Friday, March 27, 2020

Blog Anniversary (or Birthday)

I guess it's typically called an anniversary when a blog celebrates another year. Endangered New Jersey started as a blog on March 27, 2009, so today is the anniversary. Personally, I prefer a birthday because it suggests that there will be cake, ice cream, and presents!  (No balloons - especially the mylar ones - that usually end up in the ocean and endanger animals!)

Today is birthday 11, but the idea and original version of the site goes back 21 years old having begun as a website in 1999 that I helped three sixth grade students (one being my son) and their teacher put together. You can read about the history of the site here.

This blog was my way to keep the mission of the original site going - to keep people in NJ and beyond informed about what was happening in our state around things threatened and endangered. I broadened the scope to include other topics about the diverse environments and species found in New Jersey, plus the challenges we face, and what you can do to enjoy and protect them.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Funding the NJ Endangered and Non-game Species Program

You have seen cars on New Jersey roads with this Conserve Wildlife license plate, but did you know how it was obtained and what it means?

This special plate's purchase dedicates 80 percent of the fees to the NJ Endangered and Non-game Species Program. That is important because - as many people do not know - that program is supported by contributions and not by the state. 

These revenues help the state's Bald Eagle comeback, Peregrine Falcons, Ospreys, Bog Turtles, Barred Owls and many other species to survive in the state.

The other source of revenue is the checkoff on your state tax return on Line 66 on your NJ 1040 income tax return. EVERY dollar you donate goes directly to the state's Endangered and Nongame Species Program, and your contribution is matched with an equal amount of federal funding, further strengthening efforts to protect imperiled species.

The Endangered and Nongame Species Program is responsible for more than 600 species of greatest conservation need across New Jersey, including 86 species currently listed as endangered or threatened.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Mink and Muskrats in NJ

Photos by Richard Angelillo

This month I was contacted by Richard Angelillo who sent the two photos above that he took in Somerset, NJ. He thought at first that it was a muskrat but was told it was a mink. He did not know that we have minks in New Jersey.

He went online and found our article on New Jersey Furbearers.

Besides muskrats, it is easy to confuse a fairly common mink for a less likely fisher. That's especially true when the animals are moving quickly and especially when they are wet.

Can you tell the difference between a mink and a muskrat?

The muskrat is not the principal prey of the mink but minks are the principal predator of the muskrat. There are a good number of videos online of the two animals battling, with the mink most often coming out the victor.

In NJ and in general, more muskrats are trapped than minks. But as you can see by observation, their fur s different and a mink pelt is more valuable.

Mink are dark-colored, semiaquatic, carnivorous mammals and part of the family Mustelidae, which also includes weasels, otters, and ferrets.

Minks and muskrats also have their predators. Great horned owls, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, and humans are predators of mink.

Mink are sometimes trapped to protect the fish population in lakes and rivers.

Muskrats are fairly common throughout NJ and are sometimes called our "swamp bunnies." They normally live in groups consisting of a male and female pair and their young. During the spring, they often fight with other muskrats over territory and potential mates.

In streams, ponds, or lakes, muskrats burrow into the bank with an underwater entrance, and in marshes, push-ups are constructed from vegetation and mud.

Muskrats are most active at night or near dawn and dusk. They feed on cattail and other aquatic vegetation.

One way to identify a muskrat when it is out of the water by its tapering, almost hairless tail.

Reference document on minks and muskrats

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Do You Want Mountain Lions in New Jersey?

Eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar) USFWS

I would say the answer is Yes for the many people who contact me with reports of sighting mountain lions in New Jersey Wildlife. I also get reports of moose and wolves (not coywolves, which do exist in our state).

The official word from the NJDEP is still that there are none of those three in our state and that the bobcat is still N.J.'s only wild cat.

John Parke wrote:
There is not a year that goes by where I do not meet someone who knows someone who heard of a guy that either swears he saw or heard that there was a sighting of a mountain lion roaming the woods and fields of N.J. in recent years. In fact, we here at N.J. Audubon also get actual "physical evidence" of these sightings in the form of emailed photos. What is funny is that most of these photos that get circulated actually show, mountain lions walking in snow covered driveways right in Sussex County, N.J. or at least that's what the emails say.
Unfortunately or fortunately depending on how much you really want to have mountain lions back, the vegetation also shown in the same photos are usually western species, the license plates on the cars in the driveway are from Colorado or Montana, or occasionally a mule deer will also be standing in the driveway as well we don’t have mule deer in N.J. Oh well another N.J. mountain lion sighting email debunked again.

Even at its full size, our bobcats don't really look like a cougar

A grainy photo from a hunter's camera seems to show a "big cat" in this photo provided to the Winslow Township Police Department

Last year, a report of a "large cat" sighting in Winslow Township near the Hammonton border got warnings out for local residents.  The DEP said it was a "house cat," not even a bobcat. But, as one person told me, "That's just like when the government calls a UFO a weather balloon." Conspiracy theories abound these days.

Adding some fuel to the idea of cougars in NJ is the fact that mountain lions were indigenous at one time in this area but have not existed naturally here for many years. Mountain lions were functionally extinct in the mid-Atlantic states by 1882.

Despite that information about cougars being functionally extinct for over a century, the NJDEP, USFWS and this blog continue to receive reports of sightings. No reports have been confirmed as being the eastern cougar subspecies.

Some people posit that these individual cougars are released pets or mountain lions who have come in from western populations.

Going much further back in NJ cougar history, mountain lions were hunted for livestock protection, and also for growing markets for fur in the 1600s because furs from the Americas were being shipped to Europe.

If a mountain lion (Eastern cougar or eastern puma, Puma concolor couguar) did live in New Jersey it would have to be part of the extinct or extirpated population of cougars that once lived in northeastern North America. Eastern cougars were unofficially deemed extinct by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) evaluation in 2011 and they were formally removed from the endangered species list and declared it to be extinct in 2018. Cougars are still common in western North America and there have been individuals from that population occasionally seen in the eastern cougar's former range, though not in or near New Jersey.

According to Wikipedia, privately run groups have formed since the 1970s in nearly every state to compile and investigate records of cougar sightings and many are convinced that breeding populations of cougars exist throughout the region. A smaller number believe that a conspiracy to hide information or secretly reintroduce cougars is actively underway by state and federal governments. Some also believe that there is possible colonization of the east by western cougars that have wandered hundreds of miles from their established breeding ranges in the Dakotas or elsewhere in the west.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

'Pine Mud' Film Addresses Issue in New Jersey's Pinelands

In the vast Pinelands National Reserve of southern New Jersey, powerful vehicles trample protected sand dunes and drive circles through ancient ponds. Like in many wild places, “off-roading” has grown more popular here.

As a local conservationist works to protect habitat for threatened species, tensions flare with off-roading enthusiasts who don't want to see their access to the forest restricted.

Filmmaker Jared Flesher's Pine Mud is the first feature documentary to explore the complex, widespread and intensifying problem of off-road vehicle damage to public lands.

PINE MUD premieres at the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital on Saturday, March 14, 2020, at 3pm, in the theater of the Eaton DC hotel, just blocks from the White House.     Tickets are free but require advance registration