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What NJ is doing to protect the state’s most vulnerable species

Piping plovers
Piping plovers (Photo provided by NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection)

New Jersey is making many efforts to protect the dozens of endangered and threatened species in the state.

Conservation groups in New Jersey have been making their own strides in keeping the state’s most vulnerable animals and insects from disappearing.

But the Endangered and Nongame Species Program, within the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, was actually created as a result of the state’s Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1973, tasked with carrying out the necessary work to restore and maintain these species.

More than 80 species make up the current list; they have a presence in New Jersey but are in danger on the state level, federal level or both.

Known as the Landscape Project, a mapping system devoted to wildlife habitat conservation was upgraded this month for the first time since 2012.

Officials take the most recent data on vegetation and land use throughout the state, along with the latest occurrence data for endangered, threatened and special concern wildlife, and combine them to create an interactive foundation for organizations, planners, the public and others to ensure any conflict with these species is minimized.

“It has a broad range of use,” said Dave Jenkins, bureau chief for the Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

The upgrade also incorporates species not previously represented, including Atlantic sturgeon and northern long-eared bats.

This time of year, according to Jenkins, is the busiest time for on-the-ground efforts to protect the most at-risk species.

“One of the groups of species that, right now, is taking up a good deal of some of my staff’s time is beach-nesting birds,” he said. “You can imagine that if you’re a bird that nests on the beach in New Jersey, you have some challenges.”

That group includes the piping plover — also endangered federally — along with the least tern and black skimmer.

Staffers find nesting areas and build “symbolic fencing” — posts and strings with signs, warning beachgoers to avoid the area.

Habitat management is a strong component of the state’s protection efforts. Jenkins said the program manipulates vegetation to improve habitat conditions for certain species, such as timber rattlesnakes and golden-winged warblers.

The Palisades in Bergen County is the only New Jersey home to the Allegheny woodrat, according to Jenkins. The rodent is on the state’s endangered list.

To limit the decline of the species, the state has implemented “genetic rescue” in the area.

“We are getting woodrats from Pennsylvania and bringing them into New Jersey, not to necessarily add to the population, but to add new genes to the population,” Jenkins said.

Peregrine falcon in Jersey City
Peregrine falcon in Jersey City (Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey)

Bald eagles, peregrine falcons and ospreys have all made a tremendous comeback in New Jersey since DDT pesticide reeked havoc on the raptors decades ago.

“Peregrine falcons were federally listed, no longer are. Bald eagles were federally listed, no longer are listed, and ospreys were state-listed here in New Jersey as endangered, were downgraded to threatened several years ago and my guess is it’s likely they’re soon to come off the list,” Jenkins said.

The state also gets some credit for a rebound in bobcats. The entire bobcat population may have been lost at some point decades ago, but cats from Maine were brought to the Garden State to reintroduce the species. Jenkins said the state’s conducted radio telemetry studies to determine habitat preferences and home range size. And a “scat detection” dog used by the program can locate bobcat droppings.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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