Friday, March 24, 2017

Pequest Open House Rescheduled to June

Due to excessive snow cover and resulting poor condition of the grounds at the Pequest Trout Hatchery, the Open House originally scheduled for April 1 and 2 has been rescheduled to June 3 and 4. 

The new date will coincide with National Fishing and Boating Week, which runs from June 3 – 11, and the June 10 Free Fishing Day.

For information and updates visit on the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife website.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Princeton Environmental Film Festival

The 2017 Princeton Environmental Film Festival will be held March 28 – April 2, 2017. The Festival is sponsored by the Princeton Public Library and is held annually at 65 Witherspoon Street in downtown Princeton, New Jersey, with additional special events offered throughout the year.

Founded in 2006, the PEFF’s mission is to share exceptional documentary films and engage the community in exploring environmental sustainability from a wide range of angles and perspectives.

The film screenings are free of an admission charge and accompanied by a Q&A with film directors and producers, as well as talks by invited speakers visiting the festival or by those who live here in our community.

Check out the full schedule of films, but one film that caught my attention is "Birds of May." It is a 30 minute film directed by Jared Flesher that will have its New Jersey premiere at the festival. It tells the story of the federally threatened rufa red knot bird and its annual visit to the Delaware Bay.

Following the movie, a Q&A with the director, and a presentation by shorebird biologist Larry Niles and Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s David Wheeler will be held. Wildlife art by James Fiorentino, and poetry readings by the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program, featuring Cynthia Arrieu-King and Catherine Doty will also be part of the screening. The event is part of “Because We Come from Everything: Poetry and Migration,” a series organized by the newly formed National Poetry Coalition.

This screening is March 26 at 7 p.m. in the Community Room of the Princeton Public Library.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring Brings Vernal Pools to Life

Eastern Tiger Salamander   Photo by Caitlin Smith/USFWS.
Springlike weather has arrived and left NJ a few times already in February and March, but as the true spring season arrived this morning, vernal pools will appear and become more actively occupied.

Vernal pools are confined wetland depressions, either natural or man-made, that hold water for at least two consecutive months out of the year and are devoid of breeding fish populations.

Here in New Jersey, rural portions of the Skylands, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain landscapes are home to the majority of our vernal pools. These unique ecosystems provide habitat to many species of amphibians, insects, reptiles, plants, and other wildlife.

An endangered species in NJ, the Eastern Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) are part of the wildlife ritual that happens around those intermittent pools/ponds. This is where many amphibian species go to breed.

Habitat loss and water pollution have led to the decline of tiger salamander populations in the southern portion of New Jersey and by the mid-1970s their known historic breeding sites had been reduced to half - 19 sites.

Consequently, the Eastern Tiger Salamander was listed as an endangered species in 1974 and still remains on the list.

Protecting vernal ponds has led the NJDEP to adopt regulations that affords them protection under the State Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act.

The Eastern Tiger Salamander is only one challenged amphibian species in our state. Their breeding needs or habitat are impacted by water pollution, pesticides, roads, introductions of fish, off-road vehicles and development, especially on private land.

Some populations have been saved from local extinction by the species ability to utilize human-made "pools" such as trenches and construction areas as breeding ponds.

Spotted Salamander
Another vernal pool visitor is the Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum). This a big salamander that is about 15–25 cm (5.9–9.8 in) long. They are stout with wide snouts. The spotted salamander's main color is black, but can sometimes be a blueish-black, dark grey, dark green, or even dark brown. Two uneven rows of yellowish-orange spots run from the top of the head (near the eyes) to the tip of the tail.

The Spotted Salamander breeds in large groups in vernal ponds in early spring, when the first
warm rains occur. It prefers deciduous or mixed woods. Outside of breeding season, it may be found under debris in humid conditions.

Adults can be observed moving into vernal pools sometime after the first spring rain as early
as the beginning of March. They will remain in these breeding ponds for up to a month before moving back to their terrestrial dwellings. Their range is the Northern and Western part of the state outside the Pinelands.

Amphibians of New Jersey

Vernal Pools in NJ

Friday, March 17, 2017

Well, It Did Feel Like Spring For a Few Weeks in February

For a few weeks in February, it sure felt like spring was very near in New Jersey or maybe had even arrived - even if the calendar and Earth's tilt said otherwise. I saw crocuses and daffodils up and blooming. Tree buds seemed to be starting their bud burst.

Then the thermometer reversed itself and we had the biggest snow of the winter.

The news reported that the cherry blossoms in the nation's capital are threatened, and the ones in New Jersey (which generally peak in early April) might also be affected. Not So Trivial Fact: New Jersey has more cherry trees than Washington D.C. - the largest cherry blossom collection in the United States. But the Branch Brook Park cherry blossom webcam in Newark just shows bare trees and snow as I write this.

I have written before about the study of cyclic, seasonal natural phenomena which is called phenology. The National Phenology Network tracks “Nature’s Calendar” via phenological events. But can we actually predict the seasons with any accuracy?

These nature observations include the ones we all have been observing lately, such as trees and flowers, but also ones that you may not be able to observe or just don't pay attention to. Those signs of seasonal change include male ungulates, such as elk or deer, growing antlers at the beginning of the rut and breeding season each year, mammals that hibernate seasonally to get through the winter, and bird migration during the year.

Other than the false Groundhog Day forced observations, phenological events can be incredibly sensitive to climate change. That change can be year-to-year, but the timing of many of these events is changing globally - and not always in the same direction and magnitude.

 Spring leaf anomaly: dark red indicates areas of early bud burst, with some areas as great as 21 days early. It should be noted, that areas around Los Angeles are conversely nearly 21 days behind schedule. via
According to a Public Library of Science (PLOS) blog
"From 1982 to 2012, spring budburst (when the leaves first appear) has advanced by a bit over 10 days, while the onset of autumn in the northeast US has pushed back about 4.5 days. No trends were found for other regions. This lengthening of the growing season has profound implications for the ecology of these forests and potentially their ecological evolution. A longer growing season could translate to high carbon storage for increased growth, but higher rates of decomposition and changes in moisture availability. However, these changes in phenology are primarily driven by increasing temperatures. In a warmer world, some species may simply not be able to survive where they are now, creating a dramatic change in the species composition. And this is without considering changes in precipitation."

The National Phenology Network's project called Nature’s Notebook collects data from more than 15,000 naturalists across the nation who, using standardized methods, provide information about plant and animal phenology.

Project BudBurst is another citizen science focused project using observations of phenological events and phases through crowd-sourcing. Project like this give you the opportunity to make your observations of nature more conscious, and to contribute to the knowledge base.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Protecting Vernal Ponds

Vernal Pond BarriersThe NJDEP Division of Parks and Forestry has launched a pilot project to install barriers to protect ecologically sensitive intermittent ponds in Wharton State Forest from damage caused by illegal use of off-road vehicles.

Vernal or intermittent ponds and pools are shallow depressions found throughout our state that periodically dry out as the temperature rises, rainfall varies and the ground water table fluctuates.

These areas are ecologically important because they provide breeding habitat for many of the region’s unique amphibian and plant species.

Fish that would otherwise eat the eggs and larvae of many amphibian species cannot populate these ponds due to their fluctuations.

In the Pinelands, for example, species such as the Pine Barrens tree frog are found in few places outside the Pinelands.

The initial phase of the project in the Pinelands targeted four ponds, as part of a broader effort to protect ecologically sensitive areas in the 125,000-acre state forest. Wharton, by far the largest unit of the State Park System, is located in the heart of the globally unique Pinelands National Reserve, and covers parts of Atlantic, Burlington and Camden counties.

Some off-road vehicle enthusiasts run their vehicles through these ponds both during their wet and dry periods. In the process, their tires leave deep tracks in the ponds and destroy plants that fringe them.


Organizations involved in the Wharton project were the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Iron in the Pines, Open Trails NJ,, the South Jersey Botany Group, the New Jersey Trail Riders Association, South Jersey Geocachers, the Gossamer Hunting Club and the Whitesbog Historic Trust.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A NJ Income Tax Check-off to Help Endangered Species

New Jersey residents can continue to help the recovery of endangered species through a state income-tax check-off. Not the most opportune time to ask someone for a "donation," but taxpayers can give a portion of their state refunds to fund wildlife protection.

Simply look for Line 59 on your NJ 1040 income tax return, and check-off for wildlife. Or remind your tax preparer that you want to make a contribution.

Every dollar you donate goes directly to the DEP's Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP), enabling biologists to continue their work to restore, conserve and enhance New Jersey's populations of rare species. What's more, your contribution is matched with an equal amount of federal funding, further strengthening efforts to protect hundreds of imperiled species.

The funds collected in past years have helped specie such as the bald eagle and osprey populations reach record highs in the state.

It is an understandable misconception that these programs are funded by tax dollars or the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses. They are not.

The Endangered and Nongame Species Program also works closely with local conservation groups. They award Conserve Wildlife Matching Grants —funded by sales of Conserve Wildlife license plates — to fund efforts of nonprofit conservation organizations,