tidal marshes act like giant sponges to soak up runoff from rainstorms, as well as storm surges from hurricanes and northeasters. Preserving land is cheap compared to repeatedly paying for flood damages! Climate change experts predict more frequent and powerful storms in the future, so this is a no-brainer!

Wildlife. Suburban sprawl has taken its toll on wildlife over the past half-century. Although some adaptive species can thrive in human-dominated environments, hundreds more are on the decline because of habitat loss. Without continued funding, our state will continue to lose habitat and rare species.

Tourism and recreation. Eco-tourism, agri-tourism, historic tourism and outdoor recreation combine to create a powerful economic engine, drawing visitors from within and outside New Jersey. 

Smart economics. New Jersey wants to attract new jobs and businesses, which helps everyone’s bottom line. Corporations locate – and stay – in places with an educated, highly-skilled workforce. To remain competitive with other states, New Jersey needs to maintain its high quality of life.

Future generations. By the middle of this century, New Jersey is projected to reach full build-out, that point where every acre is developed or preserved. Two million acres hang in the balance, and we need to preserve about a million of those – 350,000 acres of farmland and 650,000 acres for open space, parks, water supply and flood control.

New Jersey’s land preservation programs have saved hundreds of thousands of acres in the past 50 years, but now these programs are flat broke! Without replenished funding, many critical lands that could be preserved will instead be developed. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.  Or, as former state Agriculture Secretary Phil Alampi used to say, “Asphalt is the last crop.”

Vote YES on Public Question #2 on Nov. 4!

To learn more about the ballot question, visit the NJ Keep It Green website at www.njkeepitgreen.org. And for more information on preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, go to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Far from spooky, bats are beneficial!

October 17th, 2014

RELEASE:Oct. 17, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 42

Bats have a reputation for being “spooky,” which is why they’re seen so often in Halloween costumes and decorations.

But these flying mammals, creatures of the night, are more misunderstood than mysterious. Other than vampire bats that lap up the blood of monkeys and livestock in the tropics, they don’t want to suck your blood … but they’ll voraciously gobble thousands of insects a night. A recent study found that bats may be worth as much as $53 billion a year to the U.S. agriculture industry, saving crops from a multitude of insects and reducing the need for chemical pesticides.

Far scarier than having bats swooping and diving around your yard at night is the prospect of NOT having them around to provide free and natural pest control!

A fungal disease known as White-nose Syndrome has swept through bat populations in the United States and Canada during the past six years, devastating many species. New Jersey is home to nine bat species – six residents and three migrants – and hardest hit have been little brown bats, once the state’s most abundant species.

According to the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, more than 95 percent of the state’s little brown bats have perished from white-nose.

The state’s biggest bat cave, also known as a hibernaculum, is the abandoned Hibernia Mine in Morris County. In 2009, the first year White-nose Syndrome hit, experts counted more than 26,400 little brown bats at Hibernia. By this year, the number was down to 471 – a greater than 98 percent drop.

White-nose Syndrome is named for the fuzzy white fungus that appears on the muzzles, ears and wing membranes of affected bats.

When bats hibernate, their body temperatures drop and heartbeats slow to conserve energy. White-nose disrupts hibernation, causing them to fly outside, burning precious fat reserves. Without enough energy to carry them through the winter, the bats die of starvation and dehydration. The fungus also tatters their delicate wing membranes, so infected bats that survive hibernation may be unable to fly and hunt for food in the spring.

Migratory bats haven’t been seriously affected by white-nose, because they don’t winter in cold northern places where the fungus is found. Of New Jersey’s resident bats, only the big brown bats seem to be unaffected by white-nose.  In fact, state bat surveys show the population of big brown bats has increased by 50 percent in the last few years.

“This is what’s known as ecological release from competition,” said Dr. Emile DeVito, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s staff biologist. Without competition for food and territory, he explained, the big brown bat populations expand and fill the void. This is a trick, not a treat, should little brown bat or the federally endangered Indiana bat populations begin to recover. If the bat habitat niche becomes dominated by one species, that could hinder recovery of tiny populations of rare species.

The state is trying to figure out ways to help bats, especially little browns, survive White-nose Syndrome. They’re using volunteers to count bats at summer maternity colonies, identifying bat survival trends through acoustic surveys, nursing infected bats back to health and even trying to assist with breeding. Initial research shows that survival rates in remnant little brown bat populations may be improving.

Perhaps researchers can find ways to help restore their populations, but it won’t be easy. Bats are among the slowest reproducing animals on the planet, with most species giving birth to only one “pup” per year.

You can help by being aware of bats that may be living on your property and protecting these beneficial creatures.

If you discover bats in your attic or barn, don’t harm them or seal off openings. Consult a wildlife professional, and consider putting up a bat house to provide them an alternative place to roost during the summer. The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey provides free bat houses to homeowners.

Another way to help is by voting “yes” on Ballot Question 2 on Nov. 4. Passage of the ballot question will provide a dedicated source of funding for land preservation and stewardship – including endangered species projects.

For more information about bats and White-nose Syndrome research, visit the Conserve Wildlife Foundation website at http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/protecting/projects/bat/white-nose. October is “Bat Month” at the Conserve Wildlife Foundation, so there are also blog posts, fun facts and information on how to get bat houses.

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

Report: Earth has lost half its animals

October 10th, 2014

RELEASE:Oct. 10, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 41

A new report on the state of the Earth’s animals is “not for the faint-hearted,” according to the World Wildlife Fund.

They’re not kidding. According to their research, our planet lost more than half of its individual vertebrate animals during the past 40 years, mostly due to human impacts.

The “2014 Living Planet Report” tracks more than 10,000 populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish from all over the world. The sobering news is that overall numbers have declined by 52 percent since 1970.

“Put another way, in less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half,” wrote World Wildlife Fund director general Marco Lambertini. “These are the living forms that constitute the fabric of the ecosystems which sustain life on Earth – and the barometer of what we are doing to our own planet, our only home. We ignore their decline at our peril.”

Freshwater species fared the worst, with an average 76 percent decline. The most serious threats are habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, and competition from invasive species.

Terrestrial species, those that live on land, experienced a 39 percent decline. They are threatened by human land uses, especially agriculture, urban development and energy production.  Marine species also suffered a 39 percent decline, mostly due to overfishing or becoming part of commercial fishing “bycatch.”

Not all places on Earth lost biodiversity equally. Wealthy countries, in general, experienced less animal loss than poor countries, and cooler climates less than warmer climates.

So how does New Jersey fare? The World Wildlife Fund report doesn’t break its data down into segments as small as states; it uses much larger regions known as “biogeographic realms.”

We’re part of the “Nearctic” realm, which includes all of North America. Data shows that, on average, vertebrate populations here declined by 20 percent during the study period, although they appear fairly stable in recent years. But there’s considerable variation, with some populations increasing and others dropping.

This seems to hold true for New Jersey. According to New Jersey fish and wildlife officials, the state has 182 animal species with greatly diminished populations. While a few adaptable, backyard species are probably more numerous than ever – such as cardinals, robins, bullfrogs, deer, and red-tailed hawks – many species considered common are experiencing serious population declines. These include snapping turtles and most other amphibian and reptile species, along with hundreds of native pollinators like bees, flies, butterflies, and moths.

Endangered mammals in New Jersey include bobcat, Indiana bat, Allegheny woodrat and blue whale. Endangered breeding birds include many beach, forest, wetland, and grassland species, like piping plover, northern goshawk, golden-winged warbler, red-shouldered hawk, American bittern, pied-billed grebe, sedge wren, vesper sparrow, and upland sandpiper, as well as migrant birds like red knots. Bog turtle, corn snake, timber rattlesnake, blue-spotted salamander, and Atlantic sturgeon are among our endangered reptile, amphibian and fish species.

The worldwide loss of half our vertebrates is alarming. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen in New Jersey! This state we’re in must continue to protect the habitats of our wildlife species, as we’ve been doing for more than 50 years through our outstanding open space preservation programs.

New Jerseyans can “think globally, act locally” by voting for Public Question 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot. This ballot question will secure a dedicated, long-term source of funding for preserving natural areas and wildlife habitats – as well as parks, farmland, historic sites, and flood-prone lands.

To find out more about the 2014 Living Planet Report, go to the World Wildlife Fund website at http://wwf.panda.org. For information about New Jersey’s endangered and threatened species, go to www.conservewildlifenj.org/species/fieldguide.

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

Walking the line, an epic hike

October 3rd, 2014

RELEASE:Oct. 3, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 40

It’s New Jersey’s 350th anniversary, and a surprising and fascinating event celebrating this milestone is happening right now! Mount Holly resident Bill Bolger is hiking 150 miles along the historic line that once split the Garden State in two.

Bill set out in Holgate on Long Beach Island on Sept. 26, catching an oyster boat across Little Egg Harbor to the mainland before heading into the vast expanse of the Pine Barrens.

He’s following the so-called “Keith Line,” also known as the Province Line, all the way to the Delaware River in Warren County, a journey that should take about three and a half weeks.

The Keith Line once divided East Jersey from West Jersey and is named for surveyor George Keith. The boundary was created after the British monarchy – which overthrew Dutch colonial rule in New Jersey in 1664 – gave the territory to loyal friends Sir George Carteret and John, Lord Berkeley.

Keith’s line didn’t last, because it was discovered during the course of the survey that it angled too far west, favoring East Jersey at the expense of West Jersey. But it’s historically significant because it was the first surveyed boundary of the two Jerseys. And remnants of the line can still be seen in present-day boundaries between Ocean and Burlington counties, and Hunterdon and Somerset counties!

Bill’s goal in “walking the line” is to draw attention to this colonial-era event while sampling its diverse sights and cultures. He’s covering about seven miles a day, a pace that allows him time to soak in the scenery and chat with people along the way.

“This is a case where an old geezer wanders out from behind his desk and tries to do something he should have done 20 years earlier,” jokes Bill, 63, who works for the National Park Service.

Because there’s no direct route along the Keith Line, Bill pieced together a patchwork of public roads and trails, “mapping it inch-by-inch on Google Earth.” Although he’s zig-zagging, he’s trying to stay within a mile of the actual province line.

One of the coolest aspects of Bill’s journey is that it allows him to highlight New Jersey’s preserved lands – national wildlife refuges, state parks and forests, the Pine Barrens, private nature preserves, historic sites, preserved farms, and county and local parks.

“It’s just an amazing mosaic of conservation efforts. It’s incredible what has been preserved – we have a lot to be proud of,” he said.

One breathtaking sight in the early part of Bill’s journey was the cranberry harvest in Whitesbog, located within Brendan Byrne State Forest. “It’s one of the great sights of New Jersey – cranberries floating on the water,” he marvels.

Bill’s hike is especially timely, given that New Jerseyans will vote Nov. 4 on a ballot question to create a dedicated, long-term state funding source for land preservation. Without a steady funding source, New Jersey won’t be able to keep preserving its natural areas, farms, historic sites and other special places like the ones along Bill’s route. What voters do on Nov. 4 will impact the state’s next 350 years!

Bill’s “Keith Line Expedition” is being sponsored by Richard Stockton State College and its South Jersey Culture & History Center. To read updates and see photos, check out the culture and history center’s blog at https://blogs.stockton.edu/sjchc.

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.

A beautiful Pine Barrens late-bloomer

September 26th, 2014

RELEASE:Sept. 26, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 39

Of all the Garden State’s native wildflowers, few are more exciting in the fall than the spectacular, rare Pine Barrens gentians.

Pine Barrens gentians (Gentiana autumnalis) are listed as a Species of Special Concern by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and their habitats are protected by the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.

Gentians bloom from September through early November, a time when most other wildflowers have long turned to seed. Lucky indeed are those who spot patches of the deep blue gentians along roadsides and trails, since their numbers have dwindled as a result of modern civilization.

Pine Barrens gentians thrive in areas of disturbance, especially places that have been scorched by wildfire. Large wildfires were once common in the Pine Barrens, ignited by lightning and Native Americans, spreading across tens of thousands of acres. But for well over a century, wildfires have been greatly suppressed, resulting in habitat loss for Pine Barrens gentians and scores of other rare species.

But wild gentians still survive in a handful of patches scattered throughout the Pine Barrens, and they’re being studied by Drexel University researcher Ryan Rebozo, a Ph.D. candidate and New Jersey native.

Ryan noted that Pine Barrens gentians are “early successional” plants, meaning they colonize open, disturbed sites. “They’re one of the first species that come into these areas that are burned or disturbed,” he explained.

Ryan is studying multiple Pine Barrens gentian populations to find out how they fare in three sets of conditions: areas cleared by “prescribed burns,” areas that are mowed, and areas that haven’t been touched.

What he’s learned is that any type of disturbance is helpful to these perennials because it eliminates competing plants and opens up the forest canopy to create patches of sunlight. “Generally, I found that disturbed sites have more flowers, greater seed set and more insects visiting flowers,” he said.

But populations charred by fire, like those at the U.S. Air Force Warren Grove Gunnery Range, seem to do the best, Ryan said, because burned organic matter adds nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon to the sandy Pine Barrens soil.

He’s also learned that Pine Barrens gentians can lie dormant below the soil – seemingly gone – but come back strong after a hot fire sweeps the landscape. His research indicates that hot controlled or “prescribed” burns at selected locations can be a good strategy for preserving gentian populations.

Ryan is also studying how beneficial fungi living in the roots of Pine Barrens gentians can help them draw in extra nutrients from the soil.

At New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Franklin Parker Preserve in Chatsworth, a population of Pine Barrens gentians is thriving. What a stunning sight they are! The vivid and bright blue petals attract pollinators.

“Blue flowers are more easily spotted by insects in the fall than red, yellow or orange flowers, because blue doesn’t get lost among the changing fall foliage,” explained Dr. Emile DeVito, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s staff ecologist. “Blue flowers found in many asters and gentians native to the eastern US predominate in the autumn.”

Gentian petals have showy spots or stripes that serve as “nectar guides,” leading the insects to the center of the flowers. Occasionally, a pink or white-petaled variant is mixed in with the blues, adding to the fun of searching for gentians.

Pine Barrens gentians may be New Jersey’s most beautiful native flower – and they’re a valuable late-season food source for pollinating insects that need a boost of nutrition to aid in over-winter survival.

If you’re hiking the Franklin Parker Preserve during the next month, keep your eyes peeled for the Pine Barrens gentians!

To learn more about Pine Barrens gentians – and other Pine Barrens flora and fauna – go to the Pineland Preservation Alliance website at www.pinelandsalliance.org.

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.

Time for hawk watching!

September 19th, 2014

RELEASE:Sept. 12, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 37

Fall in New Jersey means cooler nights, brilliant leaves and – perhaps most exciting – migrating hawks!

The Garden State’s location along the Atlantic Flyway means birds are now heading south to their wintering grounds … and they pass right through this state we’re in. None are more thrilling to watch in action than hawks and other raptors.

This time of year, migrating birds of prey come through in far greater concentrations than usual. They’re conserving energy as they follow New Jersey’s mountain ridges and coastline, taking advantage of thermals, wind currents and updrafts.

“It’s quite a sight for people to watch these creatures that they usually don’t get to see very well,” said Dr. Laurie Goodrich, a Rutgers-educated biologist and educator at the Hawk Mountain sanctuary in Pennsylvania.

From the Hudson River Palisades to the Kittatinny Ridge along the Delaware River and down to Cape May, New Jersey has 14 “hawk watch” locations where raptors can be seen in great numbers.

Most hawk watches have observation platforms positioned for panoramic views. Many dedicated birders volunteer to log the raptors to help compile an accurate count of species passing through New Jersey. But casual bird watchers are welcome, too!

So far this season, more than a dozen species have been spotted at New Jersey hawk watches, including broad-winged hawks, bald eagles, American kestrels, red-tailed hawks, ospreys, merlins, sharp-shinned hawks, northern harriers, peregrine falcons and Cooper’s hawks.

Want to see them? Grab your binoculars and check out these raptor hot spots:

Palisades Interstate Park, Bergen County – State Line Lookout is a scenic overlook on the Palisades above the Hudson River. It is situated at the highest point on the Palisades cliffs – elevation 527 feet – about a mile south of the New Jersey–New York state border.

Sunrise Mountain, Sussex County – One of the state’s best spots for watching hawks soar and glide is the pavilion atop Sunrise Mountain, located in Stokes State Forest in Branchville.

Montclair, Essex County – The hawk observation platform maintained by the NJ Audubon Society is located on the first ridge of the Watchung Mountains. The view is spectacular, considering it’s in the middle of one of the nation’s most densely populated areas. In addition to watching hawks, visitors can admire views of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, New York City skyline and Statue of Liberty.

Chimney Rock, Somerset County – The Chimney Rock hawk watch is located in Washington Valley Park, on the First Watchung Ridge in Martinsville – the southern end of the same ridge where the Montclair platform is located.

Raccoon Ridge, Warren County – This hawk watch in Blairstown sits on top of the Kittatinny Mountains at an elevation of 1,563 feet. With count records going back to the 1930s, Raccoon Ridge averages 15,000 hawk views per season, including “eye-to-eye” views of bald and golden eagles.

Scotts Mountain, Warren County – This hawk watch is located at the Merrill Creek Reservoir in Washington. The record number of broad-winged hawks counted at Merrill Creek in a single day was a staggering 18,000!

Cape May Point, Cape May County – The Cape May peninsula, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Delaware Bay on the other, creates a natural funnel, virtually directing birds to the hawk watch platform at Cape May Point State Park.

Raptors migrate from late summer through early December, with peak numbers occurring from mid-September through mid-October. Historically, the best days for spotting hawks are those following a cold front with northerly winds. Mornings and early afternoons are generally better than later in the day.

Get out and enjoy this amazing fall spectacle! To learn more about New Jersey’s hawk watches, go to the New Jersey Audubon Society website at www.njaudubon.org  and the Hawk Migration Association of North America website at www.hmana.org.

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.

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

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