Wildlife Conservation

Paramount to NJ Audubon's mission is the conservation of our native flora and fauna, especially endangered and threatened species. Because habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation comprise the greatest threat to most of New Jersey's wildlife, much of our efforts to conserve wildlife focus on habitat protection and stewardship. We do engage in species specific policy issues, particularly when the expertise of our scientists is beneficial. We also contribute to the development and modification of statewide wildlife management policies and approaches.

  • Red Knots & Horseshoe Crabs
  • Piscivorous Birds & Menhaden
  • Landscape Project
  • Climate Change
  • State & Tribal Wildlife Grants

Red Knots & Horseshoe Crabs

The Delaware Bay is a critical spring stopover for 9 species of shorebirds that feed on abundant horseshoe crab eggs, including the State endangered red knot as well as the semipalmated sandpiper. Horseshoe crab eggs serve as the primary food source of many shorebirds passing through the Delaware Bay as they make their long journey from the southern tip of South America to Arctic breeding grounds each year. Significant declines in red knots were seen after the late 1980s and into the early 2000s. While red knot numbers have remained fairly stable since 2003, these numbers are significantly reduced as compared to historic levels.

The overfishing of horseshoe crabs was identified as a key contributor to the decline in red knot numbers. Studies have found that a positive relationship exists between horseshoe crab spawning abundance and the probability of red knots gaining mass during stopover, which is critical for survival. For this reason, NJ Audubon was heavily engaged in efforts to pass a horseshoe crab fishing moratorium in New Jersey which was signed into law in 2008. Despite a decade of horseshoe crab harvest restrictions throughout the Mid-Atlantic (with other states being less restrictive than New Jersey), evidence of horseshoe crab recovery is lacking. The most recent data from the horseshoe crab benthic trawl survey shows no improvement over the last ten years.

At reduced numbers and faced with other additional pressures (e.g. increased severity and frequency of tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean), red knots require a robust horseshoe crab population, and cannot afford greater declines in horseshoe crab abundance. Management of the horseshoe crab must reflect this need and the needs of other dependent species and it must recognize the demonstrated lack of recovery seen under policies utilized thus far.

NJ Audubon continues to follow this issue closely. NJ Audubon has joined other leading conservation groups in filing an emergency petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the red knot as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. NJ Audubon also provided comments regarding updates to the horseshoe crab management plan administered by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Learn more about our past action on this issue.

Resources: Red knot species profile, USFWS NJ Field Office - Red Knot, 2011 red knot count update, Horseshoe crab and red knot study, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

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Piscivorous Birds & Menhaden

The current overfishing of Atlantic menhaden threatens coastal birds, striped bass, tuna, weakfish, fisherman, and businesses. The New Jersey State threatened osprey depends heavily on this small, plankton-eating fish that plays an important role in the marine food web. Other New Jersey coastal birds also feed on menhaden including bald eagles, terns, gannets, loons, great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, brown pelicans, and some gulls.

Menhaden populations are at an all time low and the species’ ability to sustain itself is in question. The AMSFC’s 2010 peer-reviewed stock assessment concluded that overfishing of menhaden has occurred in 32 of the last 54 years. The menhaden population has decreased by 86% over the last three decades. Additionally, a lack of attention to the predator-prey relationship between fish-eating birds and fish by wildlife and fishery managers obliges further study and a precautionary approach when managing menhaden.

NJ Audubon submitted comments to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) urging the adoption of measures to reduce fishing pressures on the menhaden coast wide. In November 2011, the ASMFC acknowledged the tenuous state of the menhaden and voted to reduce harvests.

Resources: ASMFC Atlantic menhaden press release, ASMFC

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Landscape Project

The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Nongame Species Program’s Landscape Project is an effective and efficient means of documenting threatened and endangered species habitat throughout the State. It identifies and maps critically important areas for imperiled and priority species by combining species location information with land-use/land-cover data. Since the Landscape Project was launched in 1994, it has undergone continuous improvements under a peer-reviewed process and its use has been upheld in court. It is an essential tool for a smart and comprehensive approach to land use planning that avoids critical wildlife habitat.

New Jersey Audubon has and continues to defend and ensure the proper use of the Landscape Project in land use decision making in New Jersey as well as its continued improvement.

Resources: Landscape Project homepage, Learn more about the Landscape Project and how to report a rare wildlife sighting

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Climate Change

Climate change poses a significant threat to New Jersey’s wildlife. In addition to the tremendous pressures our wildlife face as inhabitants of the most densely populated state in the country are the wide ranging, variable, and increasing impacts associated with climate change. Changing habitat conditions could result in statewide elimination of already imperiled species like the savannah sparrow, vesper sparrow, and bobolink and sea level rise puts at risk beach nesting birds like the piping plover which has already experienced significant habitat loss.

Wildlife are impacted by climate change through alterations in food and water availability and habitat quality and abundance. As a result, species range shifts are already being seen, as are impacts to behaviors such as migration and reproduction. Changes in seasonal weather patterns, for example, may mean habitat loss in the case of species like the bog turtle and blue spotted salamander. Additionally, more frequent extreme weather events during the breeding season translates into reduced likelihood of annual reproductive success for many species of birds and other wildlife.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the composition of New Jersey’s forests will change as temperatures rise, bringing more southern pines and oaks northward to replace the hardwood forests currently found in the northern part of the state. Changes in the composition of New Jersey’s forests will in turn mean changes in wildlife habitat availability. As a coastal state with 127 miles of shoreline, the impacts of climate change in New Jersey are also visible in the form of sea level rise. Salt-water intrusion and inundation due to rising sea levels could greatly reduce New Jersey’s extensive beaches and coastal wetlands, reducing essential foraging grounds for many wading birds and waterfowl and the buffering capacity of wetlands during storm surges.

NJ Audubon values the consensus of the scientific community and believes a responsible means of addressing climate change is necessary for the future health of humans, wildlife, and the environment. The impacts are far too numerous and uncertain to do nothing. In the case of wildlife, an appropriate response includes active planning to enhance adaptation such as facilitating species range shifts by increasing habitat connectivity and reducing other pressures species already face. It also includes greenhouse gas mitigation now and on a national scale.

NJ Audubon supports New Jersey’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently proposed first national carbon emissions standard for new power plants. See more about RGGI and the EPA’s proposed rule under “Clean Water and Air”. NJ Audubon also serves on the advisory committee of the NJ Climate Adaptation Alliance.

Resources: EPA Climate Change homepage, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, NJ Climate Adaptation Alliance

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State & Tribal Wildlife Grants

The federal State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program provides federal grant funds to states and territories for cost-effective conservation programs that work to prevent species from becoming endangered. New Jersey received $1.4 million in FY10 for endangered, threatened, and rare wildlife conservation projects that work to halt or reverse species population declines in the state by, for example, enabling habitat improvements in wildlife management areas and supporting important updates to New Jersey’s Landscape Project. The Program experienced significant cuts in FY11.

To voice our support for this Program, NJ Audubon participates in and helps to coordinate the New Jersey team for the annual Teaming With Wildlife Fly-In event in Washington, DC. We join with many other organizations and state representatives from across the country to meet with our respective representatives and urge their support for the Program for which funding is appropriated annually.

Resources: USFWS State & Tribal Wildlife Grants Overview, Teaming With Wildlife, NJ Wildlife Action Plan, 2011 State Wildlife Grant Project Summaries

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