BY TOM HESTER SR.
Five species of wildlife with declining populations have been added to New Jersey’s endangered list, and nine species have been added to the threatened list, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced Thursday.
The newly-endangered are three species of birds - the black rail, the golden-winged warbler and the red knot; the gray petaltail, a species of dragonfly; and the Indiana bat, which is listed as federally endangered.
The newly-threatened are three species of birds - the American kestrel, the cattle egret and the horned lark; and six dragonfly species.
Endangered species are those whose prospects for survival are in immediate danger due to one or several factors, such as loss or degradation of habitat, exploitation, predation, competition, disease or environmental degradation. A threatened species is one that could become endangered due to its small population size, restricted range or specialized habitat needs.
On a brighter note, seven troubled bird species have been upgraded for the non-breeding portion of their populations, including the bald eagle, osprey, peregrine falcon, red-shouldered hawk, northern goshawk, short-eared owl, and vesper sparrow. They remain threatened during the breeding season.
The DEP said, among other things, the population improvements can be attributed to the discontinuation of DDT and other pesticides, DEP habitat protection efforts, and improved water quality.
The Cooper's hawk was upgraded from threatened to special concern in the breeding season. The species has recovered from the past use of pesticides, and has reoccupied much of the state’s forests.
The DEP this week adopted revisions to its list of threatened and endangered species.
"This update to the state's lists of threatened and endangered species uses the best scientific methods available to provide us with an accurate assessment of the health of our wildlife," DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. "The success of our threatened and endangered wildlife is an important indicator of the health of our overall environment. We have many positive takeaways from this most recent update to the lists, but we are also reminded that much work still lies ahead of us."
The DEP also released a major update to its Landscape Project species habitat mapping tool, made the species status changes based on a scientific review that considered population levels, trends, threats, and habitat conditions.
Martin said the DEP utilized experts from both within and outside the agency to review data on the populations, distribution and habitat needs of species and to reach consensus on their conservation status.
A new category has been added for species of special concern, effectively a watch list for species that warrant special attention due to population declines or vulnerability to habitat disturbances.
Martin said the threatened and endangered species lists are important tools in guiding a variety of state, federal and local agencies to make sound decisions on projects and better protect wildlife and their habitats.
As part of its efforts to continually use the best science in managing the state's resources, the DEP has also released the newest version of its Landscape Project, an interactive ecosystem-based mapping tool that assists government agencies, planners, conservation groups, the public and others in making decisions that will protect wildlife. This tool can be used immediately.
Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club director, charged the DEP has adopted what he described as major rollbacks to the rules protecting threatened and endangered species. He said the changes will have serious impacts not just on these critical species but also New Jersey’s diminishing open spaces.
“These rules are part of the further weakening of protections by the Christie administration,” Tittel said. “Under these rules 31,000 acres will be sprawled over by development causing water pollution and traffic while destroying our last remaining open spaces”
Tittel said the new rules remove protections from 31,000 acres, over 50 square miles, of critical habitat. “This is the largest rollback in the history of New Jersey,” he said. “Instead of continuing to advance protections for the most vulnerable species, New Jersey is moving backwards and promoting more sprawl, overdevelopment, and jeopardizing some of most sensitive areas in state.
“The protection of threatened and endangered species habitat is not just about safeguarding animals and plants but also protecting the sensitive lands and critical ecosystems these organisms depend upon,” Tittel said. “The rollbacks proposed in this rule change will jeopardize water quality, flood protection, and the few remaining contiguous forests and greenbelts in the state by allowing more development to go forward. The areas inhabited by endangered species are essential for stream corridor protection, preventing pollutants from entering our aquifers and streams, and providing clean air.”
Tittel said studies conducted by the DEP found that dozens of species are in serious decline in New Jersey. “Instead of affording regulatory protections to these species through inclusion on the 'threatened species' list, the department is creating a new category of 'special concern' species that simply concedes populations are declining and habitat is being destroyed without offering protections,” Tittel said. “'Special concern' species will continue to decline across the state since no action is being taken to prevent further degradation and loss of their habitat. Under the new rule, over 100 species will be added to the special concern list.”
Tittel added, “Creating the new category of ‘special concern’ is the department’s way of getting around providing protection to declining species. In New Jersey, all the listed ‘special concern’ species are in serious decline and the DEP will watch these species and their habitats disappear while doing nothing.”
"Version 3.1 of the Landscape Project takes into account the new species' statuses, and implements a new, more precise scientific methodology used previously only in the Highlands region," David Jenkins, chief of the DEP's Endangered and Nongame Species Program, said. "This new version is much more user-friendly and will prove extremely helpful in making sound decisions that will protect imperiled wildlife and their habitats."
For more information on the Landscape Project, visit:
and the DEP's interactive NJ-GEOWeb website: www.nj.gov/dep/gis/geowebsplash.htm
For a copy of the adopted threatened and endangered species rule incorporating changes to the lists and for general information on New Jersey's threatened and endangered species, visit: