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Archive for February, 2012

Help endangered wildlife when preparing your tax return

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

RELEASE: Feb. 23, 2012 – Volume XLV, No. 8

 

 

If there’s one thing no one likes – except accountants – it’s doing tax returns. On the other hand, one thing that thrills just about everyone is glimpsing a bald eagle soaring overhead or perched atop a tall tree.

Did you know these seemingly unrelated things are actually closely linked?

A check-off box on New Jersey’s 1040 income tax form encourages residents to contribute part of their tax refunds to the New Jersey Endangered Wildlife Fund. Donated dollars go directly to Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) to help restore, conserve and enhance the Garden State’s population of rare and endangered plants and animals.

And if there’s one poster child – or “poster bird” – for our state’s endangered species program, it’s the bald eagle.

Bald eagles were on the brink of extinction in this state we’re in as of 1979, with just a solitary nesting pair. Residues of the pesticide DDT from the 1950s and 1960s were still causing thin, fragile eggshells that crushed under the weight of the adult eagles.

With the help of Endangered and Nongame Species biologists, and the ban on DDT and other pesticides, bald eagles have made a slow, steady comeback over the past three decades. 2011 was a banner year for reproduction, with 113 nesting pairs and 119 fledged chicks. A January bird count found well over 300 eagles making their homes in New Jersey.

Bald eagles are now a refreshingly common sight in the Delaware Bay region of Cumberland and Salem Counties. The Bayshore’s broad expanses of coastal wetlands provide plentiful fishing grounds.

The eagles are also expanding northward as their population grows, and their nesting range now includes 18 of New Jersey’s 21 counties. They’re still a rare sight in many places. Recently, a bald eagle perched in a tree directly above busy Route 202-206 in Bedminster, Somerset County, created a minor traffic jam as motorists pulled over and grabbed binoculars and cameras.

Eagles aren’t the only endangered and threatened species that benefit from the income tax check-off.

  • Bobcats were reintroduced to New Jersey 30 years ago and are securing haunts in the northern third of the state. They’re incredibly secretive and rarely seen.
  • Peregrine falcons – the fastest of the world’s birds – disappeared from New Jersey in the 1960s, primarily due to pesticides. But a reintroduction project and intensive management have resulted in a stable population of about 20 nesting pairs, including some in major cities.

Dozens of other birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles and insects in New Jersey are also helped by the Endangered and Nongame Species Program. Migratory bird species from Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America to the Canadian arctic also benefit from the program’s research.

With tax season upon us, please consider donating part of your refund to the Endangered and Nongame Species Program through the tax return check-off. Your contribution will support a worthy program whose success stories can be witnessed in the air, land and water!

Take it a step farther by letting their world know you support conservation; get a special “Conserve Wildlife” license plate for your car.

Funds from tax return check-offs and conservation license plate sales totaled about $2 million over the past five years, and made New Jersey eligible for federal and international matching grants, further leveraging funds for this critical conservation work.

For more information on New Jersey’s endangered and threatened species, go to www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/ensphome.htm. This webpage includes information on how to help these species through both the tax return check-off and Conserve Wildlife license plates.

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Stink bugs remind us why invasives stink

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

RELEASE: Feb. 16, 2012 – Volume XLV, No. 7

Ask any biologist and they’ll tell you that invasive species stink. In the case of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, they really mean it!  Chances are you’ve had the “pleasure” of meeting and smelling this latest invasive insect in your home.

 

The United States is home to several native bugs in the stink bug family, such as the common green stink bug (Acrosternum hilare). But the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys) is a native of Asia.  It first showed up in Allentown, Pa., in the late 1990s and has spread rapidly.  Today stink bugs have been detected in all but 14 states, reached nuisance levels in 10 states, and become severe agricultural pests in five more.

 

Stink bugs live only 6-8 months. In adulthood they take on a distinctive, elongated “knight shield” shape.  They get their name from their self-defense mechanism.  Lacking the ability to bite humans or other predators, stink bugs instead emit a pungent odor – sort of like a skunk – when they are aggravated or crushed.

 

You may not notice the little stinkers until they come calling in your home when the weather turns colder. They’re looking for a warm place to spend winter, in a state almost like hibernation.  In the spring they emerge, hungrily making their way back outside to eat plants.

 

Although Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs don’t directly harm humans, they do threaten agriculture and biodiversity.  This is true of many invasive species. In 2005, for example, researchers estimated the annual cost of damage from all invasive species and the expense of controlling them to be over $138 billion, just in the U.S. alone.

 

Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs are not picky eaters.  They feed on a wide variety of plants – from ornamentals to fruits trees and vegetables.  Apple and pear crops have been severely damaged in this state we’re in, along with parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.

 

In Asia, a parasitic wasp keeps stink bug populations under control by attacking their eggs. But with no natural predators here, the population is exploding.  Government and university research, both expensive and time-consuming, has yet to yield a biological control for stink bugs.

 

So what can you do about Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs in your home?

 

Don’t think saturating the area with insecticide will help.  Adult stink bugs are hardy and shake off many of the available broad spectrum insecticides. You would likely kill many more beneficial insects, and expose your family to more chemicals, for no real reason. The best solution is to keep them out of your house in the first place.  Seal cracks and gaps with caulk or weather stripping, wrap window air conditioners and cover vents with screens. 

 

If they get into your home, here are some suggestions. Scoop them gently into a container, take them outside, dump them into a bucket of soapy water, and close the lid. You’ll avoid most of the stink from being released inside you house. If you have hundreds or thousands, a vacuum will work. Just make sure you get them outside and into the soapy water right away! And you will probably have to deodorize your vacuum cleaner! Don’t  flush every stink bug down the toilet, as that will waste countless gallons of water!

 

In the garden, hand pick the bugs and drop them into soapy water – and keep a lookout out under leaves for egg clusters to scrape off. You can buy traps that entice stink bugs with scent; young bugs respond all season, but adults will respond only in late summer.

 

You can find out more about the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug in New Jersey at the Rutgers Agricultural Experiment Station website at www.njaes.rutgers.edu/stinkbug

 

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Hit New Jersey’s trails this spring!

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

RELEASE: Feb. 9, 2012 – Volume XLV, No. 6

This state we’re in often gets a bad rap. New Jersey is known more for hairspray and concrete than natural wonders. But, in truth, our state’s diverse terrain – from the Delaware to the Atlantic, from High Point to Cape May – offers an amazing variety of outdoor hiking experiences.

 

Here’s my personal Top 10:

 

Franklin Parker Preserve: I’ll admit my bias: I’m a “Piney” and New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Franklin Parker Preserve in the Pine Barrens of Burlington County represents some of the best of the Pines.  Its iconic pitch pine forest, former cranberry bogs, sandy roads, open waters and cedar swamps are spectacular.  Covering 9,400 acres, with 21 miles of trails and habitats that nurture more than 50 rare, threatened or endangered species, it’s definitely a top nature destination.

 

Terrace Pond at Wawayanda State Park:  At the opposite end of the ecological spectrum is northern New Jersey’s Highlands, where glaciers scraped the bedrock clean millennia ago, carving steep ridges and narrow valleys.  Wawayanda straddles Sussex and Passaic counties and offers 60 miles of hiking trails – but none beat the 4-mile loop through the rugged Bearfort Mountain Natural Area to Terrace Pond, one of New Jersey most pristine glacial lakes.  Take in 360-degree views of the Highlands and the western ridges, including High Point, and remind yourself that this is New Jersey!

 

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge:  Sandwiched between the Highlands and coastal plains is our Piedmont region … and the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is one of its most exciting natural areas. This is the place that catalyzed New Jersey’s conservation movement in the early 1960s, when citizens organized to save the land from becoming a major airport.  The refuge includes over 12 square miles of varied wildlife habitat (including resting, nesting and feeding places for almost 250 bird species) and trails and observation platforms that allow hikers easy access and great views. 

 

Hacklebarney State Park:  No words can aptly describe this magnificent state park. The Black River and its tributaries, the Rinehart and Trout Brooks, thunder through a glacial valley of exposed rock, hemlock and oak trees. The land was actively mined for iron in the 18th and 19th centuries, but today it’s a favorite spot for hiking, fishing, birding and family picnics. It is not to be missed!

 

Estelle Manor County Park: Visit the 1,700-acre Estelle Manor County Park in Atlantic County for great trails, including a marked fitness trail, orienteering trail and bike trails. And don’t miss the Swamp Trail Boardwalk that runs for almost two miles through cedar swamp and coastal forest. Historic ruins, excellent views of South River and the W.E. Fox Nature Center make it well worth the trip.

 

Jenny Jump State Forest:  This Warren County state forest offers amazing views of the Highlands, including the Kittatinny Mountains and Valley, Mountain Lake and Great Meadows.  Fourteen miles of trails, lined with rocky outcroppings and boulders, run through the forest. The Summit Trail reaches 1,090 feet with views of the Delaware Water Gap and Pequest Valley.  The views are so clear, in fact, that astronomers maintain the Greenwood Observatory there!

 

Sunfish Pond:  This popular trail is located in Worthington State Forest, along the Kittatinny Ridge in Warren County. The beautiful glacial lake is stunning enough, in fact, to be designated as a National Natural Landmark.  Surrounded by hardwood forest and stands of laurel, the pond can be accessed by several trails, including the Appalachian Trail.

 

Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area: Hike Morris County’s Pyramid Mountain to see the impact of glaciers in the Highlands …and why this region is so worth preserving. Be sure to visit Tripod Rock – a car-sized boulder left balanced atop three soccer-ball sized rocks!

 

Hudson River Waterfront Walkway:  You can’t truly experience New Jersey without hiking this urban linear park along the waterfront, with breathtaking views of the New York City skyline. The walkway is an ongoing project that will ultimately stretch over 18 miles from the George Washington Bridge to the Bayonne Bridge, connecting Palisades Interstate Park (another spectacular park), Liberty State Park, Liberty Science Center and a host of other landmarks and historic sites.

 

Whitesbog Village in Brendan Byrne State Forest: Whitesbog Village, a preserved cranberry and blueberry “company town” founded in 1870 to house workers at one of the state’s largest berry farms, is a rare glimpse into another era in Garden State history. Brendan Byrne State Forest is the second largest in the state and it includes 25 miles of hiking trails.

 

You may be surprised at what I’ve left OFF this list. No Batsto Village?  No Delaware Water Gap?  No Patriots’ Path?  New Jersey has so much to offer, it’s almost impossible to pick just 10!

 

And don’t forget that all of these great hikes are just a few hours from anywhere in the state … and you’re never far from good restaurants and hotels.  Get out and hike these special New Jersey trails in 2012!

 

For more New Jersey hiking ideas, visit the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference website at www.nynjtc.org.

 

If you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Bird watching goes viral

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

RELEASE: Feb. 2, 2012 – Volume XLV, No. 5

 

Bird watchers are a unique breed.  The hobby rewards patience, quiet and stillness… but get a group of birders together and it won’t be long before they’re chirping away about the birds they’ve seen, where to find certain species, and other bird-related esoterica. 

 

But modern times call for modern means, and the New Jersey Audubon Society’s new “eBird Regional Portal” gives birders a 21st century tool.  It’s a great resource for all birders.

 

Since ancient days, bird watchers have recorded detailed notes and observations the old-fashioned way.  As a result, a wealth of information has been locked away in the margins of battered field guides and in dusty notebooks buried in closets and drawers. 

 

Modern birders may keep notes electronically, but rarely in a way that allows for effective collaboration or sharing.   eBird will change all that by harnessing the power of the internet!

 

eBird is a free “real-time, online checklist program” that was launched as a joint venture between the National Audubon Society and Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.  It’s a central place where anyone can log on and record observations.  The incentive is that eBird maintains individual records for each user, including date, location, and checklists of birds observed.  

 

The data can help give each user insight into his or her own information, without the time-consuming number crunching required in the past.  For example, a birder can turn his eBird data into charts, graphs and even interactive maps.

 

All this individual data is integrated with data from around the nation, which in turn is shared with other bird data networks across the globe. This is the real power of eBird, allowing deeper knowledge for casual birders and invaluable insight for conservation biologists, teachers and others. 

 

eBird is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing sources of data on biodiversity, offering information on where to find specific birds, population numbers, migration timetables, and much more.  The global network means, for example, that a species like the Red Knot can be tracked in real time as it migrates from South America to the Arctic Circle, stopping at New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore to feast on horseshoe crab eggs!

 

Regional portals – like the one maintained by the New Jersey Audubon Society at ebird.org/content/nj   – takes this wonderful tool two steps further.

 

Quality Control: Unusual data will trigger automated filters developed by regional bird experts, who will review flagged bits of information before they are included in the database. This ensures that the basic data in the system is as reliable as possible;

 

Local Context: While the global data network is eBird’s power, the designers of the system recognized that, as in politics, “all birding is local!”  So a user from New Jersey won’t have to wade through data and news from Costa Rica or Romania.  The New Jersey Audubon portal means local birders get news, event listings, tips, rare bird alerts and articles focused right here.

 

eBird is simple enough for beginners, but detailed and insightful enough for scientists and experts.  It’s also a great example of using modern technology for the benefit of nature, while retaining the community spirit that is so much a part of birding!

 

If you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s 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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