The state Department of Environmental Protection has won an $850,000 federal grant to purchase habitat for the bog turtle, a tiny turtle endangered in the state and threatened at the federal level.
The turtle is found in wetlands in western Salem, Gloucester, Burlington and Ocean counties as well as in much of northwestern New Jersey. Historically it was found in all of New Jersey, but habitat loss eradicated it in many places, according to the DEP.
The DEP estimates it lives in more than 200 sites in the state.
Invasive vegetation has been a big threat. Trees, shrubs and non-native invasive plants fill in bog turtle habitat, so the DEP has used domestic livestock to graze in meadows and wetlands to keep them open.
The DEP has also combated the invasive purple loosestrife by rearing two species of leaf-eating beetles that feed on the plants, a spokesman said.
Since 1997, more than 1.5 million Galerucella spp. beetles have been released at 100 sites in 16 of the state’s 21 counties, and many sites are continuing to show high levels of beetle activity and feeding damage. The loosestrife population is being reduced, allowing native wetland plants to repopulate, according to the DEP.
The bog turtle is native only to the eastern United States and lives in small colonies. It prefers wetlands that contain lime.
The grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was awarded under the federal Endangered Species Act Grants Program, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said.
“Preservation of this unique habitat protects the federally threatened bog turtle, while also enhancing our environment and providing a better quality of life for residents of the state,” Martin said.
New Jersey is one of 20 states to receive funding to support projects that conserve at-risk species and their habitats.
Once purchased, the preserved lands will be managed by the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust in cooperation with the DEP’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, the DEP said.
For more on turtles in New Jersey, click here.