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  • 04/14/2022 8:55 AM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    Charging stations key to getting more EVs on the road

    TOM JOHNSON, ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT WRITER | APRIL 14, 2022 | ENERGY & ENVIRONMENTTRANSPORTATION

    Administration unlikely to see 300,000-plus electric vehicles cruising NJ’s highways and byways by 2025 unless it ratchets up roll-out of charging stations

    Credit: Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

    Electric Vehicles

    New Jersey is counting on hundreds of thousands of people driving electric vehicles to cut the emissions causing climate change and to meet its ambitious clean-energy goals.

    But the state must spend more, and ramp up spending now to make that happen, clean-energy advocates warn.

    The appeal comes as advocates worry that the mandate to put 330,000 plug-in electric cars on the state’s roads by 2025 will be difficult to meet unless more resources are available to build out the charging infrastructure to accommodate those vehicles.

    Without that push for charging facilities, the electric vehicle goal could become the latest of the Murphy administration’s initiatives to face challenges in achieving aggressive clean-energy goals. The state has failed to achieve targets for energy storage needed to back up the intermittent power associated with renewable energy. And its once robust solar energy program has noticeably slowed down.

    Charging ahead with charging stations

    In recent years, the Murphy administration, however, has stepped up programs to build out the charging infrastructure. And it has increased the number of zero-emissions vehicles in use by offering lucrative rebates to consumers to buy more expensive EVs.

    It needs to do more, some say.

    “We are still a laggard,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “Right now, we don’t have enough chargers in our communities. We need to increase state investments in our charging network.’’

    By one account, New Jersey is doing well in increasing the number EVs on the road. By September 2021, the state had more than 66,555 vehicles on the road, according to an analysis by EVAdoption, a consulting firm. At that time, New Jersey had the sixth-highest number of plug-in vehicles on the road in the nation.

    In tallying up the number of ports available to drivers to charge vehicles, however, New Jersey fared poorly, ranking the worst in the nation, according to EVAdoption. For owners of electric vehicles, its analysis said there was only 1 charging port for every 41.7 vehicles in New Jersey.

    New Jersey officials said that analysis was flawed, primarily because it lumped all levels of charging stations together. Different types of charging stations do a lot to ease range anxiety for drivers who fear running out of juice with no place to recharge.

    Charging by the numbers

    There are three basic charging systems: Level 1, which is generally used at home takes up to 11 hours for a full charge; Level 2, which can take between 3 to 8 hours to charge; and Level 3, more commonly described as fast chargers, can provide about 80% of a full charge in about 15 minutes.

    “A lot of our funding has been targeted to fast chargers,’’ said Peg Hanna, assistant director of air monitoring and mobile sources for the state Department of Environmental Protection. Those chargers offer consumers the quickest way to recharge their vehicles. Otherwise, people  most often charge at home or, less occasionally, at work, both at much slower rates.

    When it comes to fast chargers installed, New Jersey is ahead of California and New York, Hanna said. New Jersey has 126 locations with fast chargers with 446 plug-in ports, she said. In New Jersey, most are along well-traveled transportation corridors

    With New Jersey projected to receive $104 million in federal funds to bolster spending on electric vehicle infrastructure over the next five years, the state has the potential to double or triple the number of fast chargers in the state, Hanna said.

    Still, Hanna conceded the state’s goal of increasing the number of EVs on its roads is going to be challenging. “It is not a place where we are letting up,’’ added Cathleen Lewis, who works on EVs in the state Board of Public Utilities Division of Clean Energy.

    The BPU has initiated programs to increase charging stations at multi-dwelling units like apartment buildings; promoted building charging stations at locations with large fleets of vehicles and at tourism locations in the state; and provided incentives to homeowners to put in charging stations.

    Helping make sales

    The office also has overseen the rebates for consumers seeking to buy electric vehicles. It’s perhaps the state’s most popular program, often shutting down within weeks of opening for applications. It offers consumers up to $5,000 to purchase electric vehicles.

    Over the past five years, New Jersey has taken the right regulatory steps to ensure a smooth transition to electric vehicles, according to Kevin Miller, senior policy director of Chargepoint, a provider of charging stations for EVs.

    “It is worth highlighting the rebate program is currently the highest profile, most impactful and strategic state program regarding electrifying transportation,’’ said Pamela Frank, CEO of ChargEVC-NJ, a coalition seeking to push electric vehicles. Her comments were submitted to the BPU on its Charge Up program.

    Pick up the pace

    Frank argued the state needs to accelerate spending in that program, which currently allocates $30 million annually.  In her comments, she proposed investing at least $100 million in funding for the rebate program in fiscal year 2023.

    As to meeting the state’s goal to put 330,000 EVs on the road, Frank conceded it is “a stretch, but it is doable. At the end of the day, it is a question of whether they put enough money to do it,’’ she said.

    “None of the benefits from EVs will materialize — including progress we need to meet our climate and clean-air goals — without EVs on the road, Frank commented.


  • 04/11/2022 3:35 PM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    A new fight to save Delaware’s ancient fish

    ANDREW S. LEWIS | APRIL 11, 2022 | ENERGY & ENVIRONMENTWATER

    Atlantic sturgeon survived 100 million years. Pollution, boats and humans have nearly killed them all

    Credit: (Delaware Riverkeeper Network)

    A highway billboard for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s campaign for the critically endangered Atlantic sturgeon

    Drivers on northbound I-95 in Philadelphia right now might catch a glimpse of a billboard with a strange, prehistoric looking creature on it. “Extinction Sucks,” the headline reads.

    The call to action is part of a new campaign by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network called “Dino in the Delaware.” While the animal on the billboard could easily pass as a bony, snouted dinosaur, it is in fact a living fish — the Atlantic sturgeon.

    Two centuries ago, during the annual spring spawn, the Delaware River’s Atlantic sturgeon population is thought to have been around 360,000, the largest in North America. Today, few people driving on I-95 will recognize the fish, let alone have caught a glimpse of it in the wild, because Atlantic sturgeon are critically endangered, due to overfishing, bycatch, pollution, and habitat degradation.

    According to Maya Van Rossum, chief executive officer of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the Dino in the Delaware campaign is an urgent, ad hoc effort to pull this ancient fish species back from the brink. “We are creating and rolling, creating and rolling,” she said, when asked about next steps for outreach. “One of the reasons for that is we don’t have the luxury of time.”

    Just as there are genetic variations between humans, so too are there differences between the Delaware River population of Atlantic sturgeon and groups of the same species elsewhere.

    Atlantic sturgeon

    In 2012, five distinct population segments of Atlantic sturgeon were listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Delaware River and Bay segment, which is a part of the New York Bight population, is the most critically threatened. (Another sturgeon population in the watershed, the shortnose, is also federally listed as endangered.) A first-of-its-kind study in 2016 found that there were an estimated 3,656 juvenile (age 0-1) resident Atlantic sturgeon in the Delaware estuary. But, according to Dewayne Fox, a Delaware State University fisheries professor who studies the Delaware watershed cohort of Atlantic sturgeon, much less than 10% survive to spawning age. Female Atlantic sturgeon generally don’t begin spawning until they are 15 years old.

    “Our estimate now, based on published, peer-reviewed projects and pretty robust methodology is less than 200 [adult] individuals,” Fox said. “While 3,656 sounds great, you have to remember that one female has two million eggs.”

    Offshore and in the bay, Atlantic sturgeon can fall victim to commercial fisheries as bycatch — unintentional catches in equipment like nets and dredges — “but when they enter the river,” Fox said, “it’s a whole new world of threats.”

    Three key threats

    At the center of the Dino in the Delaware campaign are three key threats that have persisted in the watershed for decades and, researchers like Fox say, are keeping Atlantic sturgeon populations at critically low numbers: vessel strikes; habitat degradation; and low dissolved oxygen content. 

    Atlantic sturgeon in the Delaware River have long been disproportionately impacted by strikes from vessel propellers large and small. Both Van Rossum and Fox say these strikes, which are almost always mortal, are the primary threat to the Atlantic sturgeon in the watershed.

    Fox explained that, for some of the biggest vessels in certain conditions, like extreme low tides or when sandbars build up on the riverbed, there can be less than 5 feet of clearance between their propellers and the bottom.

    ‘These are things that have been around for over 100 million years, and these large vessels have only been around for roughly a century.’

    “We’ve created an artificial situation where we have these really big ships in rivers and there’s not much room underneath them,” Fox said. “And even if there is room, there’s very likely so much pressure . . . so much force being driven by those propellers that, by the time the fish hears it, they can’t get out.”

    Unlike other fish species, adult Atlantic sturgeon don’t appear to react in the presence of large vessels and swim away, according to Fox’s research. And while they are a benthic species, meaning they spend most of their lives close to the riverbed, Atlantic sturgeon also regularly move up and down the water column. In the 19th century, before they were nearly fished out of existence because of global demand for their roe — or caviar — fishers and bystanders wrote of waters boiling with sturgeon, and of explosive leaps from the water that sometimes landed the fish, which can reach 9 feet in length and weigh hundreds of pounds, onto the decks of boats.

    “These are things that have been around for over 100 million years, and these large vessels have only been around for roughly a century,” Fox said. “As adults, they don’t have any predators — why should we assume that a fish this big and this old is going to move because something makes a noise?”

    Habitat disturbance

    The cargo and crude ships working their way from the ocean to the ports of Wilmington, Philadelphia and elsewhere up the Delaware River today can reach 1,000 feet in length. To accommodate these enormous vessels, the Army Corps of Engineers, in 2010, embarked on what would become a decade-long, $400 million dredging project that deepened a 100-mile stretch of river and bay channel by 5 feet — from 40 feet to 45.

    The project was criticized by opponents who argued that, economically, the ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia didn’t need to accommodate the kind of super tankers that require such a deep channel. One of the fiercest critics was Van Rossum and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, who said that the blasting of bedrock that would be required in some parts of the channel would be catastrophic to the Atlantic sturgeon.

    “There’s so much expertise documenting that this is a niche port and we’re perfectly fine at 40 feet,” Van Rossum said. “We could have had an Army Corps of Engineers who said, ‘You know what? It’s clear that we don’t need to deepen the main channel of the Delaware River and put in jeopardy this species.’”

    While larger ships can mean higher risk of propeller strikes, Fox said the greatest damage from the channel deepening project was the destruction of the Atlantic sturgeon’s most important spawning area. Atlantic sturgeon eggs, Fox explained, are sticky; they adhere to the first thing they touch. If that thing is sand, silt or mud, the eggs will quickly be covered over and smothered. Rock surface, then, becomes virtually the only substrate in the Delaware River that Atlantic sturgeon eggs can attach to and survive long enough to hatch.

    Credit: (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

    This Atlantic sturgeon was caught and released in an Aug. 8, 2010 census on the James River in Virginia.

    Much of the lower Delaware River and Bay is sand, silt and mud, but in a stretch of river between Philadelphia International Airport and Wilmington, Delaware, bedrock and boulders stud the seafloor, making this area a key Atlantic sturgeon spawning ground — and a headache for ships. To deepen the channel here, the Army Corps blasted the bedrock and boulders with explosives.

    “Sturgeon seek out those hard bottom areas of the river, which are in the navigation channel,” Fox said. “The Army Corps of Engineers is blowing the crap out of sturgeon spawning habitat in the river, and they’ve knocked that habitat back.”

    Ed Voigt, spokesperson for the Corps’ Philadelphia District, which oversaw the project, said the agency followed all the precautions mandated by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which included conducting rock blasting only between Dec. 1 and March 15, a timeframe when the Atlantic sturgeon are not spawning. He insisted that no habitat was lost. “Everywhere we moved rock, there was rock underneath,” he said. “We just lowered it somewhat.”

    While he admitted some sturgeon could have been harmed or killed, Voigt said National Marine Fisheries allows for a certain amount of collateral damage, “basically recognizing that life isn’t perfect,” but that the project didn’t even reach that limit.

    “There might have been one or two [sturgeon killed] in the whole course of the project, but they were just sturgeon we found,” he said. “We did not decrease their numbers.”

    Dissolved oxygen levels too low

    Before Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, the Delaware River was so polluted with industrial chemicals and raw sewage that a so-called dead zone had formed in a large swath of the waterway around Philadelphia.

    Like humans, fish need oxygen; without it, they suffocate. In general, fish require around five milligrams per liter of dissolved oxygen to survive. Untreated wastewater breeds bacteria, and fertilizers and other nutrients spark algal and other microorganism blooms. Fueled by the untreated wastewater, these organisms out-compete the fish, consuming the oxygen they need. At the time of the Clean Water Act’s passing, much of the lower Delaware around the tri-state metropolitan areas had zero, or very little, dissolved oxygen, rendering it effectively dead.

    ‘They’re saying they still need to study it, but we have so few Atlantic sturgeon left that you can literally study it to death, and that’s what’s happening here.’

    Sturgeon — especially juveniles — are particularly sensitive to low dissolved oxygen content levels. The Delaware River Basin Commission, the interstate agency in charge of setting dissolved oxygen thresholds in the river, maintains that a level of 3.5 milligrams per liter is sufficient for fish species in the areas around Wilmington and Philadelphia — a criterion that the commission set in 1967 and has never changed.

    In 2017, the commission resolved to finally review its 50-year-old dissolved oxygen content thresholds in that area of the river through a series of studies. One of them, conducted by The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in 2018, found that most fish species have a minimum threshold that is above 3.5. For normal survival and growth, the report said, juvenile sturgeon require a minimum dissolved oxygen content level of 6.3 milligrams per liter.

    More delays

    The 2017 initiative’s deadline was extended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the commission said last year it would be completed by September of this year. However, Kate Schmidt, spokesperson for the commission, said that is no longer the case.

    “I believe the schedule is pushed out a little bit,” Schmidt said. “The study part of it is wrapping up soon and we are anticipating putting out some final products, like reports, this year.”

    Credit: (Delaware Riverkeeper Network)

    Another highway billboard for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s campaign for the critically endangered Atlantic sturgeon

    But any decision on changing the threshold, Schmidt said, would be part of  a different process entirely, requiring public hearings and comments, reviews and, finally rule-making.

    According to Schmidt, the biggest driver of persistently low dissolved oxygen content levels in the river is discharge from 12 wastewater treatment facilities scattered along the banks of the river, between Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

    “To improve sewage treatment at some of these municipal plants is a heavy financial load,” Schmidt said. “If you’re making them improve their treatment, the costs shouldn’t necessarily be passed on to ratepayers who might already be disadvantaged, so there’s that factor that’s going into our study as well.”

    Time is nearly up

    Van Rossum contends that, while rigorous research is necessary, it should have been done a long time ago. “Think about the people at the DRBC [Delaware River Basin Commission], at the government agencies, who could do something about this, who could make a meaningful change, who a decade ago could have passed oxygen standards that would have helped this species thrive and procreate and expand, but they chose not to,” she said. “They’re saying they still need to study it, but we have so few Atlantic sturgeon left that you can literally study it to death, and that’s what’s happening here.”

    Which is the reason, Van Rossum continued, that the Delaware Riverkeeper Network has taken the unique approach of appealing to otherwise unsuspecting drivers on one of the busiest sections of roadway in the region.

    “That’s the reason for this campaign,” she said. “Because I really believe that if the people speak up and stand up for the sturgeon, that we will get the changes we need.”


  • 01/14/2022 1:10 PM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    Deer ‘highly susceptible’ to coronavirus, study finds

    Monroe Trombly Columbus Dispatch USA TODAY NETWORK 

    COLUMBUS, Ohio – White-tailed deer are 'highly susceptible' to infection from the novel coronavirus, according to a study published in December in the journal Nature.

    More than one-third of 360 deer swabbed across nine locations in northeast Ohio between January and March 2021 were found to be infected with three variants of the novel coronavirus, one of which was predominant among humans at the time.

    The finding raises the possibility that white-tailed deer could provide a new reservoir for the virus, which causes COVID-19, to evolve and mutate into new variants and potentially transmit them to other wildlife species or humans, according to Andrew Bowman, associate professor of veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State University and senior author of the study.

    'If we are able to establish a wildlife host, that changes the game of SARS-CoV-2 essentially forever because we will have to consider what viruses are circulating in a wildlife host, in addition to humans,' Bowman said, referring to the official name of the novel coronavirus issued by the World Health Organization.

    Although there is no documentation of deer transmitting the virus to humans or vice versa, it’s important to study how that could happen, said Dr. Joe Gastaldo, medical director of infectious diseases at OhioHealth.

    'Let’s say, hypothetically, there is another variant out there that’s even more transmissible that originates in deer,' he said. 'In that regard, there would be a lower threshold for a hunter to come into contact with secretions from a dead carcass to get it.'

    It’s possible for humans to contract coronavirus from dead bodies, and the same could be true for dead deer, according to Gastaldo.

    'However, over time, within a day or so, once the body is dead, the virus dies, too, and you’re not able to get it in that regard,' he said.

    Bowman said hunters and wildlife biologists still should take precautions such as wearing a mask when in close proximity with deer, dead or alive.

    The deer that were sampled were euthanized as part of a deer population management program about six weeks after the peak of Ohio’s last winter surge of COVID-19. The alpha and delta variants were not identified in the samples, as they became widespread in humans only after February.

    Two questions remain unanswered by the study. How are deer contracting the virus? And how is the virus potentially transmitting between deer?

    It’s possible the deer in northeast Ohio contracted it from contaminated water, since the novel coronavirus is shed in human waste.

    But alternative sources – such as trash, backyard feeders, bait stations and wildlife hospitals – have to be considered, Bowman said.

    'We need to understand how that’s happening so we can potentially prevent it from happening in the future and understand how we might mitigate that risk,' Bowman said. 'If we’re able to prevent that virus from getting established in wildlife that would be great. If it’s already in, we need to understand how that happened so we can prevent other similar events in the future.'

    A finding raises the possibility that white-tailed deer could provide a new reservoir for the novel coronavirus. Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch


  • 01/13/2022 3:27 PM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    Here’s why more NJ native plants could be coming to a yard near you

    ANDREW S. LEWIS | JANUARY 13, 2022 | ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT

    The state has an abundance of native flora. A newly signed bill is aimed at helping those plants flourish

    Credit: (USFWF)

    Swamp pink wildflowers in all their glory

    A certain group of plants will soon be standing out among the rest at garden centers and nurseries across the state, thanks to a new bill, signed by Gov. Murphy on Monday, that calls for the establishment of a “Jersey Native Plants Program.”

    The bill, first introduced by former Sen. Kip Bateman (R-Somerset) in 2020, will create a labeling system and marketing campaigns similar to the “Jersey Fresh” and “Jersey Grown” initiatives, to help boost consumer awareness of, and interest in, the state’s native plant species.

    “Shopping local is a great way to support the farms that make New Jersey the Garden State, but we also need to encourage people to plant local,” Bateman said in a statement last March, when the bill was passed by the Senate. “Native plants will flourish here and help our state’s natural ecosystem thrive.”

    More diverse than Alaska

    New Jersey is the U.S.’s sixth-smallest state by land area and the second-most populated. Despite what is a clear crunch on natural space, the state remains incredibly biodiverse. According to a 2002 report by NatureServe, New Jersey has around 2,100 native plant species, putting its diversity level above that of Alaska, the biggest state in the nation with a land area by square mileage that is some 77 times larger.

    Among New Jersey’s surprisingly vast array of flora, notes the bill’s text, 19 are “globally rare” and “have their largest and most viable populations” in the Garden State. Nine, the text continues, are thought to exist nowhere else on Earth.

    Such plant diversity has much to do with New Jersey’s unique geography. The meandering three-hour drive south from High Point State Park to Cape May National Wildlife Refuge moves through five distinct physiographic regions, from mountains to basins to pine barrens to wide salt marsh meadows and sandy beaches.

    Endangered by tar and cement

    It’s the concrete, asphalt, cars, and vinyl siding pushing between these natural regions, however, that account for much of the reason why about 339 species — 15% — of native New Jersey flora are also classified as endangered.

    “The extreme rarity of many of these species cannot be overemphasized,” wrote then-Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Lisa Jackson in a 2006 report on New Jersey’s endangered plant species. Jackson pointed out that over half of the world’s populations of the swamp pink wildflower occur in New Jersey, and that the Hammond’s yellow spring beauty, a tiny wildflower, can only be found in the state.

    “As more areas are developed and native plants are taken out to put in buildings, roads and lawns, you’re losing critical habitat,” said Karen Walzer, public outreach coordinator for Barnegat Bay Partnership. A fragmented habitat, Walzer continued, can sometimes be as detrimental as no habitat at all. “With development, you’ll have a pocket of natural area here and a pocket there, but they’re not connected anymore.”

    Walzer suggested that we should be thinking of development and native plants as having a direct, rather than indirect, relationship. In other words, as housing, highways and industrial complexes expand, the more important it is to landscape with native plants.

    ‘They don’t need much water’

    “Because native plants are so well adapted to our soils and our climate,” says Walzer, “you’re not going to need to fertilize them, which reduces the sources of pollution going into the ground, storm drains, and rivers. They don’t need much water, which helps conserve our water supply. They support wildlife. They really are the nexus for everything.”

    Unfortunately, native plants are often ignored by many homeowners, business owners and landscapers. This turning away from the very flora that can improve the quality of local environments has its origins in the post-World War II era when America began to suburbanize and, as Walzer put it, “lawns became a thing.” In addition to grass, which demands significant watering and fertilizing, Americans wanted new and unusual plants, something to differentiate their yard from their neighbor’s.

    Humans, writes the landscape architect Benjamin Wellington, “have a tendency to negatively judge plants that grow without human intention.” Under such a sentiment, the superpowers of native plants — that they can grow almost anywhere, require little maintenance, and naturally improve soil and water conditions — become a disadvantage.

    And today, with the majority of Americans living in suburban and urban communities, “a lot of people now just don’t know much about plants at all,” said Walzer. “So, they’ll go with whatever a landscaper wants to put in for them, or what they find at a garden center.”

    ‘Every little bit helps’

    Walzer contends, however, that opinions of native plants have begun to shift in recent years, thanks to increased awareness of how dependent fragile fauna species, like the honeybee, are on native plants. A better understanding of the importance of healthy trees to carbon sequestration efforts has also helped spark interest in landscaping with native plants.

    To encourage the burgeoning trend, in 2016 Walzer and her colleagues at the Barnegat Bay Partnership used a Department of Environmental Protection grant to develop the website jerseyyards.org, which provides users with resources on native plants and how to incorporate them in their landscaping plans.

    With the passage of the Jersey Native Plants Program bill, Walzer said that the kind of information the partnership’s website provided its small user base can now be disseminated across garden centers and nurseries throughout the state. Native plants will be clearly labeled, making them easily identifiable for consumers.

    “Native plants work fine in formal landscaping, too,” Walzer said. “You don’t have to turn your entire yard into a meadow — where you would have planted a non-native shrub, put in a native one instead. Every little bit helps.”


  • 11/12/2021 9:06 AM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    60 years. 125,000 acres. 1 New Jersey.

    New Jersey Conservation Foundation preserves land for you. But we can't do it alone. Become a member today!

    Protect green, save green!

    New Jerseyans love preserved land! Over the past 60 years, voters overwhelmingly passed every statewide ballot question on funding to protect open space, farmland and historic sites. This state we’re in may be the nation’s most densely populated, but we’ve worked hard to permanently preserve about a third of our total land mass for future generations.

    But some may wonder if enough is enough. Is preserved land an economic drain on taxpayers?  Does it cost too much?  Can we afford it?  And does open space really have monetary value?

    The answers to these questions and more are laid out clearly in a Mercer County report that busts misconceptions and spotlights the oft-overlooked benefits of conserved lands. The report echoes the findings of several previous studies on how preserving green space can save green … as in taxpayer dollars. One such groundbreaking report was “Valuing New Jersey’s Natural Capital,” issued in 2007 by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

    Mercer County’s new report, “Return on Environment,” examines only lands in Mercer County, but its findings can be applied to all or most of New Jersey. Mercer County is a microcosm of the state: it’s diverse, with urban, suburban and rural landscapes, and residents of all ages, races and cultures. The county has about 39,000 acres of preserved land, or about 27 percent of its land mass.

    “Protected open space provides substantial economic, environmental, and health benefits to surrounding communities, but these benefits are often overlooked or undervalued in policy debates and investment decisions,” says the report. A better understanding of these benefits shows that protected open space contributes to the county’s economic development and its fiscal stability.

    Mercer County Park, West Windsor Township

    Here are the report’s major findings:

    ·       Environmental benefits – Protected open space in Mercer County provides huge environmental benefits for local communities, including replenishing water supplies, improving water quality, mitigating flooding during storms, protecting wildlife habitat, and removing pollution from the air. Combined, these nature-based ecosystem benefits would cost more than $97 million a year to replicate if lost. In addition, protected lands avoid $9 million and $102 million, respectively, in annual stormwater system maintenance and pollutant removal costs. And the thousands of trees in Mercer County parks store carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate change, a service worth nearly $108 million.

    ·       Recreation and health – Preserved open space provides low cost or free recreational opportunities to residents and promotes health and wellbeing. The report estimates that residents who participate in recreational activities on county open space reap over $47 million worth of benefits a year. This number represents the amount that they would have to spend in the private market for the same activities that they currently enjoy at little or no cost. In addition, physically active people who use outdoor open spaces benefit with lower incidences of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, depression, certain cancers, and obesity. It is estimated that the physical activities on protected open space accounts for about $84 million in avoided medical costs annually, plus another $65 million in avoided losses from reduced productivity at work.

    ·       Property values – The study found that protected open space increases the value of nearby homes, since buyers are willing to pay more for properties near and adjacent to green spaces.  The increased value of homes located up to a half-mile from open space averages about $7,100 a house. These higher home values generate increased property tax revenues for local governments and higher transfer taxes when the homes are sold.

    ·       Economic activity – Preserved open space and farmland generate jobs and promote spending by visitors. It’s estimated that $104 million in annual economic impact occurs on and because of protected open space in the county. This includes buying goods produced on preserved farmland, and ecotourism revenues from park visitors. Protected open space contributes an estimated 980 jobs to Mercer County, including maintenance workers, park administrators, rangers, farmers, guides and hospitality professionals.

    “This report quantifies the economic benefits and supports the investments we have made in acquiring and caring for Mercer County open space parcels,” said County Executive Brian M. Hughes. “Mercer County will continue to strategically acquire key parcels to expand on and improve our existing parks and open spaces, and increase our focus on stewardship – caring for the land to ensure its health and vitality – and continue to provide a range of activities for our residents.”

    This sounds like a pretty good blueprint for any county in New Jersey to follow!  And don’t forget that although the price of land in New Jersey is high, once the purchase price is paid the open space lands keep generating these economic benefits year after year into the future.

    And as this week’s climate summit in Glasgow highlighted, an investment in open space and a commitment to stopping and reversing deforestation around the globe is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  And this work is happening right here in Mercer County, NJ!

    To read the “Return on Environment” report, go to https://www.mercercounty.org/departments/planning/return-on-environment-report/-fsiteid-1#!/.

    To read the “Valuing New Jersey’s Natural Capital” report, go to https://www.nj.gov/dep/dsr/publications/Natural_Capital_Full%20Report.pdf.

    And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

     

     

    New Jersey Conservation Foundation
    170 Longview Road  | Far Hills, New Jersey 07931-2623
    (908) 234-1225 | info@njconservation.org

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  • 11/08/2021 8:29 AM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    As seas rise, NJ’s wetlands disappear

    Andrew S. Lewis | November 2, 2021 | Energy & Environment

    Fall storms do damage as development pressures increase

    Credit: (Andrew S. Lewis)

    Critical issues

    According to a new paper, led by Rutgers University’s Judith Weis, “The loss of marshes due to rising sea levels is now a critical issue for the present, rather than a future problem.”

    Autumn in New Jersey often means the arrival of the highest tides of the year. Right on time, early October’s new moon brought several days of well-above-average high tides made worse by persistent easterly winds, which, on the Jersey Shore, act like a bulldozer, pushing ocean water into back bays and holding it there, against the will of outgoing tides.

    For several days, whole swaths of back-bay wetlands, dry on normal high tides, were consumed by the water for hours at a time, only the tips of their cordgrass meadows poking above the rolling waves.

    “Instead of six or eight days a month,” said Dr. Lenore Tedesco, executive director of the Wetlands Institute, in Stone Harbor, Cape May County, “the frequency of inundation of some of these marshes now is on the order of 20 days a month.”

    It is helpful, Tedesco continued, to think of such persistent flooding like a potted plant. “If you water it too much,” she said, “it stops growing well.”

    October’s severe tidal flooding came on the heels of a new research paper that analyzed five wetlands locations in New Jersey, from the Delaware Bay to the Meadowlands. The paper, published in the journal “Anthropocene Coasts,” follows work done for a 2020 report conducted for the Department of Environmental Protection’s science advisory board and led by Judith Weis, a professor emerita of Rutgers University’s biological sciences department.

    A litany of threats

    Both studies identified a litany of threats to the state’s wetlands, including land reclamation, development, dredging, and nutrient overload. But sea level rise, Weis and her co-authors wrote, “is by far the largest climate-related threat to salt marshes.”

    Coastal New Jersey is experiencing sea level rise at a rate of between 0.19 and 0.23 inches a year. Over the last century, the water has risen by almost 18 inches, one of the fastest rates in the world. That rise in the water is furthered by subsidence — the sinking of the land due to forces both natural, ongoing downward settling from the last glacial period, and unnatural, slumping from draining aquifers faster than they can be replenished.

    A significant percentage of the rise has occurred in recent decades, revealing an acceleration that, based on a scenario of moderate fossil fuel emissions, is going to push tides at least 1.4 feet higher by 2070 and at least 2 feet by 2100. Under a high emissions scenario, the predictions are much more frightening.

    Credit: (Andrew S. Lewis)

    Early October’s new moon, coupled with several days of easterly winds, caused much of the South Jersey Shore’s back bay marshland to be completely underwater.

    Just as no stretch of New Jersey shoreline is quite the same as the next, the rise is not uniform along the coast, nor is the impact it is having on wetlands, which are crucial to the survival of scores of fragile fish and bird species. Wetlands are also crucial for their ability to absorb  carbon dioxide and other toxins, like runoff from residential and agricultural development, while protecting coastal communities from flooding. For example, the study points out that the Northeast’s tidal wetlands prevented $625 million in flood damage from Superstorm Sandy, and that, year over year, they reduce flood losses by 16%.

    In the Meadowlands, most of the wetlands loss can be attributed to development pressure. According to the new Rutgers study, in 1889, there were over 20,000 acres of tidal wetlands in the Meadowlands; by 2019, the total was down to about 8,400.

    What about Raritan Bay?

    Between 1986 and 2015, the Raritan Bay region’s wetlands experienced “virtually no change,” and in the New Jersey portion of Raritan Bay, in fact, there was more gain than loss. The authors point out, however, that published data on wetlands loss in the region is lacking and that “there is a great need for further study in Raritan Bay and other parts of Harbor Estuary.”

    On the southern reaches of the New Jersey coast, however, the losses are significant. Between 1972 and 2012, the study found, nearly 12% of Barnegat Bay’s tidal wetlands disappeared, equating to an average shoreline erosion rate of over 19 inches a year.

    More than any other location, the Delaware Bay region illustrates just how much unnatural pressure that sea level rise is putting on wetlands. The vast majority of the Bayshore’s some 85,000 acres of marsh is unimpacted by development, though the negative legacy of 19th- and early 20th-century salt hay farming, like diking, remain. Therefore key elements of wetlands stability — low elevation, sediment supply, and open space for migration — are in abundance.

    Because of these contributors, the Delaware Bayshore marsh accretes on average 0.17 inches a year. Under natural rates of sea level rise, this amount of accretion would allow the marsh to keep up. But up against the 0.21 inches of sea level rise that New Jersey experiences on average per year, the Bayshore’s wetlands just can’t keep up. The result is a loss of between 1%-2 % of marsh per decade, according to the study.

    “The loss of marshes due to rising sea levels is now a critical issue for the present, rather than a future problem,” the authors conclude.

    Blue Acres, potential solution?

    There are, however, “potential solutions” for the state’s wetlands loss, according to the study.

    Wetlands do have the ability to migrate inland with sea level rise, but in much of New Jersey’s coastal and riverine areas, marsh movement is restricted by the built environment. If future development is conducted in nontraditional ways that avoid “coastal squeeze,” as the study’s authors put it, and instead allow for marsh migration pathways, the state’s wetlands might be sustained. A study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the mid-1980s estimated that New Jersey had 916,000 acres of wetlands, an amount, Weis said, that’s “getting smaller every day.”

    Another alternative to traditional development is strategic managed retreat.

    In New Jersey, the Blue Acres program acquires and demolishes repetitively flooded homes, permanently preserving the land where they stood as open space and, thus, a buffer for future flooding. Currently, the program looks for “clusters” of homes to buy out and demolish to create large buffer zones. But after the deadly and costly flooding caused by Tropical Storm Ida this summer, there is renewed attention on Blue Acres and its path forward.

    In a call with reporters in September, DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette was asked about the effectiveness of the program’s cluster approach to home buyouts. “We may be putting barriers in our own way to conveying risk if we are only saying we are going to buy out entire communities,” LaTourette said.

    Credit: (Andrew S. Lewis)

    “Instead of six or eight days a month,” says Dr. Lenore Tedesco, executive director of the Wetlands Institute, “the frequency of inundation of some of these marshes now is on the order of 20 days a month.”

    LaTourette expanded upon his suggestion that changes could be on the way for the Blue Acres program in a recent interview with NJ Spotlight News. “The program needs to be reimagined,” LaTourette said. “New Jersey is going to have a wetter, more flooded future and making Blue Acres proactive is reflecting that reality.”

    Perhaps Weis and her co-authors’ most interesting potential solution for boosting the state’s wetlands is their recommendation to legislators and citizens alike to reconsider our aggressive position toward the invasive phragmites — the tall, tasseled reed that is now ubiquitous across the state, along the upland edges of marshlands and throughout freshwater wetlands.

    Changing view of phragmites

    The traditional approach to phragmites has been to eradicate them, simply because they are labeled as invasive, but also because they can have negative impacts on a certain few fish, bird and plant species. But because of their dense growing pattern, phragmites are also effective in trapping sediment, thus improving accretion, as well as absorbing CO2, heavy metals and nitrates from agricultural and residential runoff.

    “Phragmites doesn’t do salt water, so they’re only relevant at the saltwater-freshwater fringe,” the Wetlands Institute’s Tedesco cautions. “So, if you’re interested in ecosystem sustainability, habitat function, food web resources, it’s not a good plan, but if you’re interested in how fast it can bury carbon, vertically accrete or trap metals and contaminants, it’s a workhorse.” Nevertheless, Tedesco said, utilizing the invasive species is “an interesting concept.”

    Weis agrees that more research needs to be done to determine where and how phragmites can be most effective, but she says that now, more than ever, is the time to find out. “In this age of sea level rise and marsh loss we’re living in,” she said, “having that plant turns out to be an advantage.”

    Finally, living shoreline projects offer hope in many forms, from the construction of oyster reefs to distributing sediment dredged from navigational channels onto sinking marshland and eroded shoreline edges — a technique being pioneered by Tedesco and her team, along with the state and Army Corps of Engineers, at the Wetland’s Institute’s Seven Mile Island Innovation Lab.

    The lab is a new concept and project monitoring is just beginning, but Tedesco is encouraged by what they’ve seen so far. In one area, which was once marsh but in recent years has been transformed to mudflat because of over-inundation, Tedesco’s team has been successful at regrowing Spartina cordgrass — the first step in regenerating a wetlands habitat that can sustain fragile species like the diamondback terrapin and salt marsh sparrow.

    “Soft” solutions, like the distribution of sediment dredged from navigational channels, which has been conducted in the back bay waters around the Wetlands Institute, to build up several rapidly eroding marsh islands, along with others presented in the study, represent the multi-pronged approach to sea level rise that both Tedesco and Weis say the state needs to take.

    “This is happening because of what people have done to the atmosphere, so there’s a responsibility to maintain endangered ecosystems the same way as we try to maintain endangered species,” said Weis. “It may be that in a couple hundred years, with sustained sea level rise, wetlands are going to be gone altogether no matter what we do, but if we can keep them around longer, isn’t that a good thing?”


  • 10/29/2021 10:02 AM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    Wawayanda State Park Expanded With ‘Small But Critical’ Land Purchase

     Valerie Musson 

     10/26/2021 4:09 p.m.

     

    Wawayanda State Park in West Milford will soon receive a trail addition through a private purchase by the Land Conservancy of New Jersey. Photo Credit: The Land Conservancy of New Jersey

    Wawayanda State Park in West Milford will soon receive a trail addition through a private purchase by the Land Conservancy of New Jersey.

    The land acquisition, located between Wawayanda State Park and Abram S. Hewitt State Forest, completes the Terrace Pond North Trail and is full of mountain laurel, eastern hemlock, oaks, birches, and striped maple.

    The 2.5-acre purchase from owner Norma Schadegg also adds a buffer for timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead habitats throughout the nearby cliffs.

    “Paired with the protection of 10 adjacent acres by The Land Conservancy of New Jersey and the Trail Conference several years ago, this acquisition is a great victory for the public’s enjoyment of the Terrace Pond North Trail and the beautiful land it crosses,” said New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC) Executive Director Joshua Howard.

    “Although small in size, preserving the land was key in securing the last section of the Terrace Pond Trail North,” said Project manager Linda Gloshinski. “This trail should be on everyone’s bucket list, as the vistas are breathtaking, especially in fall.”

    Click here for more information about the Wawayanda State Park expansion and the permanent securing of public trail access.


  • 10/25/2021 9:43 AM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    The Cusp of a Wildlife Protection Renaissance

    By Guest Contributor | October 19, 2021, 12:55 pm | in Columnist

    By Eric Stiles and Collin O’Mara

    The historic, bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), recently introduced in the US Senate which aims to invest a total of $1.4 billion annually for state-led efforts to protect thousands of at-risk wildlife species, will be the most significant investment in wildlife conservation in a generation. An investment of this magnitude will support at-risk species population numbers to prevent them from having to receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, as well as provide funding to recover species already federally protected. RAWA’s benefits will extend to economic stimulation with job creation and support for the outdoor recreation economy.

    A loss of species and biodiversity is a here and now problem, only exacerbated by climate change. A shocking one-third of America’s wildlife species are at an increased rate of extinction and sadly, more than 150 U.S. species have already gone extinct. The recently released Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) report must serve as our final wake-up call to propel us toward aggressive strategies tailored to the species, habitat, and unique human-wildlife connections. RAWA will serve as one resiliency strategy by providing science-based planning and implementation support. Historically, funding for wildlife recovery and protection was lacking, but greatly needed. RAWA will provide unprecedented support through directly funding wildlife recovery and conservation to effectively protect the most vulnerable of species throughout the country.

    Specifically, federal funding from RAWA will flow directly to state-led efforts to recover wildlife outlined in each state’s Wildlife Action Plan. These plans are a Congressional prerequisite to receive wildlife-supporting grants. Serving as a blueprint for conservation of species, New Jersey’s Wildlife Action Plan is tailored to the Garden State’s specific wildlife conservation needs and habitat protection. With funding to implement the Plan, we have a chance to prevent species from becoming threatened or endangered and support the recovery of species that are already considered at-risk. In New Jersey, species such as the red knot, little brown bat, common tern, corn snake, northern red salamander, and banded sunfish, are just a few of numerous species in need of assistance.

    New Jersey’s diverse habitats such as forests, grasslands, and wetlands, are home to diverse species of birds, mammals, reptiles, fishes, amphibians, and invertebrates. Habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change are just a few threats to the existence of not only New Jersey’s wildlife, but wildlife throughout the United States.  Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will be an effective, tailored approach to recovering the species most at-risk and investing in state-led efforts to prevent the extinction of the wildlife with whom we share our home.

    Further, Americans spend $140 billion dollars on wildlife-focused recreation every year. The outdoor recreation industry generates $788 billion in economic activity, supports 5.2 million jobs, and generates $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue annually. An investment in wildlife conservation will result in more funding for outdoor opportunities and public access for all Americans. RAWA is also expected to create more than 33,000 jobs every year in communities where the Act’s dollars are invested, putting money back into the pockets of American’s that have been hit hardest by the ongoing global pandemic.

    Eric Stiles is the President and CEO of New Jersey Audubon

    Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation


  • 10/20/2021 3:17 PM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    Murphy outlines $100M investment in parks, playgrounds

    By Ry Rivard | 10/20/2021 01:30 PM EDT

    Gov. Phil Murphy’s office on Wednesday announced $100 million worth of grants and loans to help pay for open space, park and playground projects.

    Details: The proposed funding plan, which still requires final approved by the Garden State Preservation Trust, would largely go to land acquisitions, including $42 million for park development in what the state defines as overburdened communities.

    A small chunk of the money, less than $5 million, would go to buy out property prone to flooding, a program that the Murphy administration is eventually looking to expand.

    The projects: Grant projects highlighted by the administration include: renovating Tippin’s Pond Park in Pennsauken; helping to buy a half-acre property, demolishing a former firehouse on site and creating a firehouse-themed splash park for children in Guttenberg; buying an 11.5-acre parcel in Edison to create a waterfront park; expanding the Holmes A. Adams Recreation Complex in Neptune City; and preserving the historic Colt Gun Mill on the Allied Textile Printing site in Paterson.

    “With these investments, we will take another significant step toward ensuring all New Jersey communities have access to recreational opportunities and enjoy the benefits of natural resource conservation,” Murphy said in a press release. “The proposed projects will provide equitable and meaningful access to urban parks, help address the impacts of climate change, and advance our long-term resilience goals. Investing in our communities through these projects will improve the quality of life for families living across New Jersey now and in the future.”

    The funding was announced by Murphy in Union City alongside his top environmental official, Shawn LaTourette, and state Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson), who’s also mayor of Union City.

    A complete list of the projects is available at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s page for the Green Acres program.


  • 10/13/2021 1:44 PM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    Curtis Farm, Tewksbury Township

        TOWN:  Fairfield Township | COUNTY: Cumberland | REGION:  Delaware Bay Watershed | ACRES: 30

    Farmland forever!
    30 acres preserved along scenic Cohansey River in Cumberland County

    Daniel DeTullio bought his farm along the Cohansey River in Fairfield Township, Cumberland County in 1987 because of its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife.

    He and his wife, Raquel, just preserved the nearly 30-acre property to protect it from future development. “It’s so peaceful and quiet and serene back there, it would be a shame to develop it,” said Dan.

    On Sept. 13, New Jersey Conservation purchased the development rights on the DeTullio farm, ensuring that it stays farmland forever.

    The farm is surrounded on two sides by the state’s Cohansey River Wildlife Management Area, and is bordered by a tributary known as Rocaps Run. The Cohansey winds through a mosaic of tidal marshes, woodlands and farms before emptying into the Delaware Bay. The area provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including bald eagles.

    “The eagles back there are like mosquitos,” Dan joked. There are also plenty of wild turkeys, ducks, geese, owls, deer and other creatures. “You see a lot of things there that you don’t see anywhere else,” said Dan.

    The DeTullios still own the farm, but the land is now permanently restricted to agriculture. Preserving the property will maintain the area's rural and scenic character, protect wildlife, safeguard soil quality, and protect the land’s ability to recharge groundwater.

    Funding was provided by the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC)and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Cumberland County also contributed to the project by paying for property appraisals.

    “We are thrilled to help ensure that this beautiful riverside farm stays farmland forever,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “We’re very grateful to the DeTullios for deciding to preserve their farm, and to our partners for providing funding to make this project possible.”

    The DeTullio farm is located just south of Bridgeton, and a short distance from the Dutch Neck section of Hopewell Township, where New Jersey Conservation Foundation helped preserve several historic farms.

    Most of the farm’s soils are “prime” and “statewide-Important” soils, the two highest quality classifications for food production. Much of the newly-preserved land is in open field agriculture, with smaller forested areas on its northern and southern sides.

    This farmland preservation project advances New Jersey Conservation's collaborative partnership with Cumberland County to save working family farms with outstanding agricultural attributes. It also builds upon New Jersey Conservation Foundation's work to preserve farms and wildlife habitat in the lower Cohansey River region of Cumberland County.

    Julie Hawkins, State Conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, praised the partnership that made the DeTullio preservation project successful.

    “The New Jersey Conservation Foundation was the first nonprofit in New Jersey to successfully seek NRCS financial assistance for agricultural land preservation more than 15 years ago,” said Hawkins. “Partnership is key to preserving farmland in New Jersey and this effort couldn’t have been done without the help of State Agriculture Development Committee as well.  SADC is our state’s leader in farmland preservation and was ranked #1 in the nation by the American Farmland Trust for its implementation of policies to protect farmland and support its viability.  We’re grateful that NRCS funding can be a catalyst in New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s and SADC’s efforts to help family-run farms remain farmland for future generations.”

    About New Jersey Conservation Foundation

    A private nonprofit based in Far Hills, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s mission is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. In addition to protecting over 125,000 acres of open space, farmland and parks, New Jersey Conservation promotes strong land conservation policies at the local, county, state and federal levels, and provides support and technical assistance to hundreds of partner groups.

    For more information about New Jersey Conservation Foundation and its programs and preserves, visit www.njconservation.org or call 1-888-LANDSAVE (1-888-526-3728).


New Jersey Recreation & Park Association |  1 Wheeler Way  Princeton, NJ 08540

Phone: 609-356-0480 | Fax: 609-356-0475 | Email: info@njrpa.org

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