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A New Jersey walkabout

May 22nd, 2015

RELEASE:May 22, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 21

New Jersey is 170 miles long from High Point to Cape May, and about 70 miles wide at its middle. But the Garden State’s perimeter is hard to measure, due to many rivers, bays, estuaries and marshes.

But that isn’t stopping Mike Helbing from logging every mile.

Mike wants to be the first person to literally walk around New Jersey, and it’s proving to be a long, complicated journey … about 1,200 miles and counting! If all goes according to plans, he’ll finish the last leg in November.

“It’s just been an amazing experience,” said Mike, 35, who is Warren County’s recreation chairman and the founder of the Metrotrails long-distance hiking and trail-building group.

Mike began distance hiking in 1997 when, instead of a birthday party, he invited his friends on a 20-mile hike. Nearly every weekend since then, he’s led a hike of at least 15 miles.

Many of Mike’s hikes followed various sections of New Jersey’s perimeter. In 2006 he got the idea of hiking the entire border through a series of one-day treks, counting his previous hikes toward the total.

Because New Jersey is a surrounded by water on three sides, there’s an immense amount of shoreline to walk. Some people might take shortcuts – for instance, hike down the barrier island from Point Pleasant to Island Beach State Park, then hop in a car and continue the hike at Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island.

Not Mike. He’s a stickler and insists on walking every mile by foot until the first bridge is reached or the water becomes shallow enough to ford. “The rule is, your feet have to touch the ground,” he said. “No swimming.”

To get from the southern tip of Island Beach State Park to Barnegat Light – a distance of less than a half-mile as the crow flies – Mike walked back to Seaside Heights, inland to Toms River, back down along the western shoreline of Barnegat Bay, across the Route 72 bridge, then back north to the lighthouse.

Dozens of similar roundabout routes were required, especially along the Delaware Bayshore, a watery expanse of estuaries, marshes and rivers. “It’s mind boggling,” he said.

So far, Mike has completed about 80 hikes of at least 15 miles, all of them carefully documented with maps, photos and journal entries. He was joined by other hikers on all of the sections, although he’s the only person who has hiked every one.

Mike is not in a hurry. He has only eight sections remaining, but he will tackle them on a leisurely schedule over the summer and fall, saving the capital city for last.

His final perimeter hike will be along a section of the Delaware River in Mercer County. “Our plan is to finish in Trenton, and then walk a couple of blocks to the front steps of the Statehouse,” he said.

Completing the perimeter hike will be an incredible accomplishment. But what’s more amazing is that Mike’s perimeter treks are only fraction of his total. Since 1997, he’s led about 850 hikes of at least 15 miles, most of them in New Jersey.

“I’m 35 and I’ve hiked more of New Jersey than anyone alive,” he said. “I’ve done more than four times the length of the Appalachian Trail” – or about 8,800 miles.

Not everyone can – or wants to – hike like Mike. But he said people might be surprised to find out what they’re capable of, and how much there is to see while on foot in New Jersey.

To find out more about Metrotrails, visit the group’s website at or its Meetup page at

Or if you want to design your own hiking challenge, check out the Step Into Nature Challenge page at

And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

Protect soil on preserved farms!

May 15th, 2015

RELEASE:May 15, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 20

It’s hard to overstate the value of healthy soil on a planet whose population is 7.3 billion people … and counting.

Topsoil is the rich upper layer of soil where most nutrients and organic materials are found.  The vegetables and fruits we eat – and the green pastures and grazing lands for cattle, dairy herds and other animals – would not exist without it.

You may have seen signs and bumper stickers proclaiming, “No farms, no food.” They could just as easily say, “No soil, no food.”

New Jersey has some of the best soils in the United States, earning us the right to our nickname, the “Garden State.”  But topsoil is surprisingly fragile; it’s a precious, non-renewable resource that can easily be destroyed. It’s estimated that it takes nature 500 years to produce just one inch of topsoil!

So it was a great disappointment when the State Agriculture Development Committee, the agency that has successfully preserved over 200,000 acres of farmland across the Garden State, recently abandoned efforts to put measures in place to protect agricultural soils.

Last December, after six years of investigation – including a Rutgers University study on the impacts of disturbance on soil structure and agricultural productivity – the State Agriculture Development Committee introduced draft soil disturbance standards for preserved farms. The standards were designed to provide guidance to the owners of preserved farms about what’s required to protect soils.

But the soil protection standards were dropped like hot potatoes after some farmers’ groups complained that they were “overreaching.”

The need for soil protection on preserved lands became clear more than a decade ago when a Hunterdon County greenhouse grower began large-scale soil removal on a preserved farm. The grading destroyed at least 14 acres of prime topsoil – the very reason the farm was preserved in the first place!

The state prosecuted the grower and won the case in 2013. By then, the State Agriculture Development Committee was already looking at soil disturbance standards as a way to prevent similar violations in the future.

Soil protection standards on preserved farms make perfect sense. After all, farms being considered for preservation are ranked by soil quality.

New Jersey taxpayers have invested heavily to ensure that farmland with the best soils remains available for agriculture forever.  And the state Farmland Preservation Program’s own Deed of Easement specifically states: “No activity is permitted which would be detrimental to water conservation, erosion control, or soil conservation.”

The state shouldn’t give up on protecting soil on preserved farms! The State Agriculture Development Committee should look back on the Hunterdon County case and reconsider its decision. 

There’s no point in ranking farms based on their soil quality if the soils aren’t going to be protected! Let’s safeguard the Garden State’s precious asset – the fertile and amazing soils that provide our healthy foods!

To learn more about soil health, visit the National Resources Conservation Service website at

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

The miracle drug outside

May 8th, 2015

RELEASE:May 8, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 19

Ever heard of the miracle drug called “Fiterex”?  It cures depression, obesity, heart disease and diabetes – with absolutely no side effects.

Dr. William Bird stunned the crowd when he spoke about Fiterex at a British medical conference on potential new drugs and side effects. His fellow physicians inquired: Was Fiterex approved for use? When would it be available to patients?

Dr. Bird responded that this wonder drug was already available. Fiterex, he explained, was nothing more than regular outdoor exercise.

Rand Wentworth, president of the Washington, D.C. based Land Trust Alliance, says an increasing number of doctors are prescribing their own version of Fiterex, giving patients a prescription for exercising outdoors surrounded by nature.

“Our country is facing a health crisis on a huge scale – a crisis that one researcher calls a ‘pandemic of inactivity’ caused by sedentary, indoor lives that isolate us from nature and from one another,” said Wentworth at a land preservation conference in Trenton.

Today’s kids, he noted, spend nearly eight hours a day on electronic devices. While these devices have opened up a world of information, they also provide “easy, addictive entertainment” that keeps people of all ages from getting outdoors.

“The result is chronic depression and stress,” said Wentworth. Equally devastating are “the epidemics of obesity, asthma and diabetes that can debilitate and kill adults and children alike.”

The good news, according to Wentworth, is that outdoor activity can:

  • Improve weight control;
  • Improve problem-solving skills;
  • Help people cope with stress;
  • Increase self-reliance;
  • Help patients heal faster after surgery.

Dr. Frances Ming Kuo, a researcher at the University of Illinois, conducted experiments with children suffering from attention deficit disorder (ADD). In one study, she took one group of kids with ADD for a 20-minute walk around the school and another group for a 20-minute walk along a forested trail.

Afterward, the students who had experienced the forested trail showed fewer signs of ADD than those who had merely walked around the school. In fact, Dr. Kuo found the walk in nature was the therapeutic equivalent of a dose of Ritalin!

Wentworth also spoke of Stacy Bare, a soldier who was injured during combat in Iraq. Returning home, he didn’t realize he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dulling his pain with alcohol and drugs, he became a full-blown alcoholic who considered suicide.

Fortunately, a friend had a hunch that spending time in nature could help Stacy. While rock-climbing in Colorado, Stacy had a breakthrough that led him to get sober and healthy. He founded an organization to introduce other veterans with PTSD to the healing power of the outdoors.

“The Pentagon is paying attention and now includes time in nature as part of the recovery for returning warriors,” said Wentworth.

It’s great that you don’t have to wait for a doctor to “prescribe” it. Just spend more time outdoors in nature this year to improve your health and your family’s health. And you’re in luck: New Jersey has many fantastic parks, preserves and trails.

To find a trail near you, visit the New York New Jersey Trail Conference website at, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s trailhead locator map at , the New Jersey Trails website at or the New Jersey Hiking website at

And if you want to challenge yourself, join the “Step Into Nature Challenge.”  You decide on your personal goals – for example, hiking 100 miles – and New Jersey Conservation will help you achieve them. Go to for information and registration.

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

Try out your green thumb this spring!

May 1st, 2015

RELEASE:May 1, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 18

After a long winter of garden dreams fueled by seed catalogs, this is the moment Garden State gardeners have been waiting for: the weather is finally warm enough to plunge hands in dirt and do some serious planting!

If you’ve never gardened but have always wanted to grow your own healthy food, there’s no better time than now to dig in!

There’s no question that veggies, fruits and herbs taste their most delicious when just picked. And if you ask any home gardener or farmer, they’ll tell you that nothing beats the satisfaction of growing the freshest and most nutritious produce available.

Gardening is also an economical way to get bountiful produce all summer for just pennies per pound. Think back to the “Victory Gardens” of the World War II era, when families grew most of their own vegetables and fruits to save money. It’s estimated that a single 10×16-foot plot can grow enough to feed a family of four for the summer, with enough left over for canning or freezing.

Whether you live in a house with a big yard or an apartment with no yard, you can grow food this summer.

If you have a sunny patio, deck or even some steps, container gardens are a great way to go. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, green beans, herbs and many other summer veggies thrive in big, well-drained pots.

If you’re lucky enough to have yard space and good soil, start a garden plot by digging up a patch of grass and turning the soil. If your soil is rocky or mostly clay, you may want to create a raised bed instead, using wooden boards or rocks to hold topsoil that you bring in. One caveat, though: if there are deer in your neighborhood, your garden will need to be fenced or it will get munched!

Perhaps the best choice for newbie gardeners is to join a community garden. Community gardens are places where you can tend a patch of soil for the growing season, usually for a small fee. Many of them are on public land, but nonprofit groups and churches sometimes build them, too.

One big advantage of community gardens is that they don’t require a big investment of time and labor by the novice gardener. They’re usually fenced in to keep out critters, and water spigots and hoses are often provided. Sometimes there are even garden tools available for sharing.

The American Community Garden Association (ACGA) estimates that there are more than 18,000 community gardens in the United States. The exact number in New Jersey isn’t known, since there’s no master list. But if you search “community gardens New Jersey” on the internet, dozens of community gardens across the state pop up!

New Jersey’s community gardens range from small spaces with a handful of plots, to enormous gardens with hundreds. Some have been created on abandoned lots in urban areas, while others are located in park-like suburban settings. Some strictly follow organic practices, while others permit a combination of organic and non-organic.

There’s also a strong social component. Community gardeners like to chat with each other, sharing tips on what to plant, when to weed and water and pick, and how to cook the produce. Some community gardens bring in guest speakers, and others throw potluck feasts to celebrate their harvests. Generosity is another trait, as many community gardens donate surplus produce to local food banks and soup kitchens.

To find a community garden near you, visit the American Community Garden Association website at and click on “Find a Garden.” Its listings aren’t comprehensive, so be sure to check with your town and county as well to see what they offer.

Need gardening advice?  One great resource is the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers University, online at Another is the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey website at

Happy planting, and may your thumb be green! For more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

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  If you want to challenge yourself to become more fit, check out the Step Into Nature Challenge at

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

‘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  For more information on healthy eating, visit the Weston A. Price Foundation website at

And for more information about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

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 for information and registration.

To find a trail near you, check out the New York New Jersey Trail Conference website at, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s trailhead locator map at , the New Jersey Trails website at or the New Jersey Hiking website at

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

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 To see a list of products with microbeads, go to

If you want to learn more about worldwide efforts to stop the manufacture and sale of microbeads, visit the 5 Gyres Institute page at

And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

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  or If you capture a recording and location, contact Matthew Schlesinger – another research collaborator – at

And to learn more about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

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

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

New Jersey Conservation Foundation           Bamboo Brook, 170 Longview Road, Far Hills, NJ 07931           908-234-1225 

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