New Jersey is refining its approach to saving threatened and endangered wildlife, from birds to beetles.
The Division of Fish and Wildlife is revising its 10-year action plan, its blueprint for conserving native animals.
The plan the agency drafted 10 years ago was 1,060 pages long and identified a veritable ark of New Jersey’s most vulnerable wildlife. The list included the diminutive bronze copper butterfly and the blue whale, the world’s largest animal.
“The last draft was hundreds of pages — and for good reason. We wanted it to cover the universe of New Jersey wildlife,” said Kathy Clark, zoologist with the state’s division of endangered and nongame species. “Now we want to focus and prioritize species that are in the highest level of conservation need.”
Clark said the state will prioritize species by ranking their risk of extinction locally or regionally, and the state’s ability to do something about it.
For example, state waters are home to five species of endangered sea turtles and at least six species of endangered whale. But the state might have less ability to do anything meaningful to help these animals compared with others.
“All species native to New Jersey will be recognized. But we’ll pick the focal species that will drive the plan,” she said. “All species will be scored to conservation need and feasibility of moving the needle.”
The 2004 plan identified loss of habitat as the No. 1 reason for the state’s declining wildlife.
“It is the equivalent of killing wildlife since an organism denied its ability to feed or reproduce can no longer exist,” the report said.
That plan focused on restoring habitat, managing wildlife that competes with endangered species and getting rid of invasive species.
“Our woods, wetlands, streams and fields support a staggering array of wildlife, including 73 state endangered and threatened species, some of which are recognized as globally rare,” the report found.
Meanwhile, the plan also calls for identifying key habitat that the state does not want to lose to development pressure.
“These are the places that are really unique and important to the state, like old-growth forest in Bear Swamp or the Cape Peninsula because of its unique habitat for migratory birds,” she said.
Some species that might get priority under the new plan are American kestrels, small falcons that have declined despite their seeming adaptability to South Jersey’s suburbia. Another is the rare golden-winged warbler, she said.
“It depends on early successional forest, a habitat type that is relatively rare in New Jersey,” she said. “We have forest that is older or cut for agricultural areas. We don’t have much in-between.”
Clark said the state will lean heavily on nonprofit and conservation groups to help enact some of its conservation measures. Groups such as the Nature Conservancy, New Jersey Audubon and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey have all contributed to preserving the state’s wild places.
For example, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary completed a “living shoreline” project on Money Island in Cumberland’s Downe Township. The group planted beds of mussels and oysters along the marsh edge to prevent erosion on Delaware Bay.
This will protect fish habitat for fish, including the declining Atlantic sturgeon, spokesman Shaun Bailey said.
And the Wetlands Institute in Middle Township is working on several coastal projects that have some connection to the state’s wildlife plan, director of research and conservation Lisa Ferguson said.
The institute started a simple but profound project on the Delaware Bay last year — encouraging children to rescue horseshoe crabs that wind up stranded from the surf or on their backs when they come on the beach to reproduce in the spring and early summer.
Thousands of the crabs get stranded and die every year during spawning season.
The institute estimates that these simple acts of kindness saved 30,000 crabs last year — no small feat for a species that shorebirds rely on for their nutrient-rich eggs.
The institute also helps diamondback terrapins that breed on beaches in South Jersey. When terrapins get struck by cars, the institute’s volunteers and staff try to rescue the eggs to save the hatchlings.
Ferguson said New Jersey does not have to look far to find wildlife success stories because of residents who made a difference.
For example, ospreys were in serious trouble in New Jersey but have rebounded with the elimination of the pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and the creation of hundreds of man-made nesting platforms.
“That’s changed the trajectory of that population,” she said.
“We look forward to reviewing the state’s plan and contributing where we can,” Ferguson said. “We hope the state will be progressive in curbing the decline of species and focus on ones that are indicators of greater change.”
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