Thursday, February 16, 2017

Webcam on Union County Courthouse Provides Peregrine Falcon Views

A new partnership between the Union County Freeholder Board and the nonprofit Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey is providing students, scientists and other wildlife enthusiasts all over the world the chance to study a pair of rare peregrine falcons. The birds, endangered in our state, have made their nest on the roof of the historic 17-story Union County Courthouse Tower, located in the bustling center of midtown Elizabeth.

Peregrine falcons have been nesting on the Courthouse Tower every year since 2006. In 2016, Union County began offering a free livestream “Falcon Cam” after installing two cameras inside and outside of the nest. This winter a third camera has been added to provide a scenic view, and audio will be available later this year.

“This year our Falcon Cam will become a new collaborative effort between the County and Conserve Wildlife Foundation, with assistance from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection,” said Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen. “This partnership makes Union County a premier site for falcon observation and research in New Jersey. The result is a truly enriching experience that brings the message of environmental stewardship throughout Union County and beyond.”

Peregrine falcon and young - USFWS photo

The peregrine falcon, also known as the duck hawk, is the largest falcon in New Jersey, and the world’s fastest animal, capable of flying at speeds over 200 miles an hour.

The two current occupants of the nest have spent the winter “pair bonding.” Bird watchers who visit the Falcon Cam at the right time can catch sight of the two falcons meeting at the nest, bowing to each other and communicating with gentle sounds called “ee-chupping.”

“While peregrine falcons were completely gone east of the Mississippi River just a few decades ago, this magnificent bird – the fastest animal in the world – has recovered dramatically in recent years,” said Conserve Wildlife Foundation executive director David Wheeler. “Thanks to Union County, students and New Jerseyans of all ages can enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at this rare wildlife reality show unfolding near tens of thousands of people in downtown Elizabeth.”
In winter the prime time for viewing is early morning. Activity also tends to occur mid-afternoon. If the pair breeds, the nest will be occupied almost constantly until the chicks fledge.

The Courthouse Tower hosts one of only two falcon cams in New Jersey. The other falcon cam is in Jersey City.

In addition to providing a unique learning opportunity for students of all ages, the Union County Falcon Cam provides essential information that helps promote the continued recovery of peregrine falcons in the eastern U.S.

The cameras help biologists determine when the chicks are old enough to be banded and enable observers to identify the falcons based on bands placed on their legs at birth. The bands indicate the age of each falcon and where they were born. That information can help scientists detect trends in range of habitat and choice of nesting locations.

The leg bands helped biologists to take note of some recent changes in the population of the Union County nest.

The first female to occupy the nest was from Jersey City. She remained there until last year, when a new and younger female from New York City gained possession of the coveted spot. Her leg band indicated that she was born at the Throgs Neck Bridge in 2010.

“Peregrine falcons prefer to nest in a high spot on the face of a cliff where they can forage for prey, and apparently the Courthouse Tower fits the bill,” Bergen explained. “It is the tallest building in Union County.”

Early this year, a third female replaced the New York City female. This new occupant does not have a leg band. The first male to occupy the nest was banded and came to Union County from Connecticut. The current male is unbanded.

The free Falcon Cam livestream is available on the Union County website at

Union County has also provided a link to the Falcon Cam on the Conserve Wildlife Foundation website, Conserve Wildlife Foundation will use the Falcon Cam in its STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs in local schools, and for programming at the County’s Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside.

A new adult peregrine falcon up close checking out the igloo nest
atop the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth, NJ  - January 2017

Conserve Wildlife Foundation is also offering individual and corporate sponsorships of public outreach and environmental education in Union County centered on the Falcon Cam. CWF seeks to provide educational programs, lesson plans, curriculum development, and educational field trips for schools within Union County.

For more information about Conserve Wildlife Foundation's individual and corporate sponsorships, call 609-984-6012 or use the online form at High resolution photos available upon request.

For quick links to all Union County programs related to conservation and sustainability, visit

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

NJ State Forest Fire Seasonal Prescribed Burning Program Is Underway

The New Jersey State Forest Fire Service advises residents that its seasonal prescribed burning program – which reduces wildfire risks by burning away the buildup of undergrowth, fallen trees and branches, leaves, pine needles and other debris on forest floors – is under way. Residents are advised that they may see large plumes of smoke in areas where these controlled burns are being conducted.

Prescribed burns will take place through the end of March, conditions permitting. These burns are generally conducted during the winter – especially toward the late-winter months – to minimize the amount of smoke produced, and when weather conditions tend to be safer for controlled fires.

Forest Fire Service Prescribed Burn“Prescribed burning is an important tool in keeping our forests and other wildlands safe and healthy,” said Bill Edwards, Chief of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. “These burns are conducted only under exacting conditions by highly trained personnel. By burning them away now, we can reduce the risk of these materials serving as tinder for wildfires later in the year. This practice also improves the overall ecological health of our forests and grasslands.”

The New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry will provide as much notice as possible of prescribed burns through its Facebook page at:

The public may also contact the State Forest Fire Service at (609) 292-2977 about the prescribed burning program and where burns are expected to be conducted. When in doubt about the source of smoke or fire, call 9-1-1 or 877-WARN-DEP (877-927-6337).

The peak wildfire season in New Jersey typically begins in middle to late March and runs through late spring, when the weather tends to be dry, windy and warmer. This also is the time of year when forest canopies and undergrowth have yet to leaf out, making forest debris more susceptible to the drying effects of wind and sunshine.

Because of the types of trees and shrubs it supports, the sprawling Pinelands region of southern New Jersey is particularly susceptible to wildfires and is typically the focus of much of the prescribed burning activity conducted by the Forest Fire Service.

During prescribed burns, Forest Fire Service personnel use hand-held torches to set smaller fires to burn away fallen leaves, pine needles, fallen branches and other debris on the forest floor. The personnel take into account wind, moisture and other conditions. These prescribed fires do not reach the forest canopy or cause significant loss of mature trees as wildfires do.

While the annual burning program began late last year, the Forest Fire Service is entering peak season for controlled burns. The Forest Fire Service expects to burn between 10,000 and 20,000 acres of forests and grasslands this season, depending on weather conditions. Most burns take place on state-owned property, such as state forests, parks and wildlife management areas.

“Prescribed burning has been a successful wildland fire mitigation tool used by the Forest Fire Service since the 1920s, protecting property, lives and infrastructure by creating defensible space around developed areas and strategic fire breaks that help the Forest Fire Service quickly contain wildfires,” said Richard Boornazian, DEP’s Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resources.

In 2016, the Forest Fire Service responded to 1,065 wildfires, 75 percent of which were a quarter-acre or smaller. The largest was a 464-acre fire in Bass River State Forest in Burlington County.

Roads in areas where burns are taking place are clearly marked. Motorists traveling through these areas are advised to observe posted reduced speed limits and to be alert to the presence of trucks and Forest Fire Service personnel. During the burns, firefighters employ best management practices to control smoke impacts, but nearby residents and forest visitors should expect temporary smoke.

For more information on wildfires in New Jersey, steps you can take to protect your property and other resources, visit:

For more information on New Jersey’s Statewide Forest Resource Assessment and Strategies, visit:


Monday, February 13, 2017

Plan to Cut Trees in Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area Becomes Controversial

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection, in conjunction with the New Jersey Audubon Society, have put forward a plan to cut roughly 20 to 30 acres on Sparta Mountain annually. Opponents of the state’s plan to cut acres of trees in the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area have come out strongly against the plan.

The state feels it is necessary to cut timber in order to diversify the forest and create “young forest habitat” that endangered species in the area need to thrive.

Opponents see the plan as a logging scheme disguised as a forest stewardship plan. They also feel that removal of the trees threatens an area of land that provides a large percentage of water for the state.

The anti-logging effort has been branded with the name “Stop the Chop” by the group

A meeting in late January at the Franklin Firehouse was sponsored by the Friends of Sparta Mountain group, which included environmental speakers as well as Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth).

The plan would encompass 3,400 acres of land within the townships of Sparta, Ogdensburg, and Hardyston in Sussex County and Jefferson Township in Morris County.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

On This Week's Enviro-Events Calendar

Two items via the Enviro-Events Calendar - an good source for environmental forums, seminars, workshops,  conferences, educational, social and networking opportunities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware...

February 14, 2017
Horticultural Society of South Jersey presents:
100 Years of Blueberry Cultivation at Whitesbog
7 p.m.
Carmen Tilelli Hall, 820 Mercer Street, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002
Join Rick Prickett from the Whitesbog Preservation Trust talk about the wonderful blueberry and the history of its cultivation. Free and open to the public. For more information, check the website: or call 856-816-8508

February 15, 2017
Creating a habitat for the golden-winged warbler  

6 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Sussex County Library
125 Morris Turnpike A workshop for owners of forestland in northwestern New Jersey will be held at the Sussex County Main Library in Frankford to outline programs by the U.S. Department of Agriculture designed to create habitat for endangered species. Of particular concern is the golden-winged warbler, a small migratory bird that breeds in specific habitat and has seen its population decline by 66 percent since the 1960s, according to the department. A species of concern to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which maintains the national threatened and endangered species lists, the warbler is at the center of other programs and what is known as the Young Forest Initiative. The Natural Resources Conservation Service will outline the technical and financial assistance available to owners of forests. More information here

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

To Hunt or Not to Hunt Bears in New Jersey

Politics is my least favorite part of writing about the environment, but unfortunately it plays a bigger role than I would like in environmental protection. On a national level, President Trump's cabinet appointments for the DEP and Energy have ignited plenty of opinions on both sides.

In our own state, animal-rights groups such as Bear Education and Resource (BEAR) are now lobbying for “Pedal’s Law,” after it was initially rejected by the state Senate. BEAR is a program of Animal Protection League of New Jersey (APLNJ).

The law was proposed by Senator Raymond Lesniak in response to the death of social-media-famous “Pedals” the bear, who was legally harvested/killed this past October by a bow hunter. If the bill is passed, it would effectively ban bear hunting in New Jersey for five years, while implementing a nonlethal bear management program.

Pedals was an injured docile bi-pedal (walking on 2 legs) New Jersey black bear who gained popular attention. Pedals' death touched people in the same way that the 2015 killing of Cecil the lion in Africa by an American hunter sparked an international outcry and greater scrutiny of trophy hunting.

Is bear hunting in NJ trophy hunting? Those opposed to a bear hunt say it absolutely is that. In 2015, the state expanded the bear hunt to include killing more than one bear, raised the number of bear hunting permits to 11,000, added more regions, added a new season in October, added bows, and increased the hunt up to 10 days in December.

But on the pro-hunt side, the answer is not considered so simple. In an opinion piece by Mike Adams, he says in talking about about this legislation that "The presumable notion is that after that five years is up, new legislation will move in and ban in New Jersey bear hunting for good."

That is a possibility, but I think that after five years there is also a good chance that the number of nuisance or more serious incidents with bears and humans may have increased to a level that the 5-year ban will convince many more people that a hunt is necessary.

I have been a volunteer in the state's Wildlife Conservation Corps since the 1970s. The people I have met as volunteers include hunters, fisherman and environmental activists, so opinions differ on many issues concerning how we should treat species in the state.

I have spent most of my years focused on the endangered, threatened and non-game species of New Jersey. No one argues against protecting bald eagles, but when it comes to game species, like deer and bears, it is more difficult to get consensus.  

Those opposed to hunting will argue that hunters and the NJDEP are only interested in game species protection and management in order to provide a population to hunt and to sell permits and licenses. They support non-lethal methods such as artificial sterilization and relocation of transient bears.

Those on the other side will show evidence that these methods are ineffectual and expensive and that only controlled hunting can reduce populations.

In 2016, there were 1,400 accounts of nuisance bears in NJ, which are reported as incidents that include property damage, home entry, livestock kills, and attacks on humans. This number is actually relatively low compared to the earlier years without a bear season. Adams and others point out that in 2004, a year after New Jersey opened its first bear hunt, reports of nuisance encounters dropped by 42 percent.

New Jersey already has a Bear Response Unit for trapping and relocating nuisance bears. A 2009 study cited by Adams that was conducted by East Stroudsburg University researchers in conjunction with Union County College and New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, found that all the bears trapped and relocated into the wild by the response unit return to urban areas within 17 days of their release. When this happens, the response team is forced to euthanize the reoccurring nuisance bears.

These differing opinions on how to deal with bears in NJ are not new, and a report back in 2005 on the "Correlation of reduction in nuisance black bear complaints with implementation of (a) a hunt vs. (b) a non-violent program" showed that the state was considering both hunting and non-violent solutions to nuisance bear problems.

Bear Smart New Jersey is a public service program of the Bear Education And Resource program intended to protect black bears and their habitat in the state. They reach out to the community to educate residents about bears. They hope to foster a peaceful coexistence with bears and humans.

They have three main methods for their program. First, to have homeowners and businesses contain attractants like garbage and other unnatural food sources that draw bears into places with people. Second, to implement "aversive conditioning", a behavior modification technique used across the country to teach bears that they are not welcome in an area and to reinstill the bears’ natural fear of humans. Of course, the biggest objective, as with almost all environmental protection programs, is to educate the public.

I'm not optimistic that these two differing sides on the bear hunt will come to any agreement or consensus. It is difficult to show one approach to be better when both are in place concurrently. Unfortunately, as our human encroachment on habitats increases and populations of wildlife increase, our interactions with wildlife will also increase. The current controversy with bears and deer is likely to expand to species like coyotes and others in the future. The bobcat may be protected now, but if their numbers increase and their nuisance interactions with humans and their pets increase, we can expect similar controversies to emerge.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Liberty Water Gap and other Trail Maps

A comment on my post about the Lenape and Liberty Water Gap Trails asked:
I've been looking for a detailed map of the Liberty Water Gap Trail and can't seem to find one anywhere. Their website,, doesn't exist anymore, and Google searches only bring me to articles from 2011. Hopefully you are able to help me or point me in the right direction for information.

Here are a few suggestions for that area. If any readers know of other sources, please share in a comment below.

I like holding a map in my hands on a trail and the NY NJ Trail Conference offers NYNJTC maps and the Water Gap is included in their Kittatinny Trails map.

You can also find a number of maps of that area from Amazon.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (National Park Service New Jersey/Pennsylvania) offers a free pdf format set of trail maps in the area.

There are a number of maps at 

Personally, I wouldn't rely on Google Maps for a hike, but their maps and the Google Earth view does give a pretty good sense of the area.