New Jersey Conservation Foundation
New Jersey Land Conservation Organization
State We're In New Jersey Conservation Foundation Blog

Show spotlights NJ’s endangered creatures, and those working to save them

July 24th, 2015

RELEASE: July 24, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 30

What’s more fun than standing in a chilly downpour at night in March, filming volunteers as they help salamanders cross Shades of Death Road?

For Jared Flesher, not much!

An independent documentary filmmaker and New Jersey native, Jared revels in being outdoors and telling stories about nature, animals’ struggles for survival, and human efforts to help.

And he doesn’t mind getting soaked to document the lengths volunteers go to make sure salamanders cross safely to their spring breeding grounds in vernal ponds. “It was a ton of work, but I love going out on a rainy night for something like that,” he said.

The salamander footage is now part of the first episode of The Creature Show, Jared’s new video series, which debuted on July 15 at

The Creature Show spotlights animals in New Jersey that are designated as threatened or endangered species. Creatures like bats, snakes of the Pine Barrens, bobcats, the Red Knot sandpiper and turtles are a few of his subjects.

The “villains of global extinction” – habitat destruction, climate change, invasive species and wildlife disease – will be explored on the series.

The heroes are the scientists and ordinary citizens who devote themselves to protecting biodiversity. “It’s about the biologists and conservationists, the people who are trying to keep these creatures from going extinct,” he explained.

A few weeks ago, Jared filmed biologists in Wharton State Forest in the Pine Barrens and Sparta Mountain in the Highlands as they put out fine “mist nets” at night to capture bats, so the creatures could be evaluated and tagged. Bat populations throughout New Jersey have plummeted as a result of White Nose Syndrome, a disease that causes lesions and scarring on delicate wing membranes.

To everyone’s delight, a healthy long-eared bat – an endangered species – flew into the net at each location.

“The two long-eared bats looked really healthy, which is a promising sign in a situation that overall is pretty dire,” said Jared. The biologists, he added, “were joyful. That kind of passion really comes through.”

Jared got the idea for The Creature Show last fall after finishing “Field Biologist,” a full-length documentary on New Jersey resident Tyler Christensen’s research on neo-tropical migratory birds in Costa Rica.

“Two things I like to do is spent time in nature and tell stories,” he said. “What could be better than running around in the woods of New Jersey trying to tell stories of conservation?”

New Jersey is the perfect place for such a series, Jared believes, because of the Garden State’s geographic diversity. “All of the drivers of global extinction are represented in New Jersey on a small scale, as a microcosm,” he said.

Who will watch The Creature Show? “I hope anyone anywhere who is interested in conservation, biodiversity or just a good nature film will be interested,” he said. The show is offered for free on the internet, so he’s also hoping teachers will use The Creature Show in their classrooms.

Jared raised $10,000 for the first Creature Show episode through an online Kickstarter campaign. But he knows that he can’t finance the entire series that way. He has now partnered with New Jersey Conservation Foundation to help him apply for nonprofit grants and individual gifts.

To watch the salamander episode, go to While you’re there, check out the fascinating blog on the making of the show.

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

A strong voice urges climate action

July 17th, 2015

RELEASE: July 17, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 29

“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,” wrote Pope Francis in his recent encyclical, or papal letter.

The Pope’s letter focused international attention on climate change, and he called on developed countries to limit use of non-renewable energy and help poorer nations deal with the impacts of global warming. A “very solid scientific consensus,” he wrote, indicates a warming of the climate mainly due to human activity.

Predictably, Pope Francis’ message was cheered by climate scientists and jeered by “climate skeptics.”

Global warming, or climate change, has become one of the polarizing issues of our time. Many consider it the most serious threat to mankind, while others dismiss it as a natural fluctuation in our planet’s climate cycles that requires no corrective action.

What the debate means for ordinary folks is often confusion over what to believe.

This confusion is entirely understandable, says Dr. Eric Chivian, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Harvard professor.

According to Dr. Chivian, “Our brains are wired to see what is happening right in front of us right now—we don’t do very well with seeing things that are not obvious, that happen incrementally, or that occur over large areas or in other parts of the world.”

Dr. Chivian was among a group of physicians who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for their efforts to prevent nuclear war. But as he noted at a New Jersey land conservation conference in March, it’s much harder to convince people to take action against climate change than to persuade them to stop nuclear war.

“Global environmental changes, unlike explosions, can be very hard to see. They often occur slowly or intermittently, sometime almost imperceptibly and on global scales,” added Dr. Chivian. What’s more, they can be obscured by normal swings in temperatures and rainfall.

It doesn’t help, Dr. Chivian said, that climate scientists often speak in technical language and discuss probabilities, based on observations, rather than certainties. However, the “climate deniers” are always 100 percent certain, he said.

Climate change is also seen by some people as hypothetical, since it relies on computer models and projections. “Some will say, for example, ‘How can you tell what the climate will be in 2100 when we can’t even tell with any certainty what the weather will be like next week?’ ” he said.

Then there’s the human tendency to avoid unpleasant news. “The storms and floods, drought, fires, famine, extinctions, and epidemics associated with changes to the global environment are too frightening and overwhelming for most people to think about,” said Dr. Chivian, “and seem too large and difficult to solve, making them feel hopeless and helpless, feelings we all will do anything to avoid experiencing.”

Finally, Dr. Chivian said, there has been a “widespread, well-funded, sophisticated and highly effective campaign, much as there was by the tobacco industry, to cast doubt on the science of global environmental change and to discredit the scientists.”

All these factors have combined to create confusion and paralysis.

Dr. Chivian didn’t claim to have all the answers, but he suggested that global warming may be understood better if explained in terms of human impacts instead of average global temperature or concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In a way, that’s what Pope Francis did – pointing out the massive human suffering that will result if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

What remains to be seen is whether the Pope’s powerful words about saving “our common home” will help change public thinking about climate change, and lead to action.

“We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family,” he said. “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”

Looking for reliable information about climate change?

Here are some of the best resources: The NASA global climate change website at, the Climate Central website at and the World Health Organization website at To read Rutgers University’s state of the climate report for New Jersey, go to And for a longer list of web resources, go to

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

A.J. Meerwald, New Jersey’s tall ship

July 9th, 2015

RELEASE:July 9, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 28

If you were asked to name a maritime state, New Jersey might not come to mind.  But if you’ve cruised on New Jersey’s official state ship – the A. J. Meerwald –you know otherwise!

This summer, you might have spotted the 70 feet high and 85 feet long oak-on-oak schooner as it sailed along New Jersey’s coast for the Tall Ships Challenge, an event with several ports of call.  On June 25th, it left from Bivalve on the Delaware Bay and sailed to Camden’s waterfront before travelling up the coast to be New Jersey’s ambassador for a July 4th event in Greenport, N.Y.

Schooners – the “workhorses” of tall ships – were a common sight a century ago.  Thousands of them once sailed up and down the nation’s east coast. As many as 500 schooners similar to the A. J. Meerwald sailed up New Jersey’s west coast each spring to harvest oysters. 

But New Jersey’s oyster industry declined dramatically around the time of the Great Depression, and the age of tall ships passed on.

Only the A.J. Meerwald remains under sail as she was on Delaware Bay, and is available for all to experience a sail and learn about its history.

Built in 1928 in Dorchester, New Jersey, at the height of the Delaware Bay oyster industry, the A.J. Meerwald survived the years by adapting to changing times. For four decades, the schooner served several uses, including a stint as a fireboat for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Meghan Wren, Founder and Executive Director of the Bayshore Center at Bivalve, New Jersey, knew that the schooner would inspire and educate people about the ecology and history of the Bayshore when it was donated to the Center in 1989. The Bayshore Center was founded the previous year to motivate people to take care of the history, the culture and the environment of New Jersey’s Bayshore region. The ship was the perfect vessel to entice people to the Center’s education and preservation mission.

“The A.J. Meerwald is not only a reminder of the days when oysters were king,” says Wren, “but it is also a symbol for the importance of the Delaware Bayshore.  The region is an area of open space, historic landscapes, agriculture and natural biodiversity and the ship helps people celebrate and learn about that.”

While the schooner was originally restored as a sailing classroom, it has since become more significant for all New Jerseyans. In 1995, the A.J. Meerwald was listed on the National Register of Historical Places and in 1998, Governor Whitman declared it New Jersey’s Official Tall Ship.

Along the coastline, tributaries, headwaters and forests of New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore, wildlife and beauty abound.  Thanks to the Pinelands Protection Act and tens of thousands of acres of preserved lands, the Delaware Bayshore has some of the highest quality wetlands, natural environment and best farmland in the state.  The A.J. Meerwald schooner and the Bayshore Center at Bivalve are perfect starting points for all New Jerseyans to learn more about this incredible region.

Take a sail this summer and learn more about our maritime state! The A. J. Meerwald has many ports of call this summer – not only in Bivalve, but also in Jersey City, Alpine, Long Beach Island, Barnegat Light, Atlantic City and Cape May. 

Or visit the Bayshore Center at Bivalve in the restored oyster shipping sheds on the Maurice River.  For more information or to purchase tickets for the A. J. Meerwald, visit

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

A summer playlist

July 2nd, 2015

RELEASE:July 2, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 27

Summer is time to be outdoors … hiking, swimming, bicycling, fishing, camping, kayaking, horseback riding, birding, surfing and more.

Whether you’re at the shore, on a mountain, by a river or in the forest – or stuck inside WISHING you were outdoors – a soundtrack can come in handy.

Here’s a playlist of songs about nature and the outdoors to inspire you, pump you up or put a smile on your face.

For inspiration to get out and enjoy sun and fresh air, it’s hard to beat the energetic U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day”. “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie is sure to get you itching to hit the road and explore our country’s lovely places.

The mother of all conservation songs has to be Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” with its oh-so-true lyrics about not knowing what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. On the flip side is “Nothing but Flowers” by the Talking Heads, a humorous riff on the opposite of paving paradise and putting up a parking lot.

The Beatles sang more about love, love, love than nature, but “Mother Nature’s Son” is a good addition to any outdoor playlist. Another classic about getting back to nature is “Apeman” by the Kinks, actually a protest against nuclear war.

If the heat and humidity are getting you down, try “Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful. Gotta get away? The antidote is Canned Heat’s “Going Up the Country,” a Woodstock era classic.

Sunny days are the very essence of summer, and a couple of good songs are “Blue Sky” by the Allman Brothers and “Mr. Blue Sky” by the Electric Light Orchestra. “Sunshine on my Shoulders” by John Denver also fits the bill, although just about anything by John Denver is outdoorsy.

If the shore is your thing, you’ll need songs about the beach and water. No shore playlist would be complete without the Beach Boys – how about “Catch a Wave”?  Otis Redding’s soulful “Dock of the Bay” tells how nature can be a refuge from loneliness. And Weezer’s popular “Island in the Sun” practically makes you feel warm rays on your skin.

Are you a birder? If so, your soundtrack should include Jack Johnson’s “Upside Down” since birds provide the best of Mother’s Nature’s songs. There’s also the funny “I Like Birds” by The Eels. And for those who may be working on your life list, there is “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band, “Blackbird” by the Beatles, “Hummingbird” by Seals & Croft, “Mockingbird” by James Taylor and Carly Simon and “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley. (And, yes, not all of those are really about birds!)

A reverence for nature is beautifully expressed in “Morning Has Broken,” an old hymn updated by Cat Stevens. “One Sweet World” by the Dave Matthews Band is an ode to Mother Earth. And “Leaves that are Green” by Simon & Garfunkel uses nature as a metaphor for the passage of time.

Raising your environmental consciousness? Try Julian Lennon’s “Saltwater,” the Pretenders’ “My City is Gone,” Neil Young’s “Who’s Gonna Stand Up?” and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye.

For more contemporary songs, try “Back to the Wild” by Langthorne Slim, “Mount Marcy” by Frontier Ruckus, “Country Calling” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, “Time Forgot” by Conor Oberst, “Northern Lights” by The Cave Singers and “The Wild Hunt” by The Tallest Man on Earth.

You can probably think of lots more.

Enjoy music and nature together this summer! Look for our “NJ Conservation Summer Playlist” on Spotify. Write to me at and share what’s on your playlist.

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

Economy and environment: A redesign that works for both

June 26th, 2015

RELEASE:June 25, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 26

Must we choose between strong environmental protections and a robust economy? No – it’s possible to have both!  And here’s proof.

New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Scenic Hudson, the Natural Resources Defense Council and many partners reached an historic agreement with LG Electronics on a new 360,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Englewood Cliffs that will meet the highest standards of sustainability while protecting the iconic vistas of the Palisades cliffs, a National Natural and Historic Landmark, and creating new jobs.

It was a happy ending to what could have been a tragic story for an American treasure, the steep Palisades that rise up dramatically from the Hudson River.

The Palisades cliffs were formed 200 million years ago, were gazed upon by explorer Henry Hudson when he anchored his ship there in 1609, inspired the Hudson River School artistic movement, and are now viewed and visited by millions of people a year.

Several years ago, the South Korean firm LG Electronics conducted a nationwide search for a home for its new American headquarters. After evaluating more than 200 locations, the company chose to purchase land in Englewood Cliffs, its base for two decades.

The original design for the new LG headquarters building made a strong statement. Too strong. The 143-foot building would have dominated the view of the Palisades north of the George Washington Bridge -a place where building heights had historically been kept low so as not to interrupt the natural panorama.

Opposition erupted on both sides of the Hudson, resulting in a legal appeal of the zoning variance that permitted the higher building.

Luckily, four former New Jersey governors, all with a strong history of protecting the environment, stepped up to the plate.

The former governors – Brendan Byrne, Thomas Kean, James Florio and Christine Todd Whitman – have strong environmental legacies and worked closely with New Jersey Conservation Foundation for many years. In fact, all serve as members of the foundation’s Honorary Board of Trustees.

The four governors sent a letter to the CEO of LG Electronics, asking for a lower-profile building that respected the Palisades’ significance as a natural landmark and historic site. The voices of the governors, when added to the grassroots opposition, made for a powerful groundswell of public opinion.

Englewood Cliffs Mayor Joseph Parisi called upon all parties to come together and resolve the conflict.

Discussions began nearly a year ago, with the goal of securing a “win-win” solution.  Trust between the parties grew over the months as options were explored.

To LG’s credit, corporate executives listened and understood, demonstrating a genuine appreciation for the Palisades’ significance in the American landscape.

This week, LG and its former foes together announced at a press event that a newly-designed building would be just under 70 feet, less than half the height allowed by the variance. The low-rise building will hug the contours of the Palisades and will not mar the historic viewshed.

The new corporate campus will allow LG to double its employment to more than 1,000 by 2019, and in the short term create thousands of construction jobs.  LG is aiming for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum standards – the highest for energy efficiency – and the design protects surrounding woodlands and wetlands as well.

The four former governors applauded the agreement, saying it “demonstrates that a strong economy goes hand-in-hand with strong environmental protection. With the construction of the new sustainable, low-rise LG headquarters, New Jersey will retain a solid corporate partner along with much needed jobs and tax revenues. And one of America’s most visible natural and historic landmarks will be protected for future generations.”

A sincere thanks to LG for being a conscientious corporate citizen and partner in the protection of the Palisades. The agreement shows that economic development, when done right, can go hand-in-hand with environmental and historic protection. 

To find out more about the LG agreement, go to and

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

Dragonflies: Fierce ballerinas of the sky

June 19th, 2015

RELEASE:June 19, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 25

Hang out by a pond or marsh on a warm summer day, and you’re almost guaranteed to see dragonflies. With colorful needle-shaped bodies and a double set of wings, they’re fun to watch as they hover, swoop and dart, sometimes at blink-of-the-eye speeds.

They’re actually hunting … and very effectively!

Dragonflies don’t bite or sting, but their fierce name is well-deserved. They’re voracious predators, with bodies uniquely equipped to outrun and capture insect prey.

Dragonflies were among the first winged insects on Earth, some 300 million years ago. Fossil records show that some ancient dragonflies had wingspans of up to two feet! Scientists think they may have grown that large because of higher oxygen levels in the air. Today’s dragonflies are smaller, although they’re still among the giants of the insect world.

Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the order Odonata, which means “toothed one” in Greek and refers to their serrated teeth.

New Jersey has 127 species of dragonfly and 52 species of damselfly. Dragonflies are generally larger and can be easily identified because they hold their wings straight out and flat when at rest. Damselflies tend to be smaller and more slender, and hold their wings back while resting.

Some dragonfly species are widespread across the state, like the blue dasher and Eastern pondhawk.  Others are more specialized, like the dragonhunter, which is found only near the most pristine streams. Some are migratory, like the wandering glider, which ventures far off the Atlantic coast.

The life cycle of dragonflies is fascinating. Adult dragonflies mate in the air, and females lay their eggs on plants growing in lakes, ponds and marshes. The eggs hatch into nymphs, alien-looking aquatic creatures that feed on mosquito larvae, tadpoles, fish, worms and even each other. Most of a dragonfly’s life is spent as a nymph.

To complete its metamorphosis, the nymph crawls out of the water and onto a rock or stem, where its exoskeleton cracks open and the young adult dragonfly emerges. Its lace-like wings take anywhere from hours to days to dry and harden.

These wings may look fragile, but they’re actually very strong. Each of the four wings operates independently, giving the dragonfly incredible maneuverability. They can hover and fly straight up and down.

Dragonflies catch insects by grabbing them with their legs, which have appendages that form a basket-like trap from which there’s little chance of escape. Most of the dragonfly’s head is taken up by its compound eye, giving it a nearly 360-degree view of prey and predators.

“They’re a key component of the ecosystem,” said Blaine Rothauser, a New Jersey biologist, naturalist and outdoor photographer. Dragonflies help humans by keeping mosquito populations down; in turn, they become food for songbirds and herons. “They make up a good part of the food chain at this time of year.”

Just as birds and butterflies have their fans, so do dragonflies and damselflies. There’s Jersey Odonate Enthusiasts, or JOE for short, a club for those who enjoy watching dragonflies and damselflies. Learn more about JOE and its research at There’s also a great Facebook page, Northeast Odonata, where enthusiasts post photos and seek identification help.

Enjoy dragonflies this summer and remember: They need clean water, so protect the watersheds near you!

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

‘Pawsome’ hikes for the dog days of summer

June 11th, 2015

RELEASE:June 11, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 24

If you don’t want to leave your dog home when you head out for a hike this summer, here are some great ideas! Hiking is always more fun with a furry companion at your side, and dogs need fresh air and exercise just as much as we do.

Before you hit the trail, you must prepare. Mary Jasch, author of “Best Hikes with Dogs: New Jersey,” offers these tips:

  • Make sure your dog is trained to behave when faced with other hikers, dogs, wildlife, or strange scents and sights.
  • Pack enough water for your dog, plus a water bowl. A good rule of thumb is three liters of water for any day hike where fresh water may not be available.
  • Bring treats. Keep your dog well fed on the trail; treats will also keep your pet’s attention.
  • Don’t forget the leash. There aren’t many trails and parks where dogs are allowed to run free, plus you don’t want to risk the loss of your pup.
  • Bring plastic bags to pick up poop. It’s a matter of courtesy to leave trails, woods and beaches as you found them.

Since summer days in New Jersey are often hot and muggy, dogs can easily get overheated.  You and your pup will have the most fun on trails that provide shade and water.

Here are some great New Jersey hikes, as recommended by Mary and other dog lovers.

Stepping-Stone Trail at Stokes State Forest, Sussex County – It’s short, shaded, runs along a stream and has a beautiful series of small waterfalls.  The Tillman Ravine Trail at Stokes is also cool, shady and near water.

Sussex Branch Trail and Paulinskill Valley Trail at Kittatinny Valley State Park, Sussex County.  Most parts of these trails are shaded, and many run along the Paulins Kill, a Delaware River tributary.

Merrill Creek Reservoir, Warren County – The trail system includes forested areas, dam crossings, and places where dogs can take a refreshing dip.

Hacklebarney State Park, Morris County – Beautiful shaded trails in rocky woods, and lots of streams, make this a popular dog hike.

Ken Lockwood Gorge Wildlife Management Area, Hunterdon County – An unpaved road, partially closed to through traffic, runs along the scenic, boulder-strewn South Branch of the Raritan River.

Round Valley Reservoir Recreation Area, Hunterdon County – An unmarked water trail starts at the boat launch area, and leads to shaded trails through the woods.

Wickecheoke Creek Preserve, Hunterdon County – Try the Donald and Beverley Jones Footpath and Lower Creek Road, a popular place with dog owners.

Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve, Mercer County – Located not far from downtown Princeton, this is a haven for local dog walkers.

Sandy Hook, Gateway National Recreation Area, Monmouth County – Dogs aren’t allowed on the ocean beach side in the summer, but they are welcome by the bay.

Fisherman’s Cove Natural Area, Monmouth County – This county park has upland trails leading to a narrow stretch of sandy beach along the Manasquan River.

Island Beach State Park, Ocean County – Dogs are welcome here, except on the guarded beaches and along a special trail designed for the blind.

Malibu Beach Wildlife Management Area, Atlantic County – Unlike the famous Malibu on the west coast, this beach is small and undeveloped.

Estell Manor Park, Atlantic County – This park has several trails that run along the South River and its tributaries. Trails are flat but sometimes soggy due to wetlands and beavers.

These are just a few cool places to hike with your pooch. Each location has its own regulations and hours, so be sure to check.  If there are other dog hikes you’d recommend, please drop me a line at

To learn more, go to and search “hikes with dogs.” Other hiking resources include the NY/NJ Trail Conference website at , the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website at and the New Jersey Trails Association website at

And for information on preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at

Don’t let Mary Lee give you shark-phobia!

June 5th, 2015

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

You’ve probably heard about Mary Lee the great white shark. This 16-foot shark recently became a Twitter sensation – with over 70,000 followers – as a result of news stories and satellite technology that can track her whereabouts in real time.

And Mary Lee gets around! In the past month she’s been up and down the East Coast from Long Island to Virginia Beach. Her fans – and those who would prefer to avoid her – are using online tracking to find out if she’s cruising near their favorite local beaches. As recently as June 2, she was off the coast of New Jersey, in Avalon.

Should we be worried about a dip at the Jersey Shore when Mary Lee’s in the vicinity?

No, advises Marie Levine, executive director of the Princeton-based Shark Research Institute: “People are not on their menu, so it’s kind of amazing that people are getting so excited.”

Despite the impression left by “Jaws,” Levine said, the preferred foods of great whites are seals and fish. There’s a good chance Mary Lee will soon head to feeding grounds off Cape Cod, where there’s a large seal colony on Monomoy Island.

If Mary Lee is hanging around New Jersey, Levine added, it could be because she’s pregnant and about to give birth. In the 1960s, New Jersey was identified as a “pupping” ground for great whites.

The Shark Research Institute was founded in 1991 by members of the Explorers Club living in the Princeton area.  Its mission is to conduct and sponsor research on sharks, and promote their conservation.  The nonprofit also works to correct misconceptions about sharks and prevent the slaughter of over 100 million sharks annually.

 “Sharks are so necessary because they keep other populations in check,” said Levine. “If we had an ocean without sharks, we would have a septic system out there.”

She explained that when shark populations plummet, populations of skates and rays explode. These fish feed on shellfish like scallops and clams, which filter impurities out of water.  An overpopulation of skates and rays depletes shellfish. In that way, a lack of sharks leads to a dirtier ocean.

The Shark Research Institute also tags great whites and other sharks to collect information on their movements … although the famous Mary Lee is not one of its sharks. Mary Lee was tagged by Ocearch, another research organization.

The Shark Research Institute has launched the Global Shark Attack File, a worldwide database of reported shark attacks, including their dates, locations and circumstances. Levine hopes this database will help allay irrational fears about shark attacks.

“We want to take the whole subject of shark attacks out of the closet and let people see what really happened,” said Levine. “A little cut on the toe will go viral as a shark attack, when it’s usually just a collision.” Sometimes, she said, surfers literally fall off their boards and onto sharks that would not otherwise bite.

World Oceans Day is on June 8, and this year’s theme is “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet.”  It’s a good time to remember that despite their fierce reputation, sharks play a critical role in the ocean ecosystem and the balance of nature.

To learn more about sharks, visit the Shark Research Institute website at  To track Mary Lee the great white, and other sharks with high-tech tags, go to And to find out details of shark attacks all over the world, check out  

A great resource to learn about protecting clean ocean water and coastal habitats is the American Littoral Society – visit their website at

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


A garden buffet for birds, bees and butterflies

May 29th, 2015

RELEASE:May 29, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 22

The noise and pollution from lawnmowers and weed-whackers may be an icon of summer in New Jersey, but not for Hazel England and Emile DeVito. They don’t have much grass to mow, because they have little traditional lawn.

Instead of spending money on herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, gasoline, water and fertilizer to grow a carpet of cool-season grass in a hot, humid climate, Hazel and Emile – professional biologists for Great Swamp Watershed Association and New Jersey Conservation Foundation, respectively – opted for a personal nature sanctuary filled with songbirds, butterflies and bees and other wildlife.

About 15 years ago, they began replacing lawn with native trees, shrubs and wildflowers – the types of vegetation found in New Jersey before European settlers arrived.

Why? To save money, have fun gardening and teach their children to be comfortable outside, learning about wildlife and nature in their own yard.

“Typically, suburban landscapes are a biological desert,” Emile explains. “They have nothing to offer to wildlife.” Though ornamental landscaping plants may be pretty and colorful, he said, many are “exotics” with little or no value to the insects that are the basis of the food chain.

It took a few years, but Hazel and Emile eventually created a diverse mini-ecosystem filled with native plants and organic soil. Their yard is now habitat for hundreds of soil micro-organisms, arthropods, including caterpillars, and pollinators, which, in turn, provide food for birds, spiders, dragonflies, and even hawks and owls. Native trees and shrubs provide berries that fuel bird migration and seeds and dry fruits that that help resident birds survive during winter.

“Our yard is now an island of native forest and meadow habitat in a sea of suburban lawns, roads and rooftops,” he said. “Our lawn is reduced to pathways and a few small patches. It is amazing how many species have colonized our habitat.”

Hazel and Emile aren’t the only ones focusing on native plants instead of a manicured lawn. Throughout the Garden State, nature lovers are putting more thought into creating environments to help our birds, butterflies and bees thrive.

And some species need all the help they can get! Monarch butterflies, for example, are declining because the native plants their caterpillars feed on – especially milkweed – have disappeared from many landscapes. Some other butterflies and moths are just as particular; they’ve evolved to require specific native plants for food.

You can help wildlife by going native, too!

If you live in a rural area, consider converting part of your yard to meadow. The first step is easy … just stop mowing. Plants whose seeds are already in the ground will emerge.

You can make your meadow even better by adding seeds or plugs from native plants like Joe Pye weed, New England aster, milkweed and black-eyed Susan. Just be sure to learn about invasive plants and get rid of them before they take root.

In addition to being a haven for wildlife, your meadow will need mowing only once a year, in late fall or late winter, and will be drought tolerant.

If you live in a suburban or urban area, creating a native garden is a more deliberate process. “You can’t just remove the plastic slipcovers from your yard and stop mowing. You won’t get many native plants; you’ll get mostly European lawn weeds,” said Emile. “You will have to remove patches of lawn and add native plants.”

To attract birds, try trees and shrubs like dogwood, sweetbay magnolia, serviceberry, spicebush, winterberry, high-bush blueberry, blackhaw and arrowwood viburnum; all produce nutritious fruits. To grab the attention of hummingbirds, plant bright red cardinal flowers.

For butterflies, you’ll need plants that provide leaves for the larvae (caterpillars) as well as nectar for the adult butterflies. Butterflies are attracted to blossoms in bright colors, and some of the best natives are asters, coreopsis, echinacea, rudbeckia, monarda, goldenrod, phlox, and milkweeds. Don’t worry about goldenrods!  Wildflowers with colorful, attractive flowers have sticky pollen that is only transported by insects, not by the wind – it is a popular misconception that they cause allergies!

Bees, which are essential pollinators, are attracted to most of the same flowers as butterflies. As its name suggests, bee balm is another wildflower they’ll love.

To learn more about creating an enticing backyard buffet for wildlife, go to A list of native plant growers and other resources can be found at

To teach children about native plants, check out “The Puddle Garden,” a new book by native plant grower Jared Rosenbaum and his sister, Laura Rosenbaum. It’s the story of a bear cub who finds new friends by creating a landscape of bounty.

Also, check out the proposed legislation by New Jersey Assembly members Bramnick, Burzichelli, and Munoz (A3133) and Senator Bateman (S2624), which would help homeowners certify and defend their habitat projects.

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

A New Jersey walkabout

May 22nd, 2015

RELEASE:May 22, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 21

New Jersey is 170 miles long from High Point to Cape May, and about 70 miles wide at its middle. But the Garden State’s perimeter is hard to measure, due to many rivers, bays, estuaries and marshes.

But that isn’t stopping Mike Helbing from logging every mile.

Mike wants to be the first person to literally walk around New Jersey, and it’s proving to be a long, complicated journey … about 1,200 miles and counting! If all goes according to plans, he’ll finish the last leg in November.

“It’s just been an amazing experience,” said Mike, 35, who is Warren County’s recreation chairman and the founder of the Metrotrails long-distance hiking and trail-building group.

Mike began distance hiking in 1997 when, instead of a birthday party, he invited his friends on a 20-mile hike. Nearly every weekend since then, he’s led a hike of at least 15 miles.

Many of Mike’s hikes followed various sections of New Jersey’s perimeter. In 2006 he got the idea of hiking the entire border through a series of one-day treks, counting his previous hikes toward the total.

Because New Jersey is a surrounded by water on three sides, there’s an immense amount of shoreline to walk. Some people might take shortcuts – for instance, hike down the barrier island from Point Pleasant to Island Beach State Park, then hop in a car and continue the hike at Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island.

Not Mike. He’s a stickler and insists on walking every mile by foot until the first bridge is reached or the water becomes shallow enough to ford. “The rule is, your feet have to touch the ground,” he said. “No swimming.”

To get from the southern tip of Island Beach State Park to Barnegat Light – a distance of less than a half-mile as the crow flies – Mike walked back to Seaside Heights, inland to Toms River, back down along the western shoreline of Barnegat Bay, across the Route 72 bridge, then back north to the lighthouse.

Dozens of similar roundabout routes were required, especially along the Delaware Bayshore, a watery expanse of estuaries, marshes and rivers. “It’s mind boggling,” he said.

So far, Mike has completed about 80 hikes of at least 15 miles, all of them carefully documented with maps, photos and journal entries. He was joined by other hikers on all of the sections, although he’s the only person who has hiked every one.

Mike is not in a hurry. He has only eight sections remaining, but he will tackle them on a leisurely schedule over the summer and fall, saving the capital city for last.

His final perimeter hike will be along a section of the Delaware River in Mercer County. “Our plan is to finish in Trenton, and then walk a couple of blocks to the front steps of the Statehouse,” he said.

Completing the perimeter hike will be an incredible accomplishment. But what’s more amazing is that Mike’s perimeter treks are only fraction of his total. Since 1997, he’s led about 850 hikes of at least 15 miles, most of them in New Jersey.

“I’m 35 and I’ve hiked more of New Jersey than anyone alive,” he said. “I’ve done more than four times the length of the Appalachian Trail” – or about 8,800 miles.

Not everyone can – or wants to – hike like Mike. But he said people might be surprised to find out what they’re capable of, and how much there is to see while on foot in New Jersey.

To find out more about Metrotrails, visit the group’s website at or its Meetup page at

Or if you want to design your own hiking challenge, check out the Step Into Nature Challenge page at

And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, 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 

home  |  nj statewide events | contact us  |  sitemap  |  privacy policy  |  DONATE