Monday, February 1, 2016

Possible NJ-NY Endangered Species Bills

Confiscated Wildlife Products at JFK Airport.jpg

New Jersey state senator Ray Lesniak, a Democrat, brought two bills through the Senate Committee on Economic Growth that address endangered species. The same bills had moved quickly through the Legislature toward the end of the last session, but were pocket-vetoed by Governor Christie.

The first bill, S977, would prohibit the sale, possession, storage or transport of body parts belonging to endangered species within state borders. The second bill, S978, would prohibit the same in all Port Authority facilities (seaports and the region's three airports).

Since the state shares the Port Authority with New York, it would require the New York Legislature to also pass similar bills. This is not as unusual as it may seem. NJ and NY already did this with a measure to ban the trade of ivory being brought into the country. New Jersey was the first state in the U.S. to enact the ban on August 5, 2014 and New York followed a week later.

Source: Senior NJ lawmaker pushes two-state endangered species measure | POLITICO

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Bald Eagles Continue to Make a Comeback in New Jersey

The nonprofit Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) released the 2015 Bald Eagle Report this month, highlighting the number of nesting pairs, active nests and nest productivity for the raptors throughout New Jersey with data collected by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Wildlife biologists, CWF biologists and committed volunteers.

"With 161 pairs of bald eagles this past year — up from just a single nest in the early 1980's — the dramatic ongoing recovery of bald eagles across the northeast continues to inspire so many of us," said David Wheeler, Conserve Wildlife Foundation Executive Director. "The thrill of seeing a bald eagle fly across the sky is unparalleled. This report captures how these eagles are continuing their All-American return."

The report notes that thirteen new eagle pairs were found this season, nine in the south, two in Central Jersey and two in Northern New Jersey.

With a wingspan of six to seven feet, bald eagles are larger than most birds. The bald eagle is restricted to North America and is usually found within close proximity to open water. In New Jersey, bald eagles reside year-round, usually remaining in the area surrounding their nest. They begin courtship and nest building in late December and January, adding to their existing nest. Over time, some nests can reach 10 feet across and weigh up to 2,000 pounds.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation partners with Duke Farms on a webcam that provides a live look at a bald eagle nest in Hillsborough, New Jersey. This spring, the EagleCam will allow viewers an up close and personal view into the lives of a pair of bald eagles as they breed, incubate, and raise young. Between the general public and classrooms up and down the east coast, the EagleCam has many fans – over 10 million viewers and growing!

The federal government removed the bald eagle from its list of Endangered Species in August of 2007, but the bald eagle’s official New Jersey status remains state-endangered for the breeding season and state-threatened for the non-breeding season.

"One of our encouraging findings is that the population of wintering bald eagles has grown along with the nesting population over the past decade," said Conserve Wildlife Foundation eagle biologist Larissa Smith. "This growth reflects the increasing populations in New Jersey and across the northeast, as recovery efforts continue to pay off for eagles. In addition to our fellow scientists in New Jersey and nearby states, I'd like to thank the wonderful eagle project volunteers who make keeping track of all these nests possible."

The Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) bald eagle recovery efforts, implemented in the early 1980’s, have resulted in a steady recovery of New Jersey’s bald eagle population. ENSP biologists, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey staff, and volunteer observers continue to locate and monitor bald eagle nests and territories each year to analyze the state of the population. The state’s eagle population would not be thriving without the efforts of the dedicated eagle volunteers who observe nests, report sightings, and help protect critical habitat.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of New Jersey’s endangered and threatened wildlife and the habitats they depend on. We carry out our mission by researching and managing rare animal species, restoring habitat, educating New Jersey’s residents, and engaging volunteers in our conservation projects. Since the early 1990’s, CWF scientists and educators have helped conserve and protect a variety of at-risk species of wildlife in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation.

Highlights of the 2015 New Jersey Bald Eagle Project Report are found below. To view the complete report online, visit

2015 Report Highlights
  • The statewide population increased to 161 territorial pairs in 2015, up from 156 last year.
  • 13 new eagle pairs were found this season, nine in the south, two in central and two in northern New Jersey.
  • 150 pairs were known active (meaning they laid eggs), up from 146 last year. 
  • 122 nests (81%) were known to be successful in producing 199 young, for a productivity rate of 1.33 young per known-outcome active nest, which is above the required range of 0.9-1.1 young per nest for population maintenance. 
  • One chick, orphaned from a Maryland nest, was fostered into a Cumberland County nest and fledged, bringing the total fledged to 200. 
  • 28 (19%) of nests failed to fledge young. 
  • The Delaware Bay region remained the state’s eagle stronghold, with 40% of all nests located in Cumberland and Salem counties.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Diamondback Terrapin Harvest Season Closed

Due to continued concerns about harvest pressures on northern diamondback terrapins in state coastal areas, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin has signed an Administrative Order immediately closing the remaining two months of the commercial harvest season.

In 2002, the Northern diamondback terrapin was listed as a species of special concern in New Jersey, but this status has not been officially adopted under the Endangered Species Conservation Act and terrapins are still considered to be a game species in NJ with an open season from November 1 to March 31

The Division of Fish and Wildlife has been working with the Marine Fisheries Council, neighboring states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and terrapin experts to develop management strategies to enhance protection of the terrapins in order to sustain the species in New Jersey.

Northern Diamondback Terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin) are native to New Jersey. They inhabit coastal salt marshes and estuaries along the Atlantic Coast and Delaware Bay. They live exclusively in brackish water (a mixture of both salt and fresh water).

Diamondback terrapins, so named for the diamond-shaped patterns on its shell, are more closely related to freshwater turtles than marine turtles, and spend their entire life cycle in coastal marshes. They are an important part of the ecosystem, feeding on snails that can overgraze marsh grasses, leaving them barren mudflats.

They are threatened by habitat loss, illegal trapping, mortality from being drowned in crab traps, and especially by road mortality as they cross busy roads.

Terrapins were once very common and used as a main food source of protein by Native Americans and then European settlers.

They were hunted so extensively that they almost faced species extinction by the early 1900s. They became a delicacy here and in Europe and were exported. During the Depression, demand fell off and the population was able to make enough of a recovery to avoid extinction.

In the past, commercial harvesting of terrapins in New Jersey was reported on a small-scale basis. But increased demand, particularly in Asian food markets, has put excessive pressure on the species.

In a 2014 incident, more than 3,500 terrapins were harvested from two locations in southern New Jersey to provide terrapins for an out-of-state aquaculture facility that raises them for overseas markets. More than 14,000 offspring of the wild adult terrapins were then exported to Asia.

For more information, see the DEP news release at

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Winter Hiking

It is getting colder and we have had a bit of snow, so you may be staying indoors more. But a winter walk or hike can be invigorating.

Crowded trails are unlikely in winter. Bugs are gone. The lack of leaves makes wider views available. I happen to love a hike after a snowfall and tracking.

Of course, a winter hike needs different preparation. You need to dress in layers. You may need boots rather than those lighter "trail shoes." Maybe you're adventurous enough to do a snowshoe hike. Winter walkers might also want to use traction aids or poles.

Sounds like too much? You can still do those park and rail trail walks that you enjoyed in the warmer months with minimal prep.

Check out these Winter Hiking Tips from

Friday, January 15, 2016

Stories in the Snow

track in snow, Sussex county, NJ  (Photo by John Parke of NJ Audubon )
I love to take walks and hikes after a snowfall. I am not a snowshoe person, so it is not that I like to tramp through the woods in 10 inches of snow. My favorite time is right after a snowfall of just a few inches when animal tracks become evident. Even in your back or front yard, you suddenly see all the visitors who have walked, hopped and landed around your home.

These stories in the snow are a revelation for many people about all the wildlife nearby, and a great way to get children interested in local wildlife and nature.

Let's say you spot the track shown above. Would you know what animal left it? Was it a local dog or cat? If you were out in the woods, you might think it was more likely a wild animal than a pet.

Most people would not know the difference between a dog or cat track, other than perhaps guessing about it by size. If it is big, you might guess a dog. Of course, if you were outside New Jersey, it could be a big cat, like a mountain lion.

Hold on - are there any lynx, cougars or mountain lions in New Jersey - besides the ones in Turtleback Zoo?

Let us look at the dog versus cat family tracks.

You know that you might find tracks in the snow from either a bobcat or coyote in our state.

The most obvious difference is claw marks. Dogs usually show claw marks in their tracks. Cats (as any owner of one knows) can retract their claws and do so when they walk - but you can find claw marks in cat tracks when the animal is running or pouncing. Tracking really is a detective game.

You will also note the difference in the heel pad. The dog has a more distinctive 3-lobe shape.

Also notice the alignment of the front two toes. They are side-by-side, or very close to it, in dogs tracks, but less aligned in cats. Again, there are exceptions. Animals making a turn or walking on a slope or irregularities in their path can change the track.

It is also helpful to know what animals live in your area. Although I know people who swear that they spotted a moose or a mountain lion in our state, neither exists here now. (Same thing for the Jersey Devil, though we keep looking.) We have no true lynx in the state.

Not that these animals never lived in this area or won't some day move back into our area. Climate change and habitat changes often cause species to migrate from their normal range. The bears that first entered New Jersey on their own are evidence of that.

There are no recent confirmed sightings of mountain lions in N.J., but at the time of colonization by Europeans to our area, mountain lions did live here. They became extirpated (not extinct) in our state in the early part of the 19th century. Reports of the last ones being killed in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties exist between 1830 and 1840.

So, the track at the top of this post is a cat, and big enough to not be a house cat and therefore it is a bobcat, New Jersey's only wild cat.

Try identifying the tracks in the snow around your neighborhood or venture out right after a snowfall to a local wooded area. Tracks change quickly as wind and melting occur, so it is best in the first hours after the snowfall.

There are many sites online about tracking and lots of good books and field guides on animal tracking to take along as you learn to "read" the stories in the snow.

Two of my favorites were written by the famous New Jersey tracker, Tom Brown, Jr.. His books, Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking and the Science and Art of Tracking are not only informative and fun to read, but also have a bit of a local feel to them as Tom was raised and still lives in our state and knows it well.

If you want to be amazed, take one of his classes and listen to him talk about and demonstrate how to track a bird's flight, or track an animal walking across rocks that leave no tracks.

And if you want to do some armchair tracking adventure as the weather gets colder, I highly recommend the book that took me from being a casual glance-at-track walker to trying to really understand what I was seeing.

That is Tom's classic, The Tracker, most of which is set right here in NJ. (Hat tip to my good friend Steve Smith who taught that book and gave me my first copy.)

Two other books on my shelf are  Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign and  The Tracker's Field Guide. Although I am better at reading tracks than most people, I am no Tom Brown. I have copied and printed a few pages of common tracks for our area and still carry them when I go out for hose tracking walks.

I think that like looking up at the night sky and knowing where the North Star and Venus and the Big Dipper can be found, knowing what is in front of us here on Earth - tracks, plants, trees, insects and animals - is essential knowledge and a key to mindfulness.

Bobcat - Photo by John Parke, Picasa via

Sunday, January 10, 2016

NJ Bill To Ban "Trophy Animals" in State Passes Unanimously

A bill authored by Senator Raymond Lesniak that would prohibit the importation, sale and possession in New Jersey of “trophy animals” that are threatened with extinction, expanding the current list of banned species to include the African lion, among other endangered species was approved by the Senate this month with a vote of 31-0.

“Trophy hunting of exotic and endangered species is a cruel and inhumane practice that not only threatens the extinction of wild animals throughout the world but selfishly affects other species in the ecosystem,” said Senator Lesniak. “It is an elite hobby and the United States is the largest market. Killing these animals so that they can be stuffed and mounted is not a practice that should be condoned or allowed.”

The bill, S-3416, would amend the “Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act” to expand the list of protected species to include those appearing on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resource’s Red List of Threatened Species, and those listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. These contain additional species, such as the lions, leopards and elephants, which are not currently listed on the state or federal lists.

“The international community has worked together to protect and preserve species that have become increasingly endangered,” said Senator Lesniak. “This is a moral imperative as well as an environmental priority. We need to respect and value wildlife throughout the world and promote conservation efforts.”

The bill would exempt wildlife that was lawfully possessed prior to the date of enactment and wildlife that is being used or displayed for scientific, zoological, or educational purposes, for reproductions in captivity, or for other special purposes authorized by the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Under the bill, violators would be subject to a crime of the third degree, with a criminal fine of between $5,000 and $50,000, a civil penalty of up to $25,000, and a civil administrative penalty of up to $25,000 per day.

Senator Lesniak is also the sponsor of companion legislation, S-3146, that would prohibit the importation of these animal parts through any airport or port facility owned or operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Under the bill, which will be voted on next Monday, any Port Authority officer would have the authority to enforce the prohibition and seize any item used in connection with the violation of the prohibition.

Every year hundreds of hunters from North America and Europe travel to Africa to participate in what are known as “big-game” hunts for exotic and dangerous animals such as lions, elephants, and rhinoceroses. As a result, occasionally these hunters from North America or Europe engage in the illegal poaching of these animals and attempt to bring their “trophies” back with them when they return from their trips.