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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

The greening of New Jersey

August 15th, 2014

RELEASE:Aug. 15, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 33

Much of the Garden State is green and leafy, thanks in large part to land preservation.

Check out a new interactive map to see the green in your community! You can find out if your town has been building new parks, protecting natural areas, preserving farms or saving historic sites.

For most New Jersey towns, the answer is a big yes!

New Jersey got serious about preserving land in the early 1960s with the passage of the first Green Acres bond, and for more than 50 years this state we’re in has been a national model. Preservation efforts accelerated following a 1998 vote creating the Garden State Preservation Trust.

Nearly 390,000 acres of open space and farmland were preserved through the Trust between 2000 and 2013. The excellent new interactive map showing where land was preserved can be found at

The color-coded map illustrates New Jersey’s green places, with darker shades indicating towns with the most preserved acres. Hover your computer’s cursor over a town to see its total size (in acres) and the amount of acreage that was preserved from 2000-2013. 

Much, but not all, land preservation activity is in rural areas. After all, these places have large undeveloped fields, forests, meadows and farms – all needed to protect our state’s clean drinking water and grow local, healthy foods.

The map shows numerous preservation hot spots. The darkest green is reserved for towns with more than 2,500 acres preserved with Garden State Preservation Trust funding – and there are quite a few towns in this color!

For example, two North Jersey towns along the New York border – West Milford in Passaic County and Vernon Township in Sussex County – stand out as preservation leaders. Vernon Township preserved 10,738 of its 44,769 acres, while West Milford preserved 11,388 of its 51,848 acres. Surrounding dark green towns include Jefferson, Rockaway and Kinnelon townships in Morris County; and Hardyston and Wantage townships in Sussex County.

At the opposite end of the state, check out the dark green cluster in the Delaware Bayshore region, representing the fertile farmland of the area known as New Jersey’s “breadbasket.”

Towns like Upper Pittsgrove, Mannington, Pilesgrove, Quinton, Alloway, Pittsgrove and Lower Alloways Creek townships in Salem County; and Hopewell and Fairfield townships in Cumberland County all show up in dark green.

Try clicking on a town.  A box will pop up showing a breakdown of open space, farmland and historic preservation. Here you’ll find deep data on farmland preservation, with records going back to 1985. In some towns, the total amount of preserved land may be even higher than shown on the map.

Urban municipalities like Newark, Jersey City, Secaucus, Lyndhurst, East Rutherford, Clifton and Elmwood Park preserved land through the Garden State Preservation Trust. And, though not reflected on the map, from 2000-2012 the state provided over $76 million for park projects in Essex County, over $55 million in Hudson County and over $30 million in Camden County.

As Election Day in November approaches, the interactive map is a handy tool to remind us about the huge impact of preservation. With two million acres in New Jersey not yet preserved or developed, the open space race is still on and we cannot stop preserving now!

A Nov. 4 ballot question will ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment to establish a permanent funding source for preservation through an existing tax. Initially, the measure would earmark about $70 million a year for preservation, and beginning in 2019 the amount would rise to at least $117 per year.

If you want the nation’s most densely populated state to remain the Garden State, vote “yes” in November!

To learn more about preservation funding, visit the Garden State Preservation Trust website at or read the NJ Keep It Green coalition’s report 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

Highlands Act turns 10

August 8th, 2014

RELEASE:Aug. 7, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 32

“These watersheds should be preserved from pollution at all hazards, for upon them the most populous portions of the state must depend for water supplies. There has been too much laxness in the past regarding this important matter.”  New Jersey Potable Water Commission, 1907, commenting on the New Jersey Highlands region.

More than a century later, these words still ring true. This month marks the 10th anniversary of the signing of the landmark 2004 New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, one of the most significant steps New Jersey has taken to protect its water supply.

It became clear decades ago that our state’s 565 municipalities could not, acting alone, adequately protect water and natural resources. As a result, regional planning initiatives in the Meadowlands and Pine Barrens were enacted and have made New Jersey a national leader in innovative land use planning. The Highlands is the most recent example.

A major, but not sole, driver in establishing the Highlands Act and plan was safeguarding our water supply. More than 5 million New Jerseyans, including those in the state’s most populous cities – Newark, Jersey City, Paterson and Elizabeth – depend on Highlands water. So do numerous industries, including pharmaceutical firms and food and beverage companies like Anheuser-Busch.

Anyone who follows world news knows that water is a precious commodity, becoming scarcer every day. An adequate supply of clean water makes life and civilization possible, with lawsuits and wars fought over it. And what would the economy of this state we’re in be without it?

After more than 100 years of discussion and debate about protecting Highlands water, in 2004 the time was finally right and Governor James McGreevey signed the Highlands Act into law. 

The Act established an independent Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, charged with creating a regional master plan to guide development into appropriate areas and protect water resources, forests, critical wildlife habitat, farmland, historic sites, recreation and scenic beauty. Today, the Highlands Act is making headway in preventing the loss of thousands of acres of open land.

Over the last decade, a huge investment has been made in protecting the water supply for nearly two-thirds of the state’s residents. More than a third of the Highlands has been preserved and 47 of the 88 Highlands towns have begun to align their master plans and zoning ordinances with the regional master plan, which is now undergoing a mandated review.

The Highlands Act implementing rules restrict development in the most environmentally sensitive areas. Owners of those lands can apply for compensation through open space and farmland preservation programs. While funding for these preservation programs is currently depleted, the possibility of new funding in the near future may be welcome news to landowners.

This November, New Jerseyans will vote on a ballot question that would continue state funding for land protection, including land in the Highlands.  This would provide much needed funds to acquire critical conservation lands and help landowners at the same time.

In addition, a bill to extend the federal Highlands Conservation Act through 2024 is under consideration in Congress. This act also provides funding for land conservation projects and assistance to private landowners.

Politics may be ever changing, but the need for clean, plentiful water is constant. Our health depends on it, our jobs depend on it, and our economy depends on it!

To learn more about the Highlands and what is being done to protect it, go to Highlands Council website at Another great resource is the New Jersey Highlands Coaliton, a nonprofit devoted to protecting, enhancing and restoring the region –

How about a hike to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Highlands Act? The New Jersey Sierra Club will hold a hike at 9:30 a.m. this Sunday, Aug. 10, at Norvin Green State Forest in Ringwood. For more information, go to

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 pedestrian pursuit

August 4th, 2014

RELEASE:Aug. 1, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 31

In honor of New Jersey’s 350th anniversary, Mount Holly resident Bill Bolger plans to walk 150 miles along the original Province Line that divided East Jersey and West Jersey in the late 1600s, when our state first became an English colony. He’s expecting the autumn journey to last three weeks, taking him from the Atlantic Ocean in Holgate to Tocks Island on the Delaware River.

For many folks, that’s a little extreme. But there’s a special breed of walker who loves a good, long ramble – and a challenge!

For them, the perfect group has to be the FreeWalkers, dedicated to organizing long distance walks in New Jersey and beyond. Throughout the year, the Freewalkers plan interesting treks – kind of like slow-speed marathons – showcasing the state’s diverse geography, from city sidewalks to paths along historic canals and railway corridors.

You’ve got to be in shape for these walks, but there’s more to it than that. The group is also a social network of the type that existed before the internet, and the walks encourage both friendship and fitness in pursuit of pedestrianism.

“We encourage everyone to strive for an ambitious personal goal and then plan and motivate themselves to achieving it,” said Paul Kiczek, the group’s founder and a Morristown resident. “This is not about speed but endurance. Walkers benefit from the exercise, friendships and the delight of discovering a hidden world nearby.”

Among the FreeWalkers’ upcoming events:

  • The Aug. 9 moonlight walk along the Columbia Trail in Hunterdon County, where a rail line once operated. This 12-mile walk starts at the trailhead in High Bridge and goes to Califon Island Park, then back to High Bridge. Although there’s a full moon that night, headlamps are recommended!
  • The Sept. 27 “Endless Summer” walk from Matawan to Asbury Park, for those who don’t want summer to end but love the crispness of early fall. This walk covers 30 seashore miles, from Raritan Bay to the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The Oct. 13 “Lenape 34: The Origins Walk” across Essex County from Millburn to Newark. This tough walk over varied terrain follows the Lenape Trail through four reservations, three public utility access routes and 15 parks in over a dozen towns!

The Freewalkers generally travel at about three miles an hour, so walks of 30-plus miles mean a long day … or night. But there’s often a support vehicle to help anyone having trouble, and even walkers who choose to cover less than the total distance are welcome. “People walk part of the distance, they walk with dogs, they walk with their kids, it’s all okay with us,” said Paul.

For the fourth year, the FreeWalkers are partnering with the East Coast Greenway on the “Cross-Jersey Walking Challenge,” which sets a goal of walking 100 miles across the state on the East Coast Greenway at any time during the year. Walkers complete sections on their own schedules and log their progress on the FreeWalkers website.

Celebrate the Garden State’s 350th birthday with a long walk, and savor the sights that can’t be seen by car!

For more information about the FreeWalkers, including details about how to sign up for upcoming walks, go to

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



Barnegat Bay: A Jersey jewel in peril

July 25th, 2014

RELEASE: July 25, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 30

Barnegat Bay, a favorite destination in this state we’re in, is famous for crabbing, fishing, swimming, sailing and boating.

But in recent years, Barnegat Bay has been in decline. For decades, scientists have warned that an overload of nutrients – specifically, nitrogen and phosphorus found in fertilizers and also acid rain – is choking the bay.

New Jersey’s Senate and Assembly Environment Committees just held a hearing in Toms River about the state of the bay’s health. Overwhelming evidence shows that nutrients entering the bay pose an increasingly dire threat.

Rutgers University scientist Michael Kennish presented an updated report showing that environmental degradation of the bay has worsened over the past two years, and excessive nutrients are still to blame.

The main problem is lawn fertilizers running into the bay during rainstorms. You might think lawns are porous and would absorb these nutrients, but that’s not the case. Nearly all lawns exist on soils that have been so compacted by construction, mowing and recreation that they function like pavement. Most of what’s applied to lawns in Ocean County – which makes up virtually the entire Barnegat Bay watershed – ultimately winds its way into the bay.

There is also a significant amount of nitrogen in the summer thunderstorms that blow in from the Midwest, where coal-burning power plants are still abundant. Nitrogen falls with the acid rain and quickly flows into the bay through storm sewers.

Coastal scientists describe the bay as “highly eutrophic,” a condition caused by high levels of nutrients. This results in low dissolved oxygen levels in the water, harmful algae blooms, a loss of marine habitats and decreased abundance of hardshell clams and many other popular aquatic species.

Here are three things needed to restore Barnegat Bay’s health: 

  1. The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) should declare it an “impaired” waterway under the Clean Water Act, which would require the state to restrict the amount of nutrients allowed in the bay and put it on a restricted pollution diet. This was suggested in the past, but Governor Christie vetoed it. The governor did sign a law limiting the nutrients in fertilizers sold in New Jersey and cutting the amounts that can be used on lawns. That step should reduce nutrients entering the bay, but the law is too new to fully evaluate its impact. And by itself it’s not enough.
  2. Keep preserving land in the bay’s watershed. Thanks to the Pinelands Protection Act, the state Green Acres Program and the federal Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, 57 percent of the watershed is preserved. The Ocean County Natural Lands Trust has also preserved significant forested land. But most of the lands immediately adjacent to the northern half of Barnegat Bay are intensely developed. So pristine headwater streams begin in natural lands but pick up massive amounts of pollutants as they enter the bay.
  3. The DEP is now rewriting its rules that govern land use in our coastal communities. This is the perfect chance to promote soil restoration and restrict nutrients. Unfortunately, the proposed new rules ignore studies showing lawns to be hard, compacted, impervious surfaces. Instead, the rules define them as “porous” surfaces. The rules need to be written to provide real protections for the bay!

“We now have the science to show us how to restore the bay, and we understand how available approaches and strategies can effectively implement the scientific findings” says Tim Dillingham, Executive Director of the American Littoral Society, a coastal conservation organization based in Highlands. “We need the Governor and the DEP to put these tools into place, and adopt clean water designations, land use rules and policies to save the bay.”

You can take action to help Barnegat Bay! Please sign a petition asking the DEP to declare it an “impaired” waterway, which will lead to greater protections. Go to

For a wealth of information on Barnegat Bay’s ecosystem and the work being done to protect and restore it, visit the Save Barnegat Bay website at

And to learn more about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit 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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