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Top 10 reasons to vote YES on 2

October 24th, 2014

RELEASE:Oct. 24, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 43

On Tuesday, Nov. 4, New Jerseyans will vote on a critical question about the future of our state. Public Question #2 proposes to use part of the state’s existing corporate business tax to fund open space and farmland preservation.

 Here’s why we should all vote YES:

No new taxes or debt. This proposal does not increase the state’s debt load by selling bonds that must be repaid. Nor does it create new taxes. The proposal would take a small percentage of the existing corporate business tax and use it to preserve open space, parks, farmland, historic sites and flood-prone places. It is fiscally conservative – the only solution in a time of tight budgets and reduced revenues.

Clean drinking water. Preserved lands filter rainwater, removing impurities as the water trickles down into underground aquifers that provide clean drinking water for much of the state. Without clean water, a healthy economy is impossible.

Health and happiness. New Jersey has more people per square mile than any other state, and our nearly 9 million residents need places to get away from it all. Studies show that parks, recreation areas, nature preserves and wilderness areas are very good for us, physically and mentally. With an epidemic of obesity and other conditions caused by physical inactivity, we need parks and outdoor places that are easily accessible to all.

Clean air. Trees are our best friends when it comes to purifying air, absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.  A single tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon per year from the atmosphere.  When in full leaf, mature trees lower air temperature around them by up to 12 degrees by creating shade and releasing water vapor from their leaves.

Fresh, nutritious food. It’s no accident that New Jersey is called the Garden State. Anyone who has savored our famous tomatoes, corn, blueberries and cranberries – and lots more – knows we have some of the best soils in the world for growing produce. But development pressure is high. Preserving farmland by purchasing its development rights is the best way to ensure that these incredibly fertile soils will always be able to grow healthy food.

Flood control. Wetlands, forests, fields and tidal marshes act like giant sponges to soak up runoff from rainstorms, as well as storm surges from hurricanes and northeasters. Preserving land is cheap compared to repeatedly paying for flood damages! Climate change experts predict more frequent and powerful storms in the future, so this is a no-brainer!

Wildlife. Suburban sprawl has taken its toll on wildlife over the past half-century. Although some adaptive species can thrive in human-dominated environments, hundreds more are on the decline because of habitat loss. Without continued funding, our state will continue to lose habitat and rare species.

Tourism and recreation. Eco-tourism, agri-tourism, historic tourism and outdoor recreation combine to create a powerful economic engine, drawing visitors from within and outside New Jersey. 

Smart economics. New Jersey wants to attract new jobs and businesses, which helps everyone’s bottom line. Corporations locate – and stay – in places with an educated, highly-skilled workforce. To remain competitive with other states, New Jersey needs to maintain its high quality of life.

Future generations. By the middle of this century, New Jersey is projected to reach full build-out, that point where every acre is developed or preserved. Two million acres hang in the balance, and we need to preserve about a million of those – 350,000 acres of farmland and 650,000 acres for open space, parks, water supply and flood control.

New Jersey’s land preservation programs have saved hundreds of thousands of acres in the past 50 years, but now these programs are flat broke! Without replenished funding, many critical lands that could be preserved will instead be developed. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.  Or, as former state Agriculture Secretary Phil Alampi used to say, “Asphalt is the last crop.”

Vote YES on Public Question #2 on Nov. 4!

To learn more about the ballot question, visit the NJ Keep It Green website at And for more information on preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, go to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

Far from spooky, bats are beneficial!

October 17th, 2014

RELEASE:Oct. 17, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 42

Bats have a reputation for being “spooky,” which is why they’re seen so often in Halloween costumes and decorations.

But these flying mammals, creatures of the night, are more misunderstood than mysterious. Other than vampire bats that lap up the blood of monkeys and livestock in the tropics, they don’t want to suck your blood … but they’ll voraciously gobble thousands of insects a night. A recent study found that bats may be worth as much as $53 billion a year to the U.S. agriculture industry, saving crops from a multitude of insects and reducing the need for chemical pesticides.

Far scarier than having bats swooping and diving around your yard at night is the prospect of NOT having them around to provide free and natural pest control!

A fungal disease known as White-nose Syndrome has swept through bat populations in the United States and Canada during the past six years, devastating many species. New Jersey is home to nine bat species – six residents and three migrants – and hardest hit have been little brown bats, once the state’s most abundant species.

According to the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, more than 95 percent of the state’s little brown bats have perished from white-nose.

The state’s biggest bat cave, also known as a hibernaculum, is the abandoned Hibernia Mine in Morris County. In 2009, the first year White-nose Syndrome hit, experts counted more than 26,400 little brown bats at Hibernia. By this year, the number was down to 471 – a greater than 98 percent drop.

White-nose Syndrome is named for the fuzzy white fungus that appears on the muzzles, ears and wing membranes of affected bats.

When bats hibernate, their body temperatures drop and heartbeats slow to conserve energy. White-nose disrupts hibernation, causing them to fly outside, burning precious fat reserves. Without enough energy to carry them through the winter, the bats die of starvation and dehydration. The fungus also tatters their delicate wing membranes, so infected bats that survive hibernation may be unable to fly and hunt for food in the spring.

Migratory bats haven’t been seriously affected by white-nose, because they don’t winter in cold northern places where the fungus is found. Of New Jersey’s resident bats, only the big brown bats seem to be unaffected by white-nose.  In fact, state bat surveys show the population of big brown bats has increased by 50 percent in the last few years.

“This is what’s known as ecological release from competition,” said Dr. Emile DeVito, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s staff biologist. Without competition for food and territory, he explained, the big brown bat populations expand and fill the void. This is a trick, not a treat, should little brown bat or the federally endangered Indiana bat populations begin to recover. If the bat habitat niche becomes dominated by one species, that could hinder recovery of tiny populations of rare species.

The state is trying to figure out ways to help bats, especially little browns, survive White-nose Syndrome. They’re using volunteers to count bats at summer maternity colonies, identifying bat survival trends through acoustic surveys, nursing infected bats back to health and even trying to assist with breeding. Initial research shows that survival rates in remnant little brown bat populations may be improving.

Perhaps researchers can find ways to help restore their populations, but it won’t be easy. Bats are among the slowest reproducing animals on the planet, with most species giving birth to only one “pup” per year.

You can help by being aware of bats that may be living on your property and protecting these beneficial creatures.

If you discover bats in your attic or barn, don’t harm them or seal off openings. Consult a wildlife professional, and consider putting up a bat house to provide them an alternative place to roost during the summer. The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey provides free bat houses to homeowners.

Another way to help is by voting “yes” on Ballot Question 2 on Nov. 4. Passage of the ballot question will provide a dedicated source of funding for land preservation and stewardship – including endangered species projects.

For more information about bats and White-nose Syndrome research, visit the Conserve Wildlife Foundation website at October is “Bat Month” at the Conserve Wildlife Foundation, so there are also blog posts, fun facts and information on how to get bat houses.

And to learn more about preserving land and natural resource, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

Report: Earth has lost half its animals

October 10th, 2014

RELEASE:Oct. 10, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 41

A new report on the state of the Earth’s animals is “not for the faint-hearted,” according to the World Wildlife Fund.

They’re not kidding. According to their research, our planet lost more than half of its individual vertebrate animals during the past 40 years, mostly due to human impacts.

The “2014 Living Planet Report” tracks more than 10,000 populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish from all over the world. The sobering news is that overall numbers have declined by 52 percent since 1970.

“Put another way, in less than two human generations, population sizes of vertebrate species have dropped by half,” wrote World Wildlife Fund director general Marco Lambertini. “These are the living forms that constitute the fabric of the ecosystems which sustain life on Earth – and the barometer of what we are doing to our own planet, our only home. We ignore their decline at our peril.”

Freshwater species fared the worst, with an average 76 percent decline. The most serious threats are habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, and competition from invasive species.

Terrestrial species, those that live on land, experienced a 39 percent decline. They are threatened by human land uses, especially agriculture, urban development and energy production.  Marine species also suffered a 39 percent decline, mostly due to overfishing or becoming part of commercial fishing “bycatch.”

Not all places on Earth lost biodiversity equally. Wealthy countries, in general, experienced less animal loss than poor countries, and cooler climates less than warmer climates.

So how does New Jersey fare? The World Wildlife Fund report doesn’t break its data down into segments as small as states; it uses much larger regions known as “biogeographic realms.”

We’re part of the “Nearctic” realm, which includes all of North America. Data shows that, on average, vertebrate populations here declined by 20 percent during the study period, although they appear fairly stable in recent years. But there’s considerable variation, with some populations increasing and others dropping.

This seems to hold true for New Jersey. According to New Jersey fish and wildlife officials, the state has 182 animal species with greatly diminished populations. While a few adaptable, backyard species are probably more numerous than ever – such as cardinals, robins, bullfrogs, deer, and red-tailed hawks – many species considered common are experiencing serious population declines. These include snapping turtles and most other amphibian and reptile species, along with hundreds of native pollinators like bees, flies, butterflies, and moths.

Endangered mammals in New Jersey include bobcat, Indiana bat, Allegheny woodrat and blue whale. Endangered breeding birds include many beach, forest, wetland, and grassland species, like piping plover, northern goshawk, golden-winged warbler, red-shouldered hawk, American bittern, pied-billed grebe, sedge wren, vesper sparrow, and upland sandpiper, as well as migrant birds like red knots. Bog turtle, corn snake, timber rattlesnake, blue-spotted salamander, and Atlantic sturgeon are among our endangered reptile, amphibian and fish species.

The worldwide loss of half our vertebrates is alarming. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen in New Jersey! This state we’re in must continue to protect the habitats of our wildlife species, as we’ve been doing for more than 50 years through our outstanding open space preservation programs.

New Jerseyans can “think globally, act locally” by voting for Public Question 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot. This ballot question will secure a dedicated, long-term source of funding for preserving natural areas and wildlife habitats – as well as parks, farmland, historic sites, and flood-prone lands.

To find out more about the 2014 Living Planet Report, go to the World Wildlife Fund website at For information about New Jersey’s endangered and threatened species, go to

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, go to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

Walking the line, an epic hike

October 3rd, 2014

RELEASE:Oct. 3, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 40

It’s New Jersey’s 350th anniversary, and a surprising and fascinating event celebrating this milestone is happening right now! Mount Holly resident Bill Bolger is hiking 150 miles along the historic line that once split the Garden State in two.

Bill set out in Holgate on Long Beach Island on Sept. 26, catching an oyster boat across Little Egg Harbor to the mainland before heading into the vast expanse of the Pine Barrens.

He’s following the so-called “Keith Line,” also known as the Province Line, all the way to the Delaware River in Warren County, a journey that should take about three and a half weeks.

The Keith Line once divided East Jersey from West Jersey and is named for surveyor George Keith. The boundary was created after the British monarchy – which overthrew Dutch colonial rule in New Jersey in 1664 – gave the territory to loyal friends Sir George Carteret and John, Lord Berkeley.

Keith’s line didn’t last, because it was discovered during the course of the survey that it angled too far west, favoring East Jersey at the expense of West Jersey. But it’s historically significant because it was the first surveyed boundary of the two Jerseys. And remnants of the line can still be seen in present-day boundaries between Ocean and Burlington counties, and Hunterdon and Somerset counties!

Bill’s goal in “walking the line” is to draw attention to this colonial-era event while sampling its diverse sights and cultures. He’s covering about seven miles a day, a pace that allows him time to soak in the scenery and chat with people along the way.

“This is a case where an old geezer wanders out from behind his desk and tries to do something he should have done 20 years earlier,” jokes Bill, 63, who works for the National Park Service.

Because there’s no direct route along the Keith Line, Bill pieced together a patchwork of public roads and trails, “mapping it inch-by-inch on Google Earth.” Although he’s zig-zagging, he’s trying to stay within a mile of the actual province line.

One of the coolest aspects of Bill’s journey is that it allows him to highlight New Jersey’s preserved lands – national wildlife refuges, state parks and forests, the Pine Barrens, private nature preserves, historic sites, preserved farms, and county and local parks.

“It’s just an amazing mosaic of conservation efforts. It’s incredible what has been preserved – we have a lot to be proud of,” he said.

One breathtaking sight in the early part of Bill’s journey was the cranberry harvest in Whitesbog, located within Brendan Byrne State Forest. “It’s one of the great sights of New Jersey – cranberries floating on the water,” he marvels.

Bill’s hike is especially timely, given that New Jerseyans will vote Nov. 4 on a ballot question to create a dedicated, long-term state funding source for land preservation. Without a steady funding source, New Jersey won’t be able to keep preserving its natural areas, farms, historic sites and other special places like the ones along Bill’s route. What voters do on Nov. 4 will impact the state’s next 350 years!

Bill’s “Keith Line Expedition” is being sponsored by Richard Stockton State College and its South Jersey Culture & History Center. To read updates and see photos, check out the culture and history center’s blog at

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

A beautiful Pine Barrens late-bloomer

September 26th, 2014

RELEASE:Sept. 26, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 39

Of all the Garden State’s native wildflowers, few are more exciting in the fall than the spectacular, rare Pine Barrens gentians.

Pine Barrens gentians (Gentiana autumnalis) are listed as a Species of Special Concern by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and their habitats are protected by the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.

Gentians bloom from September through early November, a time when most other wildflowers have long turned to seed. Lucky indeed are those who spot patches of the deep blue gentians along roadsides and trails, since their numbers have dwindled as a result of modern civilization.

Pine Barrens gentians thrive in areas of disturbance, especially places that have been scorched by wildfire. Large wildfires were once common in the Pine Barrens, ignited by lightning and Native Americans, spreading across tens of thousands of acres. But for well over a century, wildfires have been greatly suppressed, resulting in habitat loss for Pine Barrens gentians and scores of other rare species.

But wild gentians still survive in a handful of patches scattered throughout the Pine Barrens, and they’re being studied by Drexel University researcher Ryan Rebozo, a Ph.D. candidate and New Jersey native.

Ryan noted that Pine Barrens gentians are “early successional” plants, meaning they colonize open, disturbed sites. “They’re one of the first species that come into these areas that are burned or disturbed,” he explained.

Ryan is studying multiple Pine Barrens gentian populations to find out how they fare in three sets of conditions: areas cleared by “prescribed burns,” areas that are mowed, and areas that haven’t been touched.

What he’s learned is that any type of disturbance is helpful to these perennials because it eliminates competing plants and opens up the forest canopy to create patches of sunlight. “Generally, I found that disturbed sites have more flowers, greater seed set and more insects visiting flowers,” he said.

But populations charred by fire, like those at the U.S. Air Force Warren Grove Gunnery Range, seem to do the best, Ryan said, because burned organic matter adds nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon to the sandy Pine Barrens soil.

He’s also learned that Pine Barrens gentians can lie dormant below the soil – seemingly gone – but come back strong after a hot fire sweeps the landscape. His research indicates that hot controlled or “prescribed” burns at selected locations can be a good strategy for preserving gentian populations.

Ryan is also studying how beneficial fungi living in the roots of Pine Barrens gentians can help them draw in extra nutrients from the soil.

At New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Franklin Parker Preserve in Chatsworth, a population of Pine Barrens gentians is thriving. What a stunning sight they are! The vivid and bright blue petals attract pollinators.

“Blue flowers are more easily spotted by insects in the fall than red, yellow or orange flowers, because blue doesn’t get lost among the changing fall foliage,” explained Dr. Emile DeVito, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s staff ecologist. “Blue flowers found in many asters and gentians native to the eastern US predominate in the autumn.”

Gentian petals have showy spots or stripes that serve as “nectar guides,” leading the insects to the center of the flowers. Occasionally, a pink or white-petaled variant is mixed in with the blues, adding to the fun of searching for gentians.

Pine Barrens gentians may be New Jersey’s most beautiful native flower – and they’re a valuable late-season food source for pollinating insects that need a boost of nutrition to aid in over-winter survival.

If you’re hiking the Franklin Parker Preserve during the next month, keep your eyes peeled for the Pine Barrens gentians!

To learn more about Pine Barrens gentians – and other Pine Barrens flora and fauna – go to the Pineland Preservation Alliance website at

And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

Time for hawk watching!

September 19th, 2014

RELEASE:Sept. 12, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 37

Fall in New Jersey means cooler nights, brilliant leaves and – perhaps most exciting – migrating hawks!

The Garden State’s location along the Atlantic Flyway means birds are now heading south to their wintering grounds … and they pass right through this state we’re in. None are more thrilling to watch in action than hawks and other raptors.

This time of year, migrating birds of prey come through in far greater concentrations than usual. They’re conserving energy as they follow New Jersey’s mountain ridges and coastline, taking advantage of thermals, wind currents and updrafts.

“It’s quite a sight for people to watch these creatures that they usually don’t get to see very well,” said Dr. Laurie Goodrich, a Rutgers-educated biologist and educator at the Hawk Mountain sanctuary in Pennsylvania.

From the Hudson River Palisades to the Kittatinny Ridge along the Delaware River and down to Cape May, New Jersey has 14 “hawk watch” locations where raptors can be seen in great numbers.

Most hawk watches have observation platforms positioned for panoramic views. Many dedicated birders volunteer to log the raptors to help compile an accurate count of species passing through New Jersey. But casual bird watchers are welcome, too!

So far this season, more than a dozen species have been spotted at New Jersey hawk watches, including broad-winged hawks, bald eagles, American kestrels, red-tailed hawks, ospreys, merlins, sharp-shinned hawks, northern harriers, peregrine falcons and Cooper’s hawks.

Want to see them? Grab your binoculars and check out these raptor hot spots:

Palisades Interstate Park, Bergen County – State Line Lookout is a scenic overlook on the Palisades above the Hudson River. It is situated at the highest point on the Palisades cliffs – elevation 527 feet – about a mile south of the New Jersey–New York state border.

Sunrise Mountain, Sussex County – One of the state’s best spots for watching hawks soar and glide is the pavilion atop Sunrise Mountain, located in Stokes State Forest in Branchville.

Montclair, Essex County – The hawk observation platform maintained by the NJ Audubon Society is located on the first ridge of the Watchung Mountains. The view is spectacular, considering it’s in the middle of one of the nation’s most densely populated areas. In addition to watching hawks, visitors can admire views of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, New York City skyline and Statue of Liberty.

Chimney Rock, Somerset County – The Chimney Rock hawk watch is located in Washington Valley Park, on the First Watchung Ridge in Martinsville – the southern end of the same ridge where the Montclair platform is located.

Raccoon Ridge, Warren County – This hawk watch in Blairstown sits on top of the Kittatinny Mountains at an elevation of 1,563 feet. With count records going back to the 1930s, Raccoon Ridge averages 15,000 hawk views per season, including “eye-to-eye” views of bald and golden eagles.

Scotts Mountain, Warren County – This hawk watch is located at the Merrill Creek Reservoir in Washington. The record number of broad-winged hawks counted at Merrill Creek in a single day was a staggering 18,000!

Cape May Point, Cape May County – The Cape May peninsula, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Delaware Bay on the other, creates a natural funnel, virtually directing birds to the hawk watch platform at Cape May Point State Park.

Raptors migrate from late summer through early December, with peak numbers occurring from mid-September through mid-October. Historically, the best days for spotting hawks are those following a cold front with northerly winds. Mornings and early afternoons are generally better than later in the day.

Get out and enjoy this amazing fall spectacle! To learn more about New Jersey’s hawk watches, go to the New Jersey Audubon Society website at  and the Hawk Migration Association of North America website at

And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

A Gilded Age estate goes green

September 12th, 2014

RELEASE:Sept. 12, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 37

It was an unprecedented challenge: Take a sumptuous estate of a famous heiress and reinvent it as a model of environmental stewardship, with lots of public access and painstakingly preserved history.

That’s just what happened at Duke Farms in Hillsborough! The 2,740-acre estate had belonged to tobacco heiress Doris Duke, and after her 1993 death it was transferred to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

The Foundation envisioned a total transformation, from private to public, from manicured to agricultural, from wasteful to energy-efficient.  It took years, but the happy result is the new Duke Farms, which just completed its second year as one of New Jersey’s most unique destinations.

On one hand, Duke Farms still embraces its history as gentleman’s estate, with manmade lakes and waterfalls, barns that look like mansions, fountains and sculptures, and a greenhouse just for orchids and tropical plants.

But it also hosts an “incubator farm” for aspiring organic farmers, protected habitat for grassland birds, and classes to promote sustainability and environmental stewardship. Eighteen miles of hiking and biking trails, a bicycle sharing program, and a tram for visitors with limited mobility have been established. Buildings and facilities have been upgraded for maximum energy efficiency.

“I don’t think there’s any other place like Duke Farms in New Jersey, with the mix we’ve got,” said Nora Wagner, director of strategic planning and programs for Duke Farms. “We’re smack in the middle of 20 million people, and we’re free and accessible to everyone.”

Duke Farms was started by J.B. “Buck” Duke, founder of the American Tobacco Company, who began acquiring farmland nestled within a bend in the Raritan River in 1893. In short order, he bought more than 40 farms and assembled an international showplace. He planted more than two million trees, built five lakes and a reservoir, constructed three stately barns, and started – and abandoned – work on a palace-like mansion.

His only child, Doris Duke, was born in 1912. Buck Duke died in 1925, leaving much of his fortune to his daughter. Doris Duke became a philanthropist, preservationist, foreign correspondent and surfing champion, among other things.

After her passing, the trustees of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation researched and evaluated the estate’s future before deciding to convert it into a place of education, research and recreational enjoyment.

Duke Farms reopened in May 2012 after a $45 million facelift. It was an instant hit.

“Since we reopened to the public, more than a million people have visited Duke a Farms, and we are working hard to insure that every visitor leaves with not just an appreciation of a unique place, but also with some small and large ideas about how they apply the ideas they see here on the own homes and yards,” said Michael Catania, executive director.

Duke Farms hosts the nation’s largest community garden, with 462 plots … and a waiting list! The New Jersey chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association moved in and launched an incubator program to help new farmers. A farmers market opened on the grounds. Lakeshores are being restored, and formerly manicured lawns are being turned into wildflower meadows.

So what would Buck and Doris Duke think of this new direction?

“Given their varied interests and grand vision for Duke Farms, I think that both Buck Duke and his daughter Doris would be very pleased with what is happening at Duke Farms, and simply delighted to see families and so many people of all ages enjoying the property,” said Catania.

Future plans, added Catania, include transitioning lakes to a closed-loop recirculating system to save water and energy, and expanding farming operations to become a model of how sustainable farming can be compatible with wildlife habitat enhancement.

Duke Farms is a great destination for a visit in any season – so get out and enjoy it soon! To learn more about Duke Farms and its programs, or plan a visit, go to

And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at


Celebrating 50 years of wilderness and parks

September 5th, 2014

RELEASE:Sept. 5, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 36

Sept. 3 marked the 50th anniversaries of two conservation milestones that literally changed the face of our nation: the Wilderness Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The two landmark bills were signed by President Lyndon Johnson on Sept. 3, 1964 at the same Rose Garden ceremony, launching the protection of millions of acres.

“It was one of the most amazing days for conservation in the history of this country. Probably the most amazing day,” said Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior. “It was a day when 9 million acres were set aside for wilderness.” One hundred million more wilderness acres were added over the next half-century.

Jewell was keynote speaker this week at New Jersey’s Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, the first wilderness area to be designated under the Wilderness Act. Joining Jewell were three New Jersey Congressmen – Rodney Frelinghuysen, whose late father Peter led efforts to save the Great Swamp from becoming an international airport; and Rush Holt and Leonard Lance.

The Wilderness Act poetically defines wilderness as an area “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The Great Swamp is only about 30 miles from downtown Manhattan, yet half of the refuge’s 7,800 acres are designated wilderness.

As Jewell noted, birds, animals and plants thrive there. “The Great Swamp is a taste of what this country was, and what we need to protect,” she said. “Species need these old growth forests. Species need swamps and wetlands.”

Fifty years after the signing of the legislation, the wilderness area of the Great Swamp may still be expanding, with a proposal to designate more than 150 existing refuge acres as wilderness.

Protecting the Great Swamp was also the genesis of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. Originally the Great Swamp Committee, New Jersey Conservation today protects thousands of acres of land throughout New Jersey.

Although not as well-known as the Wilderness Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is just as important. This fund is a dedicated, permanent, national means of funding land preservation – everything from natural lands and wildlife refuges to parks, recreation areas and historic landmarks.

And it doesn’t use taxpayer dollars – it’s funded by a small portion of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund helped protect this land here,” said Jewell at the Great Swamp ceremony. “This visionary Congress, 50 years ago said, ‘we’re going to develop offshore oil and gas and it’s going to have an impact.’ ” The funding mechanism was based on the idea that since revenues from offshore energy belong to all Americans, damages from energy extraction should be offset by conserving land for the public to use and enjoy.

Unfortunately, over the years, far less than the full amount authorized – $900 million a year – has been appropriated by Congress. And, unlike the Wilderness Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund at 50 years old must be reauthorized by Congress by next September.

For 50 years, the Fund has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and with American citizens.  A recent poll found that 85 percent of voters surveyed think Congress should honor its commitment to fund land conservation through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Its economic engine supports outdoor recreation, conservation and historic preservation, contributing more than $1 trillion annually to the economy and supporting 9.4 million American jobs. 

To find out more about the Land and Water Conservation Fund, check out a new report, “50 Years of Conserving America the Beautiful,” at The report recounts conservation success stories and makes policy recommendations to improve the Fund as it enters its sixth decade.


For more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at .


And, most important of all, take a hike and explore the Great Swamp … a wilderness right in your own backyard! Go to for information and maps.


New Jersey first to ban ivory trade

August 28th, 2014

RELEASE: Aug. 28, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 35

New Jersey is thousands of miles from the killing fields of Africa, where elephants and rhinoceroses are slaughtered for their tusks and horns. But New Jersey is not far from the root cause of this disaster.

The United States is second behind China in demand for these “blood” items, acquired through horrific cruelty and leading to the extinction of these magnificent animals. New York City is America’s biggest market for ivory and rhino horn, and New Jersey’s ports are an entry hub.  As long as the market exists, the killing will continue.

Fortunately, New Jersey’s role in the ivory trade may soon be over. This state we’re in just became the first in the nation to ban both the import and in-state sale of rhino horn and ivory from elephants, walruses, whales  and several other animals.

In June, the state Legislature – at the urging of the Humane Society and other animal conservation groups – passed a bill to prohibit ivory and rhino horn trade. Governor Christie signed it into law on Aug. 5. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a similar ban a few days later.

“We’re really excited – from an environmental standpoint, from a conservation standpoint, from a humanitarian standpoint and from a national security standpoint,” said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, the bill’s prime sponsor in the Assembly.  “Ivory trafficking is at the highest point in history, and elephants are facing extinction because of it.”

“By signing this legislation, Governor Christie is showing the world that New Jersey will tolerate no role in the ivory market,” added Mukherji.

“This victory is the first ripple of what will be, if I have anything to do with it – and I will – a tidal wave that will spread across America and throughout the world that will protect these creations of God,” said Senator Ray Lesniak, the bill’s Senate sponsor.

According to animal conservation groups, an estimated 35,000 elephants in Africa were slaughtered for their tusks in 2012, despite laws meant to protect them.

Satao was a recent victim.  He was one of Kenya’s best-known elephants, who suffered a painful death after being felled by a poacher’s poison arrow in Tsavo National Park in May.  The killing of this giant male in a protected park sparked an international outcry.

“The fight to protect Satao’s relatives and others of his kind must happen on the ground in the range nations,” wrote Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “But it also must happen, in a different way, in the wealthy consumer nations where elephant ivory is carved and turned into high-value products.”

That’s where New Jersey comes in.  Much black market ivory has found its way into the U.S. because of loopholes in the law – one of which was the lack of state legislation banning import and in-state sales. The new law closes loopholes and makes federal enforcement easier, said Mukherji.

Also shut down are loopholes allowing big-game hunters to bring back large quantities of “culled” elephant heads, including ivory.

New Jersey now prohibits people from buying, selling, importing and possessing ivory and rhino horns with the intent to sell. The only things that are grandfathered, Mukherji said, are owning, bequeathing and inheriting existing ivory items.

Mukherji said that not only will New Jersey’s new law help protect elephants and rhinos, but it will put a damper on terrorist groups. “A lot of these poaching profits go to fund terrorist activities,” he said, listing Al Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, and Janjaweed as terrorist groups in Africa who benefit from this inhumane trade.

Kudos to the New Jersey Legislature and Governor Christie for taking a stand against the blood ivory and rhino horn trade. New Jersey has notched many conservation-related “firsts,” and New Jerseyans should be proud that we’re leading the nation in saving some of the world’s most endangered animals. Let’s hope more states follow and the killing ends.

To learn about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit New Jersey Conservation Foundation at or contact me at

Celebrating wild beach plums

August 22nd, 2014

RELEASE:Aug. 22, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 34

You’ve probably never picked or tasted a wild beach plum … but it’s not too late!

Beach plums, prunus maratima, grow wild on dunes along the East Coast, although summer visitors who flock to the beaches seeking sun and surf tend to miss the short, weather-gnarled bushes. Throughout most of summer, the fruits are green and unobtrusive … more like olives than the larger purple fruits found at farm stands.

Beach plums have a devoted following, and foragers are known to be secretive about the best places to find them.

“The long-time gatherers have secret spots and favorite bushes, and strangers carrying pails in the dunes are viewed with suspicion,” wrote Cornell University researcher Richard Uva in an article about the fruit’s cultural and scientific aspects. “In a good crop year, the race to harvest is so competitive that the fruit is sometimes picked when barely ripe.”

The Friends of Island Beach State Park don’t mind sharing their secrets, if only once a year. The annual Beach Plum Festival, held in early September, celebrates wild beach plums and Island Beach’s other natural wonders.

The 17th Annual Beach Plum Festival is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 7, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ocean Beach Bathing Area #1, the first pavilion after the park entrance.

The day’s highlights include plum picking, native plant tours and beach plum jelly-making demonstrations. Beach plum jelly and even beach plum ice cream are for sale. And visitors wishing grow beach plums at home can buy small plants.

Beach plums have a flavor that ranges from astringent when picked early to relatively sweet when ripe. They’re rarely eaten raw, but their tartness gives jams, jellies and other products a distinctive flavor. Believe it or not, even some beers and wines are flavored with beach plums!

Beach plums were first used by indigenous people and later discovered by European settlers. According to Uva, the earliest account of native plums came from explorer Giovanni da Verrazano, who in 1524 spotted them on the Long Island coast and mistakenly recorded them as “damson trees.”

Since then, several coastal land masses have been named after the beach plum, including tiny Plum Island off the northeastern tip of Long Island, the Plum Island barrier beach off Newburyport, Mass., and Prime Hook in Delaware, whose name is a version of the Dutch “Pruime Hoek,” or Plum Point.

The Beach Plum Festival is free, although a $5 donation is requested to support the Friends, a non-profit volunteer group whose mission is to foster public appreciation and stewardship of Island Beach State Park by enhancing educational, recreational and research programs and offering public events.  One of the Friends’ most popular initiatives is the “Osprey cam” that allows the public a close-up view on their computers of the osprey pair that nests there each year.

To learn more about the Friends of Island Beach State Park, visit The website includes a full schedule of activities, including surf fishing clinics, kayak tours, clamming clinics and beach cleanups.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, check out the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

New Jersey Conservation Foundation           Bamboo Brook, 170 Longview Road, Far Hills, NJ 07931           908-234-1225 

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