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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.

How sweet it is … maple sugaring

February 13th, 2015

There’s a special magic that happens in late winter, when nights fall below freezing but sunny days warm up into the 40s. The temperature fluctuation causes sap to rise in maple trees, making possible the sweet treat that’s the best part of a pancake breakfast: maple syrup.

The northern part of North America is the only place in the world where maple syrup can be produced, and the technique of tapping maple trees was developed centuries ago by Native Americans and passed along to early settlers. 

Legend has it that the first person to discover the sweet potential of maple sap was the wife of an Iroquois chief who left his hatchet buried in a tree trunk overnight. After he pulled out the hatchet the next day, sap flowed from the cut into a container at the base of the tree. They decided to use the sap instead of water to boil their evening meal … and the rest is culinary history.

In pre-colonial times, maple sugar was the only sweetener available to Native Americans besides fruit. There was no honey in those days, as honeybees are not native to North America and were brought over later by Europeans. 

New Jersey may not be as famous for its maple syrup tradition as New England states, but we have plenty of maple trees and the right climate conditions.

Syrup can be made from the sap of any maple species – including sugar, red, silver or black – but the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) has the highest sugar concentration. Metal taps known as spiles are inserted into holes bored in tree trunks, and sap is collected in buckets. The watery sap is then boiled down into concentrated syrup; it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup.

Making maple syrup is a fun but time-consuming process, and the best way to learn is by going to maple sugaring festivals and demonstrations. As winter glides into spring, check out one of the many maple sugaring events being held across the Garden State.  Here’s a sampling:

Tenafly Nature Center, 313 Hudson Ave, Tenafly. Demonstrations will be held at 2 and 3:30 p.m. every Sunday from Feb.  15 through March 15. Visitors will check the center’s tapped trees and boil down sap to make fresh, warm syrup. On Sunday, March 22, there will be a pancake brunch, featuring fresh syrup from the center’s trees.

Lusscroft Farm, 50 Neilson Road, Wantage – This state-owned historic farm will hold a maple sugaring open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, March 14 and 15.

Morris County Outdoor Education Center, 247 Southern Boulevard, Chatham – Maple sugaring demonstrations will take place every Saturday and Sunday through March 8. The end of the season will be celebrated at the annual Maple Sugar Festival on Saturday, March 14, from noon to 4 p.m. For those thinking of making their own syrup at home, spiles are on sale, along with instructions on getting started.

Somerset County Environmental Education Center, Lord Stirling Road, Basking Ridge – A free 90-minute program will be held every Saturday and Sunday through March 15. Participants will hike a half-mile to the “Sugar Shack,” where the syrup is made. The program will be held Saturdays at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m.; and Sundays at noon and 2 p.m.

Duke Farms, Route 206, Hillsborough – The “Sugar Maple Celebration” will be held Saturday, Feb. 28, and Sunday, March 1 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors can take guided hikes,  and learn to identify and tap sugar maples, and boil down syrup.

Reeves Reed Arboretum, 165 Hobart Ave., Summit – The arboretum’s Maple Sugar Fest will be held Sunday, March 1, 1 to 4 p.m., featuring tapping and cooking demonstrations and taste tests.

Howell Living History Farm, 70 Wooden’s Lane, Lambertville – Maple sugaring demonstrations will be held on two Saturdays, Feb. 21 and 28. Tree tapping demonstrations are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sap gathering is at noon and 2 p.m.

Stony  Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, 31 Titus Mill Road, Pennington  – The “Maple Sugar Memories” program will be held on Saturday, March 7; the first session runs from 10:30 a.m. to noon, and the second from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

Washington Crossing State Park, 355 Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, Titusville – Maple sugaring demonstrations will be held from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 1, Saturday, March 7, and Saturday, March 14; and from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 8.

Enjoy the sweet days of late winter at maple sugaring events in the Garden State! They may even inspire you to try it at home if you have maple trees!

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.

Garden State, or pipeline state?

February 6th, 2015

RELEASE:Feb. 6, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 6

New Jersey is currently awash in proposals for the construction of new pipelines. They will transport gas and oil from supply sources, crossing this state we’re in to deliver fuel to distribution and export points.  These plans are not good news for preserved open space and farmland.

There’s the proposed PennEast pipeline, which would carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale “fracking” region of Pennsylvania to a location north of Trenton, crossing through a substantial amount of preserved lands in Hunterdon and Mercer counties, including important watersheds. Then there’s the proposed Diamond East pipeline, which would follow a parallel route a few miles to the east. 

The proposed Pilgrim Oil pipeline would carry Bakken shale oil produced in North Dakota from Albany, N.Y., to Linden, traversing numerous preserved lands in Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Essex and Union counties. And there’s the NJ Natural Gas pipeline proposed for Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean counties, and the South Jersey Gas pipeline proposed for the Pine Barrens in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.

With so many plans out there – and perhaps more in the offing – you would think there would be a comprehensive review process that looks at the big picture and considers the necessity and cumulative impacts of so many pipelines. But there isn’t.

When these proposed pipelines cross state lines, they must be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Unfortunately, each individual proposal is reviewed independently, in a vacuum, as if the others didn’t exist. The combined effects on New Jersey are not addressed. And the proposals enjoy the full backing of current federal energy policy, which focuses on getting energy to markets quickly.

Gas and oil pipelines now present perhaps the single greatest threat to the integrity of preserved land in New Jersey.  The proposal affecting the most preserved land is PennEast.  Two potential routes are being considered, which could cross as many as 66 preserved parcels totaling nearly 4,500 acres.

The route of the proposed PennEast pipeline targets preserved farms and natural areas – properties that were protected for their soil quality, food production value, drinking water and the wildlife habitat. Protections on these lands are supposed to be permanent … as in forever.

The PennEast pipeline:

           Would cross the Delaware River, a federally-designated Wild & Scenic river, impacting the critically important water resources of the Delaware River Basin and the New Jersey Highlands.

           Would impact farms protected with federal farmland preservation funds, and other agricultural lands that have benefitted from U.S. Department of Agriculture funding for farm conservation practices.

           Runs counter to voter support for permanent land preservation, and would erode public trust in preservation programs.

Let’s not forget who pays for New Jersey’s investment in preserved land. Most preservation projects are paid for with our tax dollars at the local, county, state and federal levels.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides substantial federal funding for farmland preservation through the Farm Bill and other programs. When the FERC allows these lands to become a target for energy infrastructure, it creates a huge inconsistency between federal energy and land preservation policies.

It’s critical that all levels of government require comprehensive planning for energy infrastructure in a consistent, science-based, proactive manner that protects preserved and other high quality natural resource lands.

Please contact your U.S. Senators and Congressmen and ask them to change federal policy to require comprehensive planning for energy and infrastructure. To find your Congressman, go to http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/. To contact Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, go to http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?State=NJ.

For more information about PennEast, go to www.njconservation.org/currentissues.htm.

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.

Put roads on a low-salt diet!

January 30th, 2015

RELEASE:Jan. 30, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 5

As any doctor will tell you, too much salt in your diet is bad for your health. The same goes for salt on your local roads.

Why? Because most road salt is sodium chloride, the same stuff that fills your kitchen salt shakers. Excess road salt washes into storm sewers, streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and wells. From there, it can easily find its way into drinking water.

“Road salt on the road keeps the roads safe in bad weather. Road salt off the road is toxic,” said Bill Kibler, director of science and policy at the Raritan Headwaters Association, a watchdog group serving the Raritan River watershed.

Not only can road salt contaminate drinking water, but it kills plants, ruins soil and harms the microscopic creatures living in streams and rivers.  “It can stress out aquatic life, or it can be fatal to them,” said Laura Kelm, director of water quality for the Great Swamp Watershed Association.

For those reasons and more, watershed organizations across New Jersey have advocated for smarter use of road salt in winter. The good news is that, in many places, the message is getting through.

One solution to the problem is brine, the same type of salty liquid that turns cucumbers into pickles. An increasing number of public works departments are spraying brine on their roadways instead rock salt. You may have noticed the white lines of dried residue on the pavement before snowstorms.

Brine contains sodium chloride, but diluting it in liquid significantly reduces the amount needed to keep roads ice-free. Traditional rock salt spreading wastes a lot of salt.

According to Kelm, a Michigan study showed that 30 percent of rock salt spread on roads immediately bounces off or is blown away by wind and vehicles. In other words, tons of salt end up in waterways without improving public safety.

The equipment used to mix and spray brine is expensive, noted Kelm, but some New Jersey towns are pooling their resources and sharing equipment. Because less salt is used when roads are brined, towns can use the savings to recoup their investment.

Public works departments that can’t afford new equipment for brining can still reduce their use of rock salt through simple actions like turning off salt spreaders when vehicles stop at intersections, and avoiding leaving piles of excess salt along roadsides at the end of a route.

Another alternative is using more environmentally friendly – but more expensive – ice melting chemicals like calcium chloride.

While most salt pollution in waterways is caused by large-scale salt spreading, home use of rock salt can be equally damaging.

“For homeowners, I would absolutely recommend avoiding the use of rock salt,” said Kibler. Not only is salt bad for the environment, but it also hurts pet paws, damages leather shoes and boots, causes concrete to crumble, damages floors in houses and corrodes the metal in cars.

Kibler recommends using calcium chloride or, even better, calcium magnesium acetate. But the best choice of all for driveways and sidewalks may be a sturdy snow shovel and a bucket of sand!

Kudos to the road departments – and homeowners – that have committed to a “low-salt diet” and are keeping pollution out of our waterways.

To learn more about water quality in your town, contact your local watershed organization. For a directory of watershed groups in New Jersey, go to http://njwrri.rutgers.edu/watershed_orgs.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.

Keep hunters’ guns silent on Sundays

January 23rd, 2015

RELEASE:Jan. 23, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 4

“Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir

Peace and tranquility are increasingly scarce, with our busy lives filled with the blaring noise and lights of multiple electronics. Fortunately, we still have nature … a perfect antidote to stress and overload. Studies show that spending even a few minutes in a natural outdoor setting restores calmness and well-being.

But New Jersey’s natural areas would become less inviting as quiet havens from stress if a proposed bill allowing Sunday gun hunting goes through.

For decades, New Jersey and about 10 other eastern states have prohibited gun hunting on Sundays, preserving that one day of the week for quiet enjoyment of the outdoors without safety concerns.

Peaceful Sundays will end if this bill, S-699, now before the New Jersey Senate, becomes law. The proposal would make every day of the week, all year round, available for gun hunting. The bill was sponsored by Senator Joseph Kyrillos, who said the measure is designed to help firearms hunters whose schedules don’t allow them to hunt on other days.

However well intentioned, the bill would harm vastly more New Jerseyans than it helps. Last year, the state had fewer than 78,000 hunting license holders, while its population was almost 9 million. Hunters make up less than one percent of the population, and the bill doesn’t consider the other 99-plus percent – including families with children, hikers, birders, mountain bikers, nature photographers, dog walkers, equestrians, runners, trail builders and outdoor educators – whose schedules are equally demanding.

Sunday is the only day when many people – not just hunters – get outside and enjoy nature. In fact, many families specifically limit their woodland rambles to Sundays during deer hunting season, and outdoor organizations often organize hikes and trail rides for Sundays to avoid potential conflicts with gun hunters and assure peaceful enjoyment of our wild places.

The state already has various firearms hunting seasons spread across six days of the week for the entire year, which include hunting for the following animals: deer, bear, turkey, pheasant, bobwhite quail, snipe, woodcock, grouse, rail, crow, coyote, fox, possum, raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, woodchuck and various ducks and geese.

While hunters can play a crucial role in wildlife management by culling over-abundant deer, there is no demonstrated need for gun hunting 365 days a year. For those who want to hunt on Sundays, state law was changed in 2009 to allow bow hunting in state wildlife management areas and on private lands. And a currently proposed law would expand Sunday bow hunting to military lands within the state.

The overwhelming majority of New Jersey’s preserved state lands were paid for by our taxpayers. Tranquil enjoyment of our state lands should be guaranteed to the public at least one day each week.

If this bill, S-699, becomes law, Sundays will never be the same! Because so few East Coast states have Sunday gun hunting, New Jersey would become a weekend destination for out-of-state hunters, further reducing opportunities for safe and peaceful enjoyment of nature by our residents.

Please take action to defeat S-699 and any related bill that may be proposed in the state Assembly. Contact your legislators and ask them to keep the woods quiet and safe on Sundays. To find your legislator, go to www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp. You can also sign an online petition on Change.org at www.change.org/p/new-jersey-state-senate-stop-senate-bill-699-sunday-hunting-in-nj-parks?recruiter=217139801&utm_campaign=signature_receipt&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition.

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.

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

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