People building houses for bluebirds. The Atlantic City Expressway installing tunnels under the road for rodents and snakes. Motorists toting turtles across South Jersey roadways.
Sometimes, it seems humans will do all sorts of things to help out their wild neighbors. And the fact is, sometimes it works.
The bluebird was threatened in South Jersey by a loss of habitat and by invasive species introduced by humans. But bluebird enthusiasts stepped in, building birdhouses suited only to bluebirds so chicks wouldn't be harassed and killed by enemies like sparrows and starlings. The result is heartening to fans of the bluebird: In Egg Harbor Township alone, the number of chicks banded has soared from 18 in 2007 to 154 last year.
As for the Atlantic City Expressway, the busy road could easily be a death trap for small animals wandering the Pinelands National Reserve. But the expressway has installed a system of underground passages so animals, such as the threatened northern pine snake, can go safely under the road rather than end up under someone's tires. Fences along the roadway steer animals to the safe passageways. "It keeps the roadkill down," said an expressway spokesman, and that's undoubtedly good for the animals and safer for motorists.
And volunteers like Bill Doughty regularly patrol roads like the Margate Causeway, looking for female diamondback terrapins that have come up out of the marshes to lay eggs. An untold number of the turtles are crushed by cars and trucks each summer, but the volunteers keep an eye out for them and take injured ones to local labs so their eggs can be incubated.
Despite the volunteers' work, experts don't know whether the terrapin population is in danger because so many become roadkill and the turtles aren't even officially protected in New Jersey. But at least some are being saved.
Perhaps the biggest success in South Jersey is the return of bald eagles, ospreys and falcons, especially in Cumberland, Salem and Cape May counties.
New Jersey had only one bald eagle nest in the early 1980s, but over the next decade, the state imported 60 Canadian eaglets, launching a dramatic comeback. Now, there are about 150 bald eagle nests in the state, with the biggest concentration in the counties on the Delaware Bay. Ospreys are at record levels; the falcon population is at least stable.
Interestingly, neither ospreys, eagles nor falcons are on federal endangered or threatened lists - but they are in New Jersey.
And the success with these raptors and other successful human interventions shows that people can indeed give a boost to Mother Nature when she needs it.