Environmental Groups Call for Continued Investment in Species Protection

Trenton, NJ – Earlier this week, several changes to New Jersey’s Threatened and Endangered Species list were adopted including an update to the list of endangered species at N.J.A.C. 7:25-4.13 and the list which defines the status of indigenous wildlife species at N.J.A.C. 7:25-4.17. The changes, first published for public comment last year and formally adopted earlier this week, include the removal of some species and populations from the list and the addition of others.

Environmental groups actively engaged in wildlife conservation in New Jersey support these changes to create a list that more accurately portrays the status of certain wildlife populations in New Jersey, directs conservation investment to populations in greatest need and reflect not only the impact of continued stress on certain populations but also the successful recovery of others. The accuracy of this list which works in concert with the federal list of threatened and endangered species to protect wildlife is critical, as it provides a finer level of detail for understanding and improving the status of species within New Jersey’s borders.

“Removal of species from the list and upgrading species status from endangered or threatened to special concern is significant,” said Margaret O’Gorman, Executive Director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. “It shows that added protection and management afforded to listed species can ultimately lead to full recovery. It illustrates that the Endangered Species Act, when backed with funding and commitment, can work.”

Significant removals and upgrades (where “upgrade” refers to an improvement in the status of a species) include the removal of the Cooper’s Hawk from the list of threatened species; limiting endangered species protection to breeding populations for eight bird species including the bald eagle, peregrine falcon and northern harrier; and upgrading another eight species of wildlife from endangered or threatened to special concern status.

Additions to the lists include five species - the black rail, golden-winged warbler, red knot, gray petaltail and Indiana bat - to the endangered list and nine species including three birds, the American kestrel, cattle egret and horned lark to the threatened list.

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Red Knot

Habitat Loss is a Major Threat to Biodiversity

“Habitat loss remains one of the main drivers for species loss in New Jersey,” said David Mizrahi, Vice President for Research, New Jersey Audubon Society. “The decline of the golden winged warbler whose habitat needs include forest edges and the American kestrel who require large areas of open grassy habitat is symptomatic of the loss of habitat to poor land use in New Jersey.”

These updates ensure that land use regulations are applied correctly and that conservation investments go to the species of greatest conservation need. In conjunction with the rule adoption, a new version of NJDEP’s Landscape Project, the state’s endangered species mapping tool was also released. Landscape Project has proven to be an effective and efficient means of documenting threatened and endangered species habitat throughout the state. Since it was launched in 1994, it has undergone continuous improvements under a peer-reviewed process and its use has been upheld in court. Species protections in the state are overseen by the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) which is funded by a mix of grants from federal agencies charged with overseeing federal endangered species, small amounts of state funding and income generated from the Conserve Wildlife license plate and the state income tax check-off.

“Going forward, habitat protection through acquisition continues to be essential to protect our rarest species from extinction,” said Margaret O’Gorman. “However, active stewardship on both protected and non-protected land is the only way to recover populations of species as is evidenced by the success of the bald eagle recovery efforts which last year saw the state’s breeding population of bald eagles exceed 100 pairs for the first time since the effort started.”

“As we continue to recover species from decline, we must continue to make investments in the conservation activities that have proven successful in recovering populations,” said Kelly Mooij, Director of Government Relations, New Jersey Audubon Society. “We must also continue to invest in sound policies for both land use and management of our open spaces to ensure that the needs of our wildlife are met.”

Sometimes the State’s Efforts Are Not Enough

The red knot, a shorebird whose population has crashed to near-extinction in the last three decades, is downgraded from threatened to endangered in a move that reflects its continued decline despite New Jersey’s leadership in its conservation. This small bird depends on the eggs of horseshoe crabs for survival during its critical stopover in Delaware Bay and, while New Jersey took the bold step to close the horseshoe crab harvest, other states remain reluctant to even decrease harvest numbers, an act that has resulted in no appreciative recovery of the crabs or increased density of the eggs. Because of the lack of regulatory action outside New Jersey, red knot numbers continue to decline, pushing the bird closer to extinction.

“New Jersey has long been a leader in endangered species protection, enacting the Endangered Species Conservation Act before the Federal law was signed. As wildlife species do not recognize state lines, efforts to protect species with wide ranges and long migrations must be

holistic and include all the places a species can be and all the food sources it requires for survival. Protection of New Jersey natural habitats is critical as they are important places for migratory species on their way to northern breeding grounds or to their southern winter homes,” said David Mizrahi.