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Keep hunters’ guns silent on Sundays

January 23rd, 2015

RELEASE:Jan. 23, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 4

“Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir

Peace and tranquility are increasingly scarce, with our busy lives filled with the blaring noise and lights of multiple electronics. Fortunately, we still have nature … a perfect antidote to stress and overload. Studies show that spending even a few minutes in a natural outdoor setting restores calmness and well-being.

But New Jersey’s natural areas would become less inviting as quiet havens from stress if a proposed bill allowing Sunday gun hunting goes through.

For decades, New Jersey and about 10 other eastern states have prohibited gun hunting on Sundays, preserving that one day of the week for quiet enjoyment of the outdoors without safety concerns.

Peaceful Sundays will end if this bill, S-699, now before the New Jersey Senate, becomes law. The proposal would make every day of the week, all year round, available for gun hunting. The bill was sponsored by Senator Joseph Kyrillos, who said the measure is designed to help firearms hunters whose schedules don’t allow them to hunt on other days.

However well intentioned, the bill would harm vastly more New Jerseyans than it helps. Last year, the state had fewer than 78,000 hunting license holders, while its population was almost 9 million. Hunters make up less than one percent of the population, and the bill doesn’t consider the other 99-plus percent – including families with children, hikers, birders, mountain bikers, nature photographers, dog walkers, equestrians, runners, trail builders and outdoor educators – whose schedules are equally demanding.

Sunday is the only day when many people – not just hunters – get outside and enjoy nature. In fact, many families specifically limit their woodland rambles to Sundays during deer hunting season, and outdoor organizations often organize hikes and trail rides for Sundays to avoid potential conflicts with gun hunters and assure peaceful enjoyment of our wild places.

The state already has various firearms hunting seasons spread across six days of the week for the entire year, which include hunting for the following animals: deer, bear, turkey, pheasant, bobwhite quail, snipe, woodcock, grouse, rail, crow, coyote, fox, possum, raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, woodchuck and various ducks and geese.

While hunters can play a crucial role in wildlife management by culling over-abundant deer, there is no demonstrated need for gun hunting 365 days a year. For those who want to hunt on Sundays, state law was changed in 2009 to allow bow hunting in state wildlife management areas and on private lands. And a currently proposed law would expand Sunday bow hunting to military lands within the state.

The overwhelming majority of New Jersey’s preserved state lands were paid for by our taxpayers. Tranquil enjoyment of our state lands should be guaranteed to the public at least one day each week.

If this bill, S-699, becomes law, Sundays will never be the same! Because so few East Coast states have Sunday gun hunting, New Jersey would become a weekend destination for out-of-state hunters, further reducing opportunities for safe and peaceful enjoyment of nature by our residents.

Please take action to defeat S-699 and any related bill that may be proposed in the state Assembly. Contact your legislators and ask them to keep the woods quiet and safe on Sundays. To find your legislator, go to www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp. You can also sign an online petition on Change.org at www.change.org/p/new-jersey-state-senate-stop-senate-bill-699-sunday-hunting-in-nj-parks?recruiter=217139801&utm_campaign=signature_receipt&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition.

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

Celebrate the ‘Month of the Eagle’

January 16th, 2015

RELEASE:Jan. 16, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 3

It was only 30 to 40 years ago that things were looking grim for bald eagles in this state we’re in. Populations were plummeting across the United States due to pesticides. Eagles had all but vanished from New Jersey, with just a single nesting pair from 1970 to 1980.

But this iconic bird has made a remarkable comeback, thanks to a national ban on the pesticide DDT and the restoration efforts of wildlife biologists. By last year, New Jersey’s population was up to 156 territorial pairs, with 201 chicks hatched.

This rebound is true cause for celebration, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now!

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, which supports the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, has declared January the “Month of the Eagle.”

In addition, Conserve Wildlife biologist Larissa Smith has recruited volunteers from across the state to monitor known eagle nesting sites. “Basically, they go out once a week and let us know what they see,” she explained.

Why now? It turns out that January is a great month to watch bald eagles in the Garden State, as we have both year-round residents and wintering birds that come down from colder climates. And bald eagles are just beginning their new nesting season.  The first eggs were laid last year on Jan. 12, so this year’s incubation could start at any time.

“They’re definitely working on their nests,” reported Smith. “I was just driving down the Parkway and saw an eagle flying overhead carrying a stick, so that’s a sign.”

At the Franklin Parker Preserve in the Pine Barrens, volunteers have been monitoring an eagle nest for nine years. They think a second eagle pair may nest there this year, in part due to the success of an extensive wetlands restoration project on the preserve.

Eagles are now found in every county in New Jersey, although places like the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Atlantic County and the Mannington Meadows of Salem County are particular “hot spots” due to large bodies of open water.

Eagle celebrations continue in February with the Cumberland County Winter Eagle Festival on Saturday, Feb. 7, in Mauricetown, along the Delaware Bay. The all-day event includes viewing sites with spotting scopes and bird experts, trail walks, speakers and presentations, and live raptor exhibits by the Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge. For more information, visit the festival’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wintereaglefest.

For those who prefer to watch eagles from their couch, check out the Duke Farms Eagle Cam, which offers a bird’s eye view of a nest 80 feet high in a sycamore tree at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, Somerset County. Since the Eagle Cam began operating in 2008, more than 8 million viewers have logged on to watch a dozen eaglets hatch and fledge. Go to www.dukefarms.org/eaglecam.

Thanks to technology, we’re also learning about what happens to young eagles after they leave their nests and establish their own territories.  Last year two juveniles from South Jersey were outfitted with lightweight GPS “backpacks” to allow satellite tracking of their movements.

Unfortunately, one of the juveniles – a female named Millville – was found dead in November after apparently coming in contact with an electrical wire. But a male named Nacote – hatched at a nest near Nacote Creek in Port Republic – is alive and well.  To see an interactive map of his movements, go to www.conservewildlifenj.org/protecting/projects/baldeagle.

Eagles can travel great distances in a single day, so transmitters like the one Nacote wears help researchers learn more about their movements, roosting places and impacts of weather and land types. Nacote isn’t the only New Jersey eagle being tracked; a female named Haliae, hatched at the Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County in 2013, also wears a transmitter.

Celebrate eagles this winter! To read the 2014 “New Jersey Bald Eagle Project” report, with complete information on nesting pairs and their chicks, go to www.conservewildlifenj.org/downloads/cwnj_602.pdf.

And for more information about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

A matter of trust

January 9th, 2015

RELEASE:Jan. 9, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 2

For over 54 years, Green Acres has stood as one of the state’s most popular and trusted programs, preserving hundreds of thousands of acres from High Point to Cape May. These lands belong to the public, New Jersey citizens, who have voted time and again to fund Green Acres parks, forests and trails.

But this public trust is now in danger of being eroded, as the state weighs a proposal to sell off 80 acres of preserved land in Millville, Cumberland County, so it can be developed for industrial use.

At a recent public hearing in Trenton, citizens lined up to urge the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to reject its proposed “diversion” of the property, which is part of the state’s Menantico Ponds Wildlife Management Area.

Troubling questions were raised: Is the public trust being violated, and is the Green Acres Program losing sight of its mission to protect land in perpetuity?

“The public must have confidence in the state, as a guarantor, upholding the public trust,” asserted David Peifer of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions.

The state Department of Environmental Protection bought the former Durand Glass property in July 2013 because of its natural assets:  forested wildlife habitat, the pristine headwaters of two rivers and its location adjacent to thousands of acres of preserved lands. The preservation was part of a 40-year effort to protect the headwaters of the Menantico and Manumuskin rivers.

The property includes upland pine forest with an open, sandy understory. It’s a critical habitat for threatened Northern Pine Snakes, very likely habitat for endangered Corn Snakes, and breeding habitat for rare species including Box Turtle, Wood Thrush, Black-billed Cuckoo, and Whip-poor-will. And it may be habitat for the Northern Long-eared Bat, which has been proposed for the federal endangered species list.

In short, it’s a gem of a property that was preserved for all the right reasons.

But the city of Millville cried foul, claiming it didn’t know about plans to preserve the land and had wanted to use it for economic development. Lawsuits were filed.

Incredibly, the Green Acres Program capitulated, and has proposed removing the 80 acres from the wildlife management area and selling them for speculative development.

This action was unprecedented.  Although Green Acres rules permit “diversions” of preserved land to other uses under certain conditions, the properties are usually small and needed for public purposes, like road widening, schools or hospitals. Until now, large preserved properties desired for commercial use have not been on the table.

If the diversion is allowed, it would set a devastating precedent across this state we’re in. What would prevent other towns in a financial pinch from seeking to sell off preserved lands for commercial use? Could any park or natural area be considered fair game?

Green Acres rules prohibit towns and counties from selling conservation lands without a rigorous review. The state should be at least as vigilant with its own land! Approving this proposal would undermine its own rules, as well as the public trust, for conservation lands all over New Jersey.

Please tell the state it would be a breach of the public trust to “un-preserve” this land! Send written comments to the DEP by Jan. 20.  Comments should be addressed to: Judeth Piccinini Yeany, NJDEP Green Acres Program, Mail Code 501-01, P.O. Box 420, Trenton, NJ 08625-0420. Or you can email comments to Judeth.Yeany@dep.nj.gov.

And for more information on preserving land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Make some ‘green’ resolutions in 2015!

January 2nd, 2015

RELEASE:Jan. 2, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 1

It’s that time again, when the slate is wiped clean and we resolve to do things better in the new year.

So how about resolving to reduce your impact on the Earth? It’s clear that major changes are needed worldwide in the way we use energy and natural resources.

Bringing about sweeping changes may sound overwhelming, but individuals can and do make a difference! Never underestimate the impact one person can make by changing habits and committing to a greener footprint.

Here are some simple things you can do in 2015. 

Remember the Rs! Reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose, reclaim. Make it a personal challenge to create as little waste as possible. Recycle everything that you can. Don’t toss old furniture, clothing, electronics and other stuff. Fix them, find a new use for them or donate them.  Compost leaves, grass clippings, fruit peels and vegetable scraps instead of throwing them in the trash.

Don’t heat or cool an empty home.  Turn down the heat or air conditioning when you leave your home. Even better, invest in a programmable thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature at night and when the house is empty.  Consider how much of our electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal. The less you use, the less pollution goes into our atmosphere.

Try alternative transportation. Here in New Jersey, we’re very dependent on cars. Opt for public transportation or carpooling when possible. If you can walk or bicycle to work or errands – even occasionally – do it! Not only will it save energy, but it will improve your physical and mental health.

Be smooth behind the wheel.  Yes, gasoline is cheap right now, but that’s no license to be wasteful! Get in the habit of driving efficiently, avoiding quick acceleration and sudden braking. You’ll create fewer emissions and improve your car’s gas mileage. Don’t leave your car idling, and be sure to keep your tires inflated to the correct pressure.

Eat less meat and more plants. Raising livestock and poultry for food requires huge amounts of land, water and energy.  About 70 percent of the grains grown in this country are fed to “food animals,” and entire forest ecosystems are being converted to cattle ranches. Even if you’re not ready to go meat-free, you can help the environment by eating more meatless meals this year.

Go local and organic.  Whenever you can, buy local foods. Not only does it support your community’s economy, but it doesn’t require long-distance shipping and all the pollution that entails. If the food is organic, so much the better! Chemical fertilizers and pesticides can destroy the soil’s living organisms and harm pollinators.

Every drop counts.  New Jersey is fortunate not to have suffered terrible droughts, but we can’t take clean and plentiful water for granted.  Use it wisely. Don’t leave the faucet running while brushing your teeth or shaving. Switch to low-flow shower heads, and repair leaking faucets and toilets. If you have a garden, drain your gutters into a rain barrel and use that for watering.

Paper or plastic? How about neither! Ditch single-use shopping bags and switch to reusable bags. Buy a bundle and keep them in your car. It’s easier to carry groceries in strong reusable bags with good handles, and you won’t accumulate wads of single-use bags in your kitchen closet. 

Beware of vampires! “Vampire electronics,” that is … appliances and consumer gadgets that suck power even when they’re not “on.”  Defang the vampires by unplugging appliances and chargers when not in use, or using power strips with switches that can be flipped off. When you replace old electronics, look for products with low energy use in standby mode.

These are just a few modest actions that anyone can take. One person making a green resolution won’t save the planet, but one small change multiplied by 9 million New Jerseyans would have a huge positive impact!

Here’s to a green and healthy new year!  For more information about conserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

No Sterling Forest casino = good news for NJ water

December 22nd, 2014

RELEASE:Dec. 22, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 52

Sterling Forest, more than 22,000 acres of ruggedly spectacular forest in New York, just over New Jersey’s border, has been the target of many development proposals.  In addition to its natural beauty, its watershed supplies public wells and drinking water for many New Jerseyans.

Two decades ago, Sterling Forest’s pristine woods and waters were threatened by massive development plans for a new town of 35,000 people. Citizens in both states to fought to preserve the land. New Jersey Governors Jim Florio and Christine Todd Whitman and our state Legislature provided the first hard cash — $10 million – to protect these forested lands in New York State.

Today, Sterling Forest State Park is an unspoiled Highlands treasure only 40 miles from Manhattan.  Protected at a cost of some $100 million, it contains critical wildlife habitat, the headwaters of the Ramapo River, and wonderful places to hike and observe nature. Its visitor center is named for the late New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, who played a pivotal role in its protection.

Those who love the park – and those who depend on its watershed lands for their drinking water – won a major victory on December 17, when a New York casino commission rejected a 1.4 million square foot casino and resort smack dab in the middle of Sterling Forest.

An international casino company had sought to build a casino-resort complex on a 240-acre “inholding” of private land completely surrounded by Sterling Forest State Park.  According to projections, the complex would have attracted up to 7 million visitors a year, with parking for nearly 9,000 cars. At 122 feet high, the 1,000-room hotel would have dominated the landscape.

As they did in the 1990s, citizens from both New York and New Jersey banded together to stop the proposed casino.   “The proposed casino development is, simply and clearly, the wrong proposal in the wrong place,” wrote a coalition of groups, including New Jersey Conservation Foundation.  “There is no modification to the proposal that will make it acceptable.  By design, any large and heavily trafficked casino facility would bring irreparable damage to one of New York’s great natural areas.”

Nearly three million people in New Jersey and New York rely on surface water and groundwater from the Ramapo River and its watershed.  New Jersey’s Wanaque Reservoir and Oradell reservoirs depend on this water, as do municipal drinking water wells in Bergen County.

Kudos to New York gaming officials for not locating a casino-resort in beautiful Sterling Forest. Allowing this massive facility would have harmed all the values for which the state park was preserved.

But the eventual fate of the private, 240-acre “inholding” remains uncertain.  Large inholdings like this one are prime candidates for permanent preservation. Citizens of New Jersey and New York must remain vigilant and seek to preserve the property or, at least, make sure that future uses won’t harm Sterling Forest’s scenic beauty, watershed, and wildlife.

To learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Imagining New Jersey’s future

December 18th, 2014

RELEASE:Dec. 18, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 51

In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a despondent George Bailey gets to see what his town would have looked like if he’d never been born.

It’s an alluring concept. Most of us would love to get a magical glimpse of alternate worlds that would exist if one thing or another had gone differently in the past.

 But, without Clarence the angel, all we can do is imagine a future based on what we know of the past and present … and what we hope for in the years ahead. And it turns out that New Jerseyans aren’t bad at that!

In November, citizens showed that they can’t imagine a future without clean water, parks, natural areas, farms, wildlife and historic sites. By an overwhelming margin, voters passed a ballot question amending the state constitution to dedicate part of the state’s existing corporate business tax for preservation programs.

It marked the 14th time since 1962 that voters gave a thumbs-up to open space funding. And it comes not a moment too soon. State coffers for preservation are empty, with all funds from the last bond in 2009 spent or allocated. Citizens clearly understand that our long-term quality of life depends on saving a healthy amount of green!

Another 2014 conservation highlight was the celebration of New Jersey’s 350th anniversary, which spotlighted many of our conservation “firsts.” These include America’s first national historic park, the Morristown National Historic Park; the first federally-designated wilderness area east of the Mississippi, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge; America’s first and only national reserve, the New Jersey Pinelands; and the Essex County Park System, the first of its kind in the nation!

The passage of the new federal Farm Bill in 2014 brought some good news to New Jersey farmers. The Farm Bill included a billion dollars nationwide to preserve working farms and ranches over the next 10 years. Thanks to this program, more than 170 Garden State farms – most of them small and family-owned – already have been preserved. The Farm Bill also renewed funding for organic farming programs.

The federal listing of the red knot, a long-distance migratory shorebird, as “threatened” was finalized after years of advocacy. Red knots fly from the southern tip of South America to nesting grounds in the Arctic Circle, stopping each spring along New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore to fatten up on horseshoe crab eggs.  The red knot was already listed in New Jersey as endangered, but the federal listing is more protective. The listing is good news, but it’s bad news that the bird had to be listed in the first place!

The worst conservation news in 2014 was the proliferation of gas and oil pipeline proposals across the state, threatening water supplies and preserved lands.

The proposed PennEast pipeline would run between Wilkes Barre, Pa., and a point north of Trenton, N.J., crossing through preserved farmland and open space in Hunterdon and Mercer counties. The proposed Pilgrim Pipeline would run from Albany, N.Y. to Linden, N.J., passing through drinking water supply watersheds and numerous preserved lands in Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Essex and Union counties.  There’s a continued threat of reviving a pipeline through the Pine Barrens, which was defeated earlier in the year. And more proposals are coming!

Further unwelcome news in 2014 was the state’s proposal to “divert” – or sell off – 80 acres of preserved land from the Menantico Ponds Wildlife Management Area in Cumberland County, to be converted to an industrial park. If approved, it would be the largest sell-off of state Green Acres land in the history of the program.

Pipelines and land diversions are shaping up to be top environmental concerns in 2015. Another challenge will be determining how corporate business tax revenues will be divided up to meet our state’s needs for land preservation, park development and stewardship, and environmental programs.

If you can’t imagine a future with pipelines crossing preserved lands, or seeing our public conservation lands sold off, please speak up now!

To comment on pipelines, contact U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, and your district’s Congressional representative.  To find their contact information, go to http://www.njconservation.org/takeaction.htm.

To object to the sell-off of 80 acres from the Menantico Ponds Wildlife Management Area, attend the public hearing in Trenton on Tuesday, Jan. 6, or write to Judeth Piccinini Yeany of the state Department of Environmental Protection ‘s Green Acres Program at Judeth.Yeany@dep.nj.gov.

For more information about pipelines and land diversions, contact Alison Mitchell, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s policy director, at Alison@njconservation.org.

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

Restoring our native American chestnut

December 12th, 2014

RELEASE:Dec. 12, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 50

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” was once a common phrase, long before it was a song.

That was back when American chestnut trees dominated forests from New England to the South and as far west as the Ohio Valley. Each fall the trees’ sweet nuts blanketed forest floors, providing a bountiful harvest for foragers of all stripes. Rot-resistant chestnut wood was prized for building materials.

But the beginning of the end for our majestic American chestnut came in the late 1800s, when nurseries imported Asian chestnut trees carrying a microscopic fungus. American chestnuts had no resistance to the fungus. The resulting chestnut blight, first discovered in 1904 in New York City, quickly spread.

By the time “The Christmas Song” was written in 1944, billions of native chestnut trees had succumbed and most of the great chestnut forests that had thrived for sixty thousand years were gone.

Today, although the American chestnut is not technically extinct, few trees grow old enough to flower and reproduce. Any “chestnuts roasting on open fires” today probably did not come from our native trees.

But there’s hope for a chestnut comeback – and, ironically, it comes from the very trees that originally carried the blight. The American Chestnut Foundation has been working since the 1980s to breed a hybrid chestnut combining the natural characteristics of American chestnuts with the blight resistance of Asian varieties.

The Chestnut Foundation does most of its research in western Virginia, where 10,000 hybrid trees are growing. These trees represent the sixth generation of cross-breeding, and are genetically about 15/16ths American chestnut and 1/16th Chinese chestnut.

The Chestnut Foundation has other experimental plots up and down the coast, including several in New Jersey.

According to Sara Fitzsimmons, regional science coordinator for the American Chestnut Foundation, one of the more successful plots in the Garden State is a fenced grove of 150 trees on Schooley’s Mountain, near Long Valley. “They’re doing very well. We have some trees that are five to six inches in diameter at breast height, and we’re getting nuts from them.”

In Somerset County’s Lord Stirling Park in Basking Ridge, volunteers last spring planted 350 nuts from a hybrid known as “Restoration 1.0.” As of the end of October, 90 percent of the seedlings had survived.

And in Bergen County, the Tenafly Nature Center has worked with the Chestnut Foundation to set up an educational demonstration plot with a variety of chestnut hybrids.

Other New Jersey experiments haven’t turned out as well. A chestnut grove in Mendham suffered from heavy deer damage, and two plots on New Jersey Conservation property in Hunterdon County have lost most of their trees. But even failures contribute to the body of research about what works and what doesn’t.

“Tree breeding is not for the impatient,” notes Fitzsimmons. “We make slow progress and every once in a while we have an ‘aha’ moment.”

The Chestnut Foundation plans to cull its sixth-generation hybrids down to “the best of the best,” said Fitzsimmons, and eventually plant their seeds throughout the American chestnut’s former range.

With luck and science, someday our forests may again be filled with majestic chestnut trees – and chestnuts roasting on an open fire will come from hybrids descended from a sorely missed American native.

To learn more about the American chestnut restoration project, visit the American Chestnut Foundation website at www.atf.org.

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

Crossing to safety: Town builds ‘turtle tunnels’

December 5th, 2014

RELEASE:Dec. 5, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 49

Several years ago, Bedminster Township in Somerset County built bridges and pathways to help pedestrians and bicyclists safely cross some of its busiest roads, including Routes 206 and 287. Now it’s doing the same for another group of residents … reptiles and amphibians.

The town just completed a series of five “turtle tunnels” beneath River Road, a local road that separates hundreds of acres of natural area and parkland from the North Branch of the Raritan River.

The tunnels are designed to help wood turtles – a threatened species in New Jersey – get from their hibernating areas in wetlands along the river to their breeding grounds on the other side of the road. The tunnels will also help snakes, frogs, toads, salamanders and other turtles with the same perilous crossing.

“If we build it, we hope they come,” said Mayor Steve Parker. “Time will tell.”

 The idea behind the tunnels is to reduce the high mortality rate for reptiles and amphibians crossing River Road. Many a critter has been flattened there, especially during the frenzy of the springtime breeding season.

Bedminster is a challenging place for travelers of all species. It is traversed by interstate highways 78 and 287, as well as state highways 202 and 206. When highway traffic backs up – which is most of the time –frustrated drivers fan out on local roads like River Road.

Decades ago, Bedminster officials resolved to make the town friendlier for walkers and bicyclists by building a “hike and bike” path connecting The Hills townhouse complex and shopping centers in its southeast corner with the elementary school, library and parks to the north. Creating the trail took some serious engineering, including pedestrian bridges over highways and on-off ramps. State funding paid for much of the work.

About 10 years ago, as the township began building new ballfields along River Road, wood turtles were discovered and construction was halted. Ultimately, protecting the wood turtles became a requirement to get state Department of Environmental Protection funding for new sections of the hike and bike path.

“It wasn’t a question of whether we would do the tunnels; it was a question of how we would do them,” explained the mayor. After weighing options and getting advice from the New Jersey Audubon Society, the town decided its public works department would build the turtle tunnels, using a design that has worked in other places.

The only piece of the project still under construction, said Parker, is a series of low barriers to funnel the critters from the wetlands and fields into the tunnel openings: “Without them, they won’t know whether to go left or right to get to the nearest tunnel.”

The new tunnels have metal grates over the top to let sunlight in; otherwise, the reptiles and amphibians wouldn’t go in. The grates are reminiscent of speed bumps, which the mayor thinks is not a bad thing. “A side benefit might be that traffic on River Road will slow down,” he said.

Wildlife crossings aren’t a new idea – remember the critter overpasses that were built across I-78 in the Watchung Reservation decades ago? But they’re still rare.

Kudos to Bedminster Township and the Department of Environmental Protection for looking out for the safety of their reptile and amphibian residents!

To learn more about protecting New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

 

Outdoor ‘green’ can fight the blues

November 26th, 2014

RELEASE:Nov. 26, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 48

As many of us celebrate the holiday season, many others find it stressful.  Daylight is short, winter’s cold is coming on, and holiday pressures go on high.

Crawling under the covers and “hibernating” until spring may sound tempting! But how about trying another cure for the holiday blues? Put more green into your life … as in the outdoors!

A growing body of research is demonstrating that communing with nature and the outdoors is good for our mental health.

We’ve long known that even tiny bits of nature – a flowering houseplant or a calendar with pictures of outdoor scenes – can make people happier. Regular forays into the outdoors magnify that effect, helping to lift depression, boost energy and increase feelings of well-being.

Richard Louv, author of “The Nature Principle” and “Last Child in the Woods,” believes that people in today’s high-tech societies suffer ill effects from spending too much time indoors with computers and electronic devices. He calls it “nature deficit disorder.”

“As we spend more of our lives looking at screens instead of streams, our senses narrow; the more time we spend in the virtual world, the less alive we feel – and the less energy we have for going outside,” Louv writes on his blog.

Louv has plenty of company in his thinking:

  • A 2013 study by researchers from England’s University of Essex, published by the mental health organization Mind, found that “ecotherapy” – that is, taking a walk in nature – reduced depression scores in 71 percent of participants. And it wasn’t just the physical exercise that did the trick. A control group that took a walk in a shopping center didn’t fare nearly as well, with only 45 percent showing reduced depression scores – and 22 percent saying they actually felt more depressed!
  • A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology in 2010 showed that spending even just 20 minutes a day in fresh air boosts vitality, defined as having both physical and mental energy. “Research has shown that people with a greater sense of vitality don’t just have more energy for things they want to do, they are also more resilient to physical illnesses,” said Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and an author of the study.
  • Another study published last January in Environmental Science & Technology showed that living near green spaces like parks and gardens improves long-term well-being. A group of researchers from the UK’s University of Exeter Medical School found that study participants who moved to urban areas with more green space were happier and had lower levels of anxiety and depression than those who moved to places with less green. “These findings are important for urban planners thinking about introducing new green spaces to our towns and cities, suggesting they could provide long term and sustained benefits for local communities,” said the study’s lead author, Ian Alcock.

In 2012, the World Health Organization cited depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide. These studies, and others, build the body of research indicating that natural environments improve health and well-being.

Energize yourself this winter with regular doses of “Vitamin N” – Nature! Bundle up and take a brisk walk in a park or natural area. Celebrate the holidays outdoors with your friends and family members!

And for more information on preserving New Jersey’s land and open space, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

 

Give thanks for wild turkeys

November 21st, 2014

RELEASE:Nov. 21, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 47

Thanks to Thanksgiving, turkeys are one of our most famous native birds. Every preschooler who has traced a handprint to make turkey artwork recognizes the iconic shape of a plump gobbler with a fanned tail.

In the wild, turkeys have become almost as widely distributed as robins in New Jersey. Turkey flocks – known as rafters – are as likely to peck their way across suburban backyards as they are to cluster deep in the woods. They’ve been spotted in parks, along roadsides and have even been known to wander into houses through open doors and windows.

It wasn’t always that way.

Wild turkeys were plentiful across North America at the time of the feast shared by settlers and Native Americans in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621 … now known as the nation’s first Thanksgiving.

But by the mid-1800s in New Jersey, wild turkeys were wiped out due to excessive hunting and loss of habitat. The Garden State had little remaining woods in those days; nearly all of our original forests had been cleared for farming or repeatedly chopped down for timber and firewood.

Forests started regenerating during the early 20th century, as rural citizens abandoned farm life in favor of industrial jobs in cities. But even with new woodlands, wild turkeys couldn’t make a comeback without some help.

In 1977, the state Division of Fish & Wildlife, in cooperation with the New Jersey chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, reintroduced wild turkeys. Twenty-two birds – captured in New York and Vermont – were released near the Delaware Water Gap.

Two years later, biologists began to live-trap and relocate turkeys to establish populations around the state. By 1981, New Jersey’s turkey population had grown large enough to support a spring hunting season; a limited fall season began in 1997.

Wild turkeys are now abundant throughout the New Jersey, with the Division of Fish & Wildlife estimating the population at 20,000 to 23,000 birds.

One reason for their success is their nature. They can thrive almost anywhere. All they need are sizable oak forests, or forest patches interspersed with agriculture or suburbs.

Males, or toms, are polygamous and often mate with several hens during the course of a breeding season. As the Cornell Lab of Ornithology so colorfully describes it, courting toms “puff themselves into feathery balls and fill the air with exuberant gobbling” to attract the ladies.

Hens are no slouches either, laying clutches of up to 17 eggs in shallow nests on the ground. And since the toms don’t help rear their newly-hatched chicks, known as poults, they have plenty of time to chase other hens, resulting in multiple large broods.

Will you spot wild turkeys this Thanksgiving? They’re hard to miss if you come upon them!

Turkeys weigh up to 20 pounds and stand a couple of feet tall, making them one of our largest and heaviest native birds. From a distance gobblers look black, but they actually have a bronze-green iridescence over most of their plumage. 

To see wild turkeys, the Cornell Lab recommends that you get up early, when flocks are foraging in clearings, field edges and roadsides. They’re omnivores whose diets include insects, acorns and nuts, plant buds, salamanders, snails, mosses and underground plant bulbs. They don’t migrate, so they can be spotted in New Jersey all year round.

When you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, give thanks for wild turkeys – and the restoration efforts that brought these spectacular native birds back to New Jersey!

To learn more about wild turkeys, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website at www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/wild_turkey/id. To find out about turkey hunting seasons in New Jersey, go to www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/turkey_info.htm.

And for more information on preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

 
New Jersey Conservation Foundation           Bamboo Brook, 170 Longview Road, Far Hills, NJ 07931           908-234-1225           info@njconservation.org

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