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

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

Fantastic New Jersey ‘firsts’

July 17th, 2014

RELEASE: July 17, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 29

Although New Jersey is not our “First State” – that honor goes to Delaware – this state we’re in has an amazing roster of “firsts”! As we celebrate 350 years, it’s a great time to look back on some of these firsts.

Perhaps the best-known firsts came from Thomas Edison, the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” who invented the first phonograph, the first incandescent light bulb and the first motion picture projector between 1877 and 1889. Thanks to Edison, the first town in the world to be lighted with overhead wires was Roselle. Our modern life is scarcely imaginable without Edison’s inventions!

The first cultivated blueberries were developed by Elizabeth White and Dr. Frederick Coville in the Burlington County Pine Barrens in 1916. Back in the early 1900s, farmers didn’t believe it was possible to cultivate consistent, marketable berries from wild bushes. White, the daughter and granddaughter of cranberry growers, thought otherwise and worked successfully with Coville to cultivate what’s now our state fruit.

New Jersey has a history of getting around! The first steam locomotive to pull a train on a track was built by John Stevens of Hoboken in 1824. The first submarine was launched in the Passaic River in Paterson in 1878 by John Holland. Deptford was the destination of America’s first balloon flight, when Jean-Pierre Blanchard took off from Philadelphia in 1793 carrying a letter of introduction from George Washington.

The country’s oldest seashore resorts opened in Cape May and Long Branch in the early 1800s. The world’s first boardwalk was built in 1870 in Atlantic City, and the first Miss America was crowned there in 1921. The Jersey shore scored another first with saltwater taffy – according to legend, it was created accidentally in the 1870s when a wave crashed over a candy stand.

New Jersey can claim four notable firsts in parks and conservation. The Morristown National Historic Park, where George Washington’s troops spent the winter of 1779-80, is America’s first. The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge includes the first federally-designated wilderness area east of the Mississippi. The New Jersey Pinelands are America’s first and only national reserve. And, finally, the Essex County Park System was the first of its kind in the nation!

Sports fans score big in Jersey! The first organized baseball game was played in Hoboken in 1846, the first intercollegiate football game featured Rutgers versus Princeton in 1869, and the first professional basketball game was played in Trenton in 1896.

Did you know that New Jersey has an official state dinosaur? It’s the Hadrosaurus, named after the town of Haddonfield. The first nearly-complete skeleton of a dinosaur was discovered there in 1858, launching the modern era of paleontology.

Don’t forget about Camden’s notable firsts! The first condensed soup in America was cooked and canned in Camden County in 1897 – by the Campbell Soup Company, of course. The first drive-in movie theater, known as the “Park-In Theaters,” opened in Camden in 1933.The drive-in is long gone, but Camden still hosts Campbell’s headquarters.

Another fact: New Jersey is the first and only state where all counties are classified as metropolitan areas. The Garden State is first in population density in the U.S., with an average of 1,030 people per square mile.

That leads to another first, one that’s not so exciting and fortunately has not yet happened. New Jersey is on track to become the first state to reach full build-out, the point where all land is either preserved or developed. It’s crucial to keep saving parks and open spaces so when the Garden State does reach build-out, most if not all of our most critical lands are preserved rather than paved.

As we celebrate our 350th, it’s important to look to the future as well as the past. How about creating a new “first” for New Jersey: A state where everyone can walk out their front door to a park or trail?

Please contact your state legislators and urge them to support a stable, long-term source of park and open space preservation funding. To find your state Senators and Assembly representatives, go to

To learn more about New Jersey’s history and 350th anniversary celebrations, 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


Len Soucy: Conservation Trailblazer

July 11th, 2014

RELEASE: July 11, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 28 

Emile DeVito will never forget an unusual encounter on a winter day in 1977.  When he was a college freshman, he and his father and brothers were looking for hawks in the Great Swamp when a man ambled down the road holding two metal coffee cans fastened together to form a hollow cylinder.

“He told us he had a red-shouldered hawk right there in the can,” Emile recalled. “He had just found it injured, and he put it in the can for protection.”

The man was Leonard J. Soucy Jr., and he was bringing the hawk back to the Raptor Trust, the avian rehabilitation center in Millington that he had founded.

Over the years, the chance encounter grew into a solid friendship. Emile, staff biologist at New Jersey Conservation Foundation, brought in dozens of injured raptors he found during his travels around the state. And Len sometimes asked Emile to help release birds back into the wild.

Len, who passed away on June 11 at the age of 82, never set out to become a rescuer of injured and orphaned birds. He wasn’t a trained veterinarian or ornithologist, just an ordinary guy – an engraver by trade – who fell in love with birds of prey on a 1964 trip to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania.

“Len Soucy was the most gentle and caring person you could ever meet,” said Tom Gilmore, the former president of New Jersey Audubon. “No personal sacrifice was too great for Len when it came to caring for orphaned and injured wildlife. He was there for them 24/7.”

And because of Len, thousands of New Jerseyans got their start in bird watching and nature appreciation.

Chris Soucy, Len’s son who has taken over leadership of the Raptor Trust, believes his father’s most important legacy is the people in whom he instilled a reverence for nature: the kids who showed up with baby birds in a shoebox, the people who carried in injured hawks and owls wrapped in blankets.

“He touched those people, one at a time,” said Chris. Most people who brought in birds called back later to see how “their” bird was doing.

Len’s interest in the natural world was vast, spanning from wooly mammoths to wood turtles. His enthusiasm opened the door for people and families to get interested and involved in wildlife conservation. “He would talk to anyone who listened,” said Chris. “His vehicle just happened to be birds because that’s what he knew best.”

In 1968, Len and his wife Diane bought a home on 14 acres in Millington, on the border of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. That gave the Soucys the needed space for bird facilities. Their first “resident” was an injured barn owl that had been living in their bathroom.

In 1970, Len received a state license to capture, band and release raptors. As his reputation spread, more and more birds were brought to him – and not just raptors. Additional aviaries and cages were built and volunteers were recruited to care for the birds.

By the early 1980s, the Soucys’ operation had grown so big and expensive that Len and Diane couldn’t finance it by themselves. The Raptor Trust was formally incorporated as a nonprofit. Over the years it continued to grow.

Today, the Raptor Trust includes a medical infirmary, an education building, and some 70 outdoor cages and aviaries. In an average year, it cares for 3,000 to 4,000 birds in distress. “Tens of thousands of birds have been treated here and released back into the wild,” said Chris Soucy.

To learn more about the Raptor Trust, and the Leonard J. Soucy Jr. Memorial Fund that has been established to carry on his work, 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


Two Jersey guys – the filmmaker and the biologist

July 7th, 2014

RELEASE: July 3, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 27

Tyler Christensen failed high school biology. He was too busy outside studying the natural world to pay attention to the classroom.

His love of the outdoors, and birds in particular, led the 21-year-old Hopewell Township resident to become a self-taught field researcher, studying neo-tropical migratory birds in Costa Rica.

Now Christensen is the subject of a new film, “Field Biologist,” by New Jersey native Jared Flesher, an independent filmmaker whose previous films include “Sourlands,” a portrait of the Sourland Mountains of central Jersey.

“I tackle environmental issues a lot, and I really started looking at the biodiversity crisis,” said Flesher. “We could lose 60 percent of the species on Earth – 60 percent of our biodiversity – by the end of the century.”

Flesher met Christensen while filming “Sourlands” and was impressed enough to make a film about him.

“It’s mainly a story about a young guy who knows what he loves and doesn’t know how he’s going to get paid, but just goes for it,” explained Flesher. “He’s a brilliant, self-educated scientist, and a really fantastic communicator about the natural world.”

Flesher spent 12 weeks in Costa Rica filming Christensen and fellow researcher Sean Graesser, who’s affiliated with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History.

In the film, Christensen shares his passion for biology, especially neo-tropical migrants – songbirds that travel thousands of miles between their summer breeding grounds in New Jersey and other northern states and their winter homes in Central America and South America.

“What’s exciting about field biology is that every single species has an interaction with something else,” Christensen says. “Learning those interactions is probably the most fulfilling, satisfying thing that I will do with my life.”

Christensen hopes to convince people that they have a moral obligation to help save the Earth’s biodiversity. “I think you should care for the same reason that you care about people that you’ve never met before,” he says. “Our entire being is centered around helping others, I think.”

“We’re the first species that has a choice in these things,” he adds. “We can either choose to be destructive and irresponsible, or we can choose to do good and conserve what’s around. I’m of the school of thought that we should do good and conserve what’s around. It’s a lot more interesting that way.”

Flesher is now scheduling New Jersey screenings of “Field Biologist” throughout the summer and fall. He likes to follow each screening by having Christensen – now back in New Jersey to start college – talk to the audience.

To learn more about the film or schedule a screening, visit To learn more about Christensen’s research in Costa Rica, 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

Do your part for National Clean Beaches Week

June 27th, 2014

RELEASE: June 27, 2014 – Volume XLVII, No. 26

It’s no coincidence that National Clean Beaches Week, July 1-7, falls during the first big vacation week of summer, when thousands of families are putting their toes in the sand and ocean.

As visitors flock to New Jersey’s 127 miles of coastline, they’ll find safe, clean beaches – and some of the nation’s cleanest waters.

A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that New Jersey ranked third out of 30 coastal states in beach water quality in 2013, as measured by the amount of bacteria found in water samples. The report, “Testing the Waters,” also named seven New Jersey beaches to its list of 35 American clean water “Superstars”!

New Jersey’s sands are in great shape, thanks in part to legions of beach-loving volunteers.

Twice a year – in the spring and fall – the nonprofit Clean Ocean Action coordinates massive “Beach Sweeps” up and down the coast. Volunteers ranging from young children to senior citizens pick up thousands of pieces of litter and debris washed ashore by the sea, blown in by the wind or carelessly dropped by visitors.

In 2013, more than 325,000 pieces of litter were collected in the beach sweeps. Not surprisingly, the majority was plastics of various types.

Clean Ocean Action ‘s “Dirty Dozen” list of worst offenders includes broken bits of plastic, bottle caps and lids, cigarette filters, food and candy wrappers, plastic straws and stirrers, foam pieces, lumber, plastic shopping bags, glass pieces, glass beverage bottles and cigar tips.

This stuff is not only ugly to look at, but the plastics can be lethal to fish, birds, dolphins, turtles, whales and other creatures living in and near the sea. Plastics don’t biodegrade; they just break into smaller bits that can be mistaken for food, with tragic consequences.

Many of the items picked up in the 2013 sweeps may be attributable to Superstorm Sandy, which smashed apart hundreds of coastal homes and dispersed their contents far and wide. Broken furniture, kitchen appliances, window panes and construction materials all ended up on the beaches and in the water.

Kudos to Clean Ocean Action and the volunteers who sweep the beaches each spring and fall so the rest of us can enjoy clean sand and water all summer!

You can help our beaches and waters – and you don’t have to wait for a scheduled sweep! Here are some simple things you can do:

  • Leave only footsteps on the beach. If you carry it in, carry it back out with you.
  • Don’t use the beach as an ashtray. Never leave cigarette butts in the sand; they don’t biodegrade and are toxic to marine animals.
  • Teach your children (or other young people in your life) well.  Walk along the beach with a bucket and pick up litter. It’s a great lesson.
  • If you’re a fisherman, be sure to get rid of broken fishing line safely. Don’t leave it where it can blow away and entangle wildlife.
  • Use public restrooms to keep ocean and bay water sanitary.
  • On or off the beach, do your part to reduce stormwater runoff pollution. Pick up pet wastes and don’t over-fertilize your lawns and gardens. Pollutants washed by rain into local streams will eventually find their way to the ocean.
  • If you spot anything unusual in the water – like an oil or garbage slick, red tide, fish kill, or entangled or injured animal – report it to lifeguards, beach patrols or police.
  • Support land preservation efforts in watersheds that flow into the ocean and bays. Protected river and stream corridors mean cleaner ocean water!

To find out more about water quality at New Jersey’s beaches – and the list of Superstar beaches – check out the “Testing the Waters” report at To learn more about Clean Ocean Action ‘s beach sweeps, go to

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