New Jersey Audubon works with organizations, partners and decision-makers to develop policy positions founded in science and conducts outreach, advocacy, and partnership-building to advance these positions. Our efforts often involve asking our members, followers, supporters and anyone interested in making New Jersey a better place for people and wildlife to make a difference by engaging in specific issues at critical decision points. Look to our action alert page (coming soon) for any open action alerts to make a difference in current issues with outcomes pending. The following topics are not inclusive of the entirety of our efforts but expand upon focal areas and issues where we frequently engage and ask others to help us make a difference.
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.
The Delaware Bayshore is a critical pit stop for nine migratory shorebird species, including red knots, semipalmated sandpipers, ruddy turnstones, and sanderlings. In the spring, their stop is timed when spawning horseshoe crabs congregate along the bay’s beaches to deposit eggs, which serve as the primary food source for the shorebirds to make their long journey from wintering areas to Arctic breeding grounds each year. Without the ability to fuel up on easy-to-digest fats provided by the horseshoe crab eggs, red knots are unable to complete their 9300-mile one-way trip. At reduced numbers and faced with other additional pressures such as climate change, red knots require the ability to adequately refuel during migration to survive.
Significant declines in red knots were seen after the late 1980s and into the early 2000s. The overfishing of horseshoe crabs was identified as a key contributor to the decline and NJ Audubon helped lead efforts to pass a horseshoe crab fishing moratorium in New Jersey which was signed into law in 2008. With evidence of horseshoe crab recovery lacking, we joined other conservation groups in filing an emergency petition requesting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the red knot as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The agency acted in 2014 and the official listing of the red knot should bring additional protection measures and funding dedicated to recover populations. 2018 census surveys on the red knot wintering grounds in Chile showed a substantial decrease from previous years and NJ Audubon continues to engage on emerging issues that may pose challenges to Red Knot recovery, such as nearshore oyster aquaculture practices that interfere with foraging on critical Bayshore beaches
Pollinators serve as an integral component of biodiversity and ecological health and are responsible for one third of the food we eat – making their rapid, global decline within recent years a cause for great concern. Several factors indicated in pollinator declines include habitat loss, pesticide use, disease, non-native species, and climate change. In 2017 the Rusty Patched Bumblebee was listed on the endangered species list, marking the first time a bumblebee has reached endangered status in the U.S., and while a Federal Pollinator Task Force was created in 2014, this action has yet to translate to any concrete regulation by the EPA. With the expectation of little to no near-term action on the federal level, it is more crucial than ever to pursue greater pollinator awareness and protections at the state level.
NJ Audubon has assumed a leadership role in state pollinator protection by advocating for the passage of several pieces of legislation. NJ Audubon-backed bills that are now law contain various approaches, from helping to raise public awareness of pollinators and improved legal protections to implementing habitat creation programs. Some legislation focuses on bees or monarch butterflies specifically, while others—such as the Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management Program—stand to benefit all pollinator species by aiming to utilize more native plants and wildflowers on our roadways. While several pieces of legislation are now law, many others still await final action by the Legislature and NJ Audubon continues to advance these efforts, as well as participate in a working group to reduce the impact of lethal pesticides on pollinators through legislation.
New Jersey Audubon is a vocal advocate for securing both federal and state funding that helps protect wildlife within New Jersey. With active, annual outreach to our congressional delegation together with our partners, we have helped to secure sustaining support for the federal State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program which provides federal grant funds to states and territories for cost-effective conservation efforts to prevent species from becoming endangered. NJA is also partnering with the National Wildlife Federation to advance the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act at the federal level, which would direct $1.3 billion of existing revenue from oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters toward state-led wildlife conservation efforts. If the legislation is passed, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection would receive $19 million annually to help better protect our wildlife here at home, an $18 million increase from current funding levels. As with the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, this funding would provide critical resources for the Division of Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Nongame Species program, the frequent target of budget cuts at the state level. NJA also routinely advocates for the preservation of funding for critical programs within the Department of Environmental Protection during the annual state budget process to ensure adequate protection and oversight of critical state resources such as clean air and water as well as wildlife.
Land Preservation & Stewardship
Land preservation and stewardship are critical to the future of our wildlife and the health of the natural environment in which we recreate and on which we depend for important services like clean water and air and to support our economies. Efforts now to preserve and steward New Jersey’s waterways, wildlife habitat, natural areas, farmland, forests, and parks enhance our quality of life and that of future generations.
New Jersey is the first state in the nation predicted to reach full build-out (by mid-Century), meaning all available land not preserved will be developed. Although our state is a long-time leader in land preservation efforts, many needs remain. For example, hundreds of thousands of acres of priority lands not yet preserved (particularly in the Highlands and Pinelands regions) play critical roles in providing clean water. NJ Audubon worked to pass every Green Acres bond since 1961 and as coordinator of the NJ Keep It Green Coalition, also led efforts to ensure sustainable funding for State preservation programs such as Green Acres, Blue Acres, Farmland Preservation, and Historic Preservation. NJA also seeks to ensure the stewardship of preserved lands and parks and that they remain open and accessible to all where appropriate. This includes, in part, backing legislation to deem our state parks as essential services to prevent their closure in case of government shutdowns, opposing increases in user fees and park development projects outside the scope of small-scale concessions.
NJ Audubon also advocates for open space preservation funding at the federal level by supporting the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is the nation’s leading land conservation program which provides funding derived from offshore leasing and development revenues. Congress authorized the program to receive $900 million of those funds annually but actual appropriations have consistently fallen well short. The LWCF also leverages matching investments that support the acquisition and development of outdoor recreation areas and facilities, benefiting hundreds of state and local parks across New Jersey. LWCF also provides funds for other important conservation programs (e.g. Highlands Conservation Act, Forest Legacy Program).
Healthy forests provide numerous benefits including diverse habitat for species, water protection, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, wood products, and much more. New Jersey’s forests are faced with many human-induced impacts. Invasive plants and insects, disease, fragmentation, excessive deer populations along with fire exclusion have many forests struggling to support the natural processes that once occurred. Most of New Jersey’s forests are in the mid-successional stage of development, when forests tend to have the least biological diversity and growth begins to slow. This reduces natural resilience which is needed to combat the stressors mentioned above.
To combat this, NJ Audubon leads an effort to secure passage of the New Jersey Healthy Forests Act which will properly guide the active management our state forested lands. In so doing, we are encouraging the kind of stewardship that we implement on our own managed lands to ensure healthy forested ecosystems and increased habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Many states throughout the country practice responsible forestry to improve the overall health of forested ecosystems and in recent years, all our adjoining states have realized the positive results from a proactive philosophy of managing their public lands. New Jersey is a nationwide leader in preserving open space and passage of the Healthy Forests Act will enable proper stewardship of critical forest habitat.
Fire is a normal and necessary process in our forests where fire-adapted plants and wildlife depend on it to maintain their habitat. For example, the open spaces created after a burn are critical for certain species such as the Pine Barrens Tree Frog and Red Headed Woodpeckers. Fire has long been suppressed in New Jersey, yet restrictions on controlled fire creates a more dangerous situation by allowing for the buildup of excessive fuel loads and increasing the chances of devastating wildfires.
Prescribed burn is a management technique applied by trained experts to fire dependent ecosystems to provide both an important form of natural disturbance and reduce fuel loads. NJ Audubon is a longtime user of prescribed burns on our properties and worked actively with partners and members of the Legislature to pass the Prescribed Burn Act. Now law, the Act provides for a certification process for prescribed burn managers, a notification process for landowners, and a liability shield for prescribed burn managers and owners who are properly utilizing this valuable management tool. Ecological thinning by mechanical means will complement prescribed fire implementation and will help prevent fires in undesirable locations and reduce the frequency and intensity of unintended wildfires.
The current white-tailed deer population in New Jersey far exceeds the ecological carrying capacity of the land to sustain biodiversity and allow for forest regeneration. The increasing suburbanization of New Jersey provides a highly fragmented environment with abundant edge habitat where deer thrive. Plentiful food sources, along with open spaces where hunting access is limited or restricted, high deer birth rates, longer life spans, and the extirpation of native predators have allowed suburban areas to experience exponential deer population growth.
Elevated deer densities have devastating impacts on forest diversity because deer prefer to forage on woody vegetation and herbaceous plants in the understory. Native wildflowers, herbs and the buds and young shoots of woody shrubs and saplings are among their favorites. Once populations exceed a certain threshold, this can cause a severe problem for forest regeneration and structure, as well as bird species that rely on the understory for nesting and foraging habitat. NJ Audubon advocates for State policies to manage deer herds based on ecological integrity, including biodiversity conservation. NJ Audubon also works educate communities and landowners dealing with deer overabundance and those interested in developing local deer management programs.
Clean Water & Air
Clean water and clean air are essential for healthy ecosystems that benefit both wildlife and people. NJ Audubon’s efforts to protect habitat and wildlife are commonly intertwined with the need to protect our water resources and air quality.
The Delaware River Basin spans portions of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, from its pristine headwaters in the Catskills to its mouth at the Delaware Bay. This vast river system not only provides vital habitats for a rich variety of aquatic, bird, and wildlife species, but it’s also home to more than eight million residents, provides drinking water to over 15 million people, and is vital to the economic well-being of the mid-Atlantic region. For decades, the Delaware River Basin lacked a Basin-wide coordinated conservation strategy and dedicated federal support afforded to other major watersheds throughout the country.
Through leadership in the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, New Jersey Audubon spearheaded the passage of federal legislation to address this gap. The Delaware River Basin Conservation Act, enacted in 2016, established a nonregulatory program to facilitate basin-wide collaboration of conservation efforts while increasing resources for on-the-ground projects. Following another year and half of sustained advocacy efforts, Congress approved $5 million in 2018, marking the first-ever federal funding dedicated to the entire watershed. The Coalition continues to work to successful implementation of the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, as well as, lead in other policy issues affecting the watershed, promote watershed-wide planning and collaboration, and raise awareness for this incredible resource.
Traditional energy sources contribute to global climate change, habitat degradation, smog pollution, mercury contamination in our waterways, and radioactive waste. Renewable energies such as wind, solar, and geothermal provide cleaner, emissions-free energy, comprising an increasingly critical component of our energy future. At the same time, any energy development contains potential negative impacts to wildlife and natural habitats. Proper siting, monitoring, and policy informed by wildlife considerations are critical to ensure that renewable energy development in New Jersey minimizes negative impacts to wildlife—such as mortality associated with construction or operation of renewable energy structures (e.g. collision of birds and bats with wind turbines) and indirect impacts such as habitat loss and fragmentation—and succeeds in bringing us closer to a more sustainable future. New Jersey Audubon is taking an active, leading role in advocating for responsible wind energy development off our shores by regularly attending meetings and submitting comments to state, regional, and federal agencies to ensure that wildlife and environmental impacts are required as a part of any wind energy proposal and approval process.
The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish, by weight in our oceans. NJ Audubon is working to reverse this trend through education and advocacy for common-sense state-level legislation. Plastics pose a significant threat to our environment and the wildlife that rely on clean water and habitat. Single-use plastic bags, straws, expanded polystyrene foam (commonly referred to or otherwise known as Styrofoam), and balloons quickly break up into tiny particles, mistaken by wildlife for food. Bird species such as cormorants and ospreys are particularly vulnerable to entanglement and ingesting plastic particles. Ingesting plastic can result in intestinal blockage and even reproductive failure. Plastic can also act as a sponge for harmful contaminants that may be present in our waterways. Thus, wildlife ingesting plastic, are also ingesting contaminants, such as pesticides, DDT, and PCBs, which then bioaccumulate and move up the food chain. In 2016, our partner, NY/NJ Baykeeper, released research results estimating at least 165 million plastic particles are floating in NY-NJ Harbor waters with the most abundant type being expanded polystyrene foam, at 38%. NJ Audubon will continue to work with partners and members of the NJ Legislature to propel policy to curb the use of single-use plastics, protect wildlife, and encourage sustainable behavior. This includes working to institute a fee on single-use plastic bags, as well as banning balloon releases, expanded polystyrene foam, and single-use plastic straws.