MAURICE RIVER TOWNSHIP — The state has added 204 acres along Delaware Bay near the Maurice River and Moore’s Beach as protected habitat at its Heislerville Wildlife Management Area.
The sites recently purchased increase the amount of land protected in 12 state wildlife management areas in Cumberland County to almost 49,000 acres, or about 16 percent of the county.
Cumberland also shares two wildlife management areas with Salem County and one with Cape May County. Those wildlife habitats cover 40,000 acres in all three counties.
The 204 acres of bay wetlands and upland buffers cost $620,000, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. DEP said it used $158,000 from its Green Acres program and $462,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to buy the land.
“We are very happy to preserve this land for use by a wide variety of wildlife species, including various types of waterfowl, shorebirds, birds of prey and wading birds,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “The Delaware Bay region is truly a special place, remarkable for its beauty and opportunities for diverse wildlife-related activities, including hiking, fishing, hunting and bird watching.”
According the DEP, the purchase includes two major sections.
One section flanks the east bank of the Maurice River and fronts a portion of Delaware Bay known as Thompson’s Beach. The other section is just to the east, along what DEP is calling a “swath of nearly pristine bay front” that includes Moore’s Beach.
The Heislerville Wildlife Management Area currently protects 7,231 acres of Delaware Bay shoreline, wetlands and uplands. DEP said the area includes beaches used by migrating shorebirds such as red knots. Red knots fuel up on horseshoe crab eggs as they fly to breeding grounds as far north as the Canadian Arctic, the agency said.
“The acquisition of this sensitive habitat is a win for both wildlife and the residents of New Jersey,” said Edward Markowski, environmental projects president for the New Jersey Outdoors Association.
State officials say the purchase should also bolster the region’s ecotourism industry. That includes tourism linked to some of the highest concentrations of bald eagles in New Jersey.
Cumberland, Salem and Cape May counties are home to about half of the state’s 172 pairs of nesting eagles. Those nests are clustered near Delaware Bay.
Saturday marked the 17th annual Cumberland County Winter Eagle Winter Festival. The number of persons attending the annual event began to increase sharply during the past five years. More than 1,200 people now participate, organizers said.
Overall, the ecotourism industry is worth an estimated $500 million in Cape May County.
A federal study estimates the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Galloway Township, Atlantic County, alone is at least partly responsible for $8 million worth of Atlantic County’s economy. That includes visitors who spend money at hotels, restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores and retail shops.