Rare wildlife sightings should be reported to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Endangered and Nongame Species Program. This information is incredibly valuable as it is used to develop critical habitat mapping, track populations and trends in habitat use, and, ultimately, inform conservation strategies for imperiled species. Directions for submitting a report can be found here. To learn more about how this information is put to use, see below for a detailed description of the Landscape Project – New Jersey’s critical wildlife habitat mapping tool.
New Jersey’s Landscape Project
By combining imperiled and priority wildlife species location information with land-use/land-cover data, the Landscape Project identifies and maps critically important areas for these species. The data that informs these maps come directly from a database called “Biotics” used by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for tracking rare species occurrences. The species occurrence data in Biotics come in large part from surveys conducted by the DEP Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) with other professional surveys and DEP-reviewed rare species sighting reports contributing the remainder. Each rare species sighting report is systematically reviewed by ENSP biologists to assess reliability and acceptability and, ultimately, determine whether a report should be accepted or rejected. Additional standards are then applied for determination of inclusion in Landscape Project Maps.
Beyond careful evaluation of reported sightings, an additional layer of review is applied to the Landscape Project. Each new version of the Landscape Project is the result of an extensive review process performed by experts from throughout the State. Before the release of an updated version, the methodology for base mapping and inclusion of species occurrences is reviewed and revised according to the recommendations of a review committee and must be approved by the Endangered and Nongame Species Advisory Committee and the DEP. The most recent iteration of the Landscape Project released in February of this year was reviewed by eleven experts and was informed by numerous peer reviewed references, including those necessary to justify species occurrence areas. The updates reflect recent changes to the State’s list of endangered species, incorporate the more than 3,500 new species occurrence records that have been added to Biotics since the last update, and include the most current land-use/land-cover data available. Similar to any other well-designed scientific endeavor, the Landscape Project will continue to be reviewed and updated under the direction of qualified experts as more information is gained and technological improvements are made.
The result of all of this effort is up-to-date critical habitat maps that provide detailed, scientifically sound information to the public. Available online, the Landscape Project is a transparent, accessible, and intuitive tool that is particularly informative for land-use decision making, enabling proactive and landscape-level planning for both development and conservation purposes. Organizations like NJ Audubon utilize the information made available by the Landscape Project to help guide efforts on habitat protection and restoration. Implementation of and adherence to a number of State regulations with threatened and endangered species habitat protection provisions, including the NJ Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act Rules, NJ Flood Hazard Area Control Act Rules, Coastal Zone Management and Coastal Permit Program Rules, Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act Rules, Water Quality Management Planning Rules, and the Pinelands Protection Act, is dependent upon and enhanced by the Landscape Project.
Significant testament to the Landscape Project’s integrity is the fact that its use in identifying critical habitat for imperiled and priority species has been upheld in court on multiple occasions. For example, in December 2003, the New Jersey Appellate Court upheld use of the Landscape Project to identify habitats associated with wetlands that are used by threatened or endangered species. Similarly, in June 2011, the New Jersey Appellate Court upheld the important role of the Landscape Project in land-use decisions when it concluded that a regulation under the Water Quality Management Planning Rules that prohibits the extension of sewage lines in “environmentally sensitive areas,” including areas with threatened or endangered species habitat, was valid. The Court determined that “DEP’s effort to adopt a more protective approach through the Landscape Project method is neither inconsistent with the governing statute, unsupported by the record, nor arbitrary or capricious.”
The Landscape Project is New Jersey’s best means for identifying and sharing the locations of critical habitat for imperiled and priority species. The current approach for gathering and organizing this information is based on a continuous expert revision process that ensures an end product that accurately depicts priority areas and is scientifically defensible. The result is a well-informed tool that increases the efficiency with which land-use decisions are made in New Jersey to enable both smart planning and species conservation. The New Jersey’s Legislature has determined when and how species habitat considerations must be made; Landscape Project’s role is to best inform those considerations. This role must be upheld and defended for the future of our most imperiled species.
Resources: Report a Rare Wildlife Sighting, Landscape Project homepage, Landscape Project FAQs, Landscape Project map layers are accessible online via DEP’s NJ-GeoWeb, Read about NJ Audubon's work to defend the Landscape Project
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