NJDEP Wants Feedback on 10-Year Wildlife Plan

Dec 13, 2017

As the most densely populated state in the Union, New Jersey continues to juggle development and the fate of our most vulnerable wildlife.

In 2000, Congress created the federal State Wildlife Grants program to help states conserve imperiled wildlife species, particularly those that were not traditionally hunted or fished. The program required states to develop Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategies, later known as State Wildlife Action Plans, which identified Species of Greatest Conservation Need, their habitats, threats, and conservation actions to protect them.

The N.J. Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Wildlife released the first Wildlife Action Plan in 2006 and revised it in 2008. The entire plan has been updated for 2017, and the state is seeking public comment now through Jan. 19.

In addition to creating a working document for conserving the state’s rare and endangered wildlife, the state becomes eligible for federal State Wildlife Grant funds for conservation action.

The plan is developed by the state’s conservation professionals to identify species and areas that should receive special attention. It also identifies tasks that could be accomplished by a variety of agencies, organizations and landowners to help imperiled species. It allows for de-listing species that are on an upswing.

According to the executive summary, “The fundamental underpinning of this plan is the recognition that certain species require new or additional conservation actions to ensure their long-term persistence. Because of changes in New Jersey’s environment – both from past human activities and ongoing threats with local or distant origins – these wildlife species are unlikely to persist in the state without conservation action.”

There are seven key considerations of the revised plan. Habitat loss is the greatest threat to New Jersey’s wildlife; managing for biodiversity on public and private lands is necessary to ensure the persistence of the state’s biological diversity; key actions include research, monitoring, refining best management practices, maintaining properties with critical habitats, and restoring riparian buffers.

Also important: Wildlife management must control overabundant species in critical habitats. In particular, white-tailed deer, when unchecked, can change habitats at a landscape scale and eliminate habitats on which rare wildlife depend. Other wildlife, such as raccoons, foxes and crows, fall in the category of “human-subsidized predators” whose elevated populations can cause high rates of mortality for rare wildlife. Another consideration is controlling invasive plant and animal species that threaten native biodiversity and developing species-specific recovery plans with more focus on federal- and state-listed species, using sound science as a foundation for the plan.

The plan identifies 107 focal species from a list of 665 species of greatest conservation need. These will be the target of additional conservation actions by Fish and Wildlife, such as habitat identification, management and research.

Shorebird species of concern include the American oystercatcher, least tern, common tern and Forster’s tern, black skimmer, little blue heron, tri-colored heron, snowy egret, piping plover, pied-billed grebe, ruddy turnstone and red knot. Woodland, field and meadow birds include the American woodcock, northern bob white, red-headed woodpecker, wood thrush, Eastern meadowlark, scarlet tanager. There are also two sparrows: grasshopper and vesper; and four warblers: golden-winged, cerulean, Kentucky and prothonotary. Two raptors, the northern harrier and the peregrine falcon, are of special concern.

Amphibians on the list are the Eastern tiger and long-tail salamanders, chorus frog and Pine Barrens tree frog. Reptiles have a much longer list: Eastern box turtle, bog turtle, wood turtle and red belly turtle; five snakes: pine, northern black racer, hog-nosed, scarlet and corn; plus the Eastern spadefoot toad. Marine turtles include the diamondback terrapin, Atlantic Green, leatherback, loggerhead and Ridley.

The North Atlantic right whale continues to face extinction.

Mammals are in better shape to survive, but three bats – Indiana, little brown and northern myotis – are in trouble, as is the Allegheny woodrat.

There are seven bumblebees imperiled, seven butterflies, nine moths, six odonates (dragonflies or darning needles) and four species of tiger beetles. Twelve freshwater fishes and six freshwater mussels are also on the list.

“By focusing on the needs of species of concern, this plan will help the Division of Fish and Wildlife make important conservation decisions that can prevent species from becoming listed as threatened or endangered,” said Division of Fish and Wildlife Director Larry Herrighty.

The public is encouraged to submit comments online: to view the draft State Wildlife Action Plan and submit comments, visit nj.gov/dep/fgw/ensp/waphome.htm. Written comments may be mailed to Wildlife Action Plan Committee, NJDEP, Division of Fish and Wildlife, P.O. Box 420, MC501-03, Trenton, N.J. 08625-0420.

— Pat Johnson


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