The Toms River Mayor’s Advisory Council on Developmental Disabilities has unveiled a sensory trailer to be used as a quiet space and decompression area for people who may become overstimulated due to ADHD or other conditions.
The trailer will be brought to different events in Toms River to be used by people who can use a quiet, sensory-friendly area for a period of time before rejoining the event.
In the past, families may have had to leave an event or avoid going to one altogether. Now, they have a space that encourages inclusion.
The fundraising for the sensory trailer was single-handedly led by committee member Tracey Nardini Fournier.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the trailer is expected to be announced soon.
Will rising seas engulf NJ’s history?
ANDREW S. LEWIS, MICHAEL SOL WARREN, AYURELLA HORN-MULLER | APRIL 22, 2022 | ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
As seas rise, conflict beckons over which NJ historic sites to save
Credit: (Andrew S. Lewis)
More on NJ's climate threats
An attempt by the state to slow the rapid erosion of East Point Lighthouse’s shoreline with a sand-filled "geotube" quickly proved to be inadequate against the rising water.
The Garden State’s history is starting to wash away.
New Jersey as it exists today was built up over hundreds of years from the arrival of Europeans, and thousands of years of Lenape settlement before that. Reminders of the past are scattered everywhere — the state has more than 100,000 historic properties, one in nearly every city and town.
“This is part of our cultural consciousness,” said Barton Ross, a past president of the advocacy group Preservation New Jersey. “To experience the historic neighborhoods and what they bring.”
But as climate change pushes water up along New Jersey’s coast, the risks of flooding and destruction during storms are rising for the state’s waterfront heritage.
“That’s what we’re trying to save for future generations,” Ross said. “To preserve it so they can understand what their heritage is, and how special a state like New Jersey is.”
Read Climate Central’s Future Flood Risk: Historic Sites in NJ.
Sea levels rise as heat trapped by pollution in the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans, causing the water to expand. Warming temperatures also melt glaciers and ice sheets.
New Jersey’s coastline is experiencing some of the highest rates of rising seas in the nation, in part because the mid-Atlantic region is plagued by land subsidence, or sinking land. Depending on pollution levels, a state climate report this week cautioned that sea levels could rise an additional 4 to 6 feet or more this century. That poses a major threat to the tangible remnants of the state’s past. There are roughly 2,500 historic sites in the state that can flood when nearby waters reach just 2 feet above the average high tide, according to a report from the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center published in January. Push that surging water to 7 feet above the average high tide, and that number balloons to more than 20,000.
The effects are already apparent. Each year, Ross’s group publishes a list of the 10 most endangered historic sites in New Jersey. Flood risks, both from sea level rise and heavy rainstorms, have steadily become a more important factor in the criteria.
“We really have a couple (of sites) each year that fall under this category of needing some kind of flood mitigation or some other type of preservation,” Ross said.
The change, detailed in this reporting collaboration between NJ Spotlight News and Climate Central, is forcing advocates and authorities that use limited resources to preserve historic and cultural places to grapple with an emerging question: How do you prioritize the parts of history to be saved?
Ellis Island under threat
Ellis Island represented the gateway to America from 1892 to 1954.
“For me, it’s such an important site because it questions our current values,” Wolfram Hoefer said. “What do we think about immigration these days?”
A landscape architect and professor at Rutgers University, Hoefer immigrated to the U.S. from North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany in 2006. “It is so important for America,” he said of Ellis Island.
More than 12 million immigrants, almost all from Europe, were processed by federal customs officials at the small piece of land now split by New Jersey and New York in New York Harbor. Today, families across the U.S. trace their roots back to Ellis Island.
Nowadays, the biggest threat to Ellis Island isn’t a lack of investment or public attention: It’s the water that surrounds it. The island is already plagued with regular floods. By mid-century, floodwaters could reach the site’s structures multiple times per year, and by the end of the century they could cover the entire island multiple times a year, a Climate Central analysis shows.
Climbing temperatures driven by fossil fuel pollution are threatening heritage sites like this across New Jersey, with everything from emblematic landmarks like Ellis Island to century-old lighthouses starting to crumble beneath the impacts of climate change.
‘Everything that keeps the park running and operating safely, and gets visitors here, was underwater or destroyed.’
“Historic sites allow us to relate to our own past and where we come from, but also question our current actions and our current values according to what happened in the past and how we are dealing with the present and the future,” Hoefer said.
The federal government stopped using Ellis Island as an immigration center in 1954, and the facility fell into disrepair until it was added to the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965. It reopened to the public in 1990. The Great Hall was restored as a museum, attracting around 4 million visitors each year before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Critical to our collective history’
“Ellis Island is critical to our collective story,” said Erin Dempsey, who leads the National Park Service’s cultural preservation efforts at the island. “To so many people, Ellis Island lives large in their minds, in their family history and it looms large in our cultural identity as American people. So impacts to Ellis Island, I think, really have wide-ranging effects on so many people.”
Superstorm Sandy revealed the extent of Ellis Island’s exposure when it slammed through the region nearly 10 years ago. Surging water rose out of the harbor and inundated the island. The old ferry building had its doors and windows blown out, and basements around the site filled with water.
Credit: (Courtesy of the National Park Service)
Damage on Ellis Island in late 2012, following Superstorm Sandy. It took a year of recovery following Sandy before Ellis Island reopened to visitors.
“Everything that keeps the park running and operating safely, and gets visitors here, was underwater or destroyed,” Dempsey said.
The Great Hall sits just high enough that it avoided first-floor flooding. Historic artifacts in the building had been stored upstairs, which kept them safe in the short term. But Sandy knocked out Ellis Island’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, leaving those artifacts exposed to uncontrolled temperatures and humidity.
After the storm, a National Park Service team of museum specialists packed up the island’s artifacts and shipped them to a storage facility in Maryland.
It took a year for Ellis Island to reopen to the public after Sandy, and nearly three years for all the artifacts to be returned.
To protect against the next Sandy, the National Park Service has rolled out a $50 million plan to make Ellis Island more resilient. That includes elevating critical infrastructure like HVAC systems and generators, all of which need to be running to protect the artifacts stored at the park.
“The main thing we had to do was make sure that some of those critical systems like electrical, mechanical systems, the HVAC system, [were] raised up out of the flood plain. So that was our biggest response,” Dempsey said. “We needed to get all of that critical infrastructure so that it wouldn’t be affected by storm surge in the future.”
The park service is also tackling the island’s well-worn sea wall — a project that posed a conundrum for NPS leadership. They had to decide whether to raise the height of the wall, which would better guard against flooding but change the historic nature of the park that the service is tasked with protecting. Dempsey said that visitor experience, especially the evocative feeling that many tourists get as they sail into the island and the views they enjoy once there, were critical considerations.
“What’s difficult here, for us, is that one of our main goals is to protect our historical resources as they are,” Dempsey said. “We need to maintain their integrity.”
Ultimately, the NPS decided to restore the sea wall at its original height — preserving the island’s historic presence but leaving the harbor waters just feet below the edge during regular high tides. “We’re doing this rehabilitation work, making sure the masonry is in good shape, making sure it can stay as it is for another one hundred and fifty years, instead of altering its character, which could lead to a slew of other issues, potentially,” Dempsey said.
Grappling with how far to go to protect a single site is one thing. A pair of lighthouses in South Jersey poses a related question: What makes one site more worthy of money and resources for protection than another?
“That’s why historic preservation is so important,” said Hoefer of Rutgers University. “It asks current questions about decisions we did in the past. And what do we do presently?”
A tale of two lighthouses: Barnegat and East Point
On a recent morning, a pair of bald eagles perched on the upper branches of an Eastern red cedar near the edge of the Delaware Bay shoreline. Behind them was the 163-year-old East Point Lighthouse, its fresh coat of red and white paint gleaming in the sunshine.
“It’s just gorgeous,” said Nancy Patterson, president of the local historical society that manages the wedge of semi-dry land where the lighthouse sits. “This is an important thing for the community; it’s a historic site that deserves to be protected, especially because of where it is.”
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
Historic NJ lighthouse battered by rising seas, now shuttered over contract dispute
Like the bald eagle, the fight to keep East Point Lighthouse in Cumberland County from disappearing has been a long, difficult struggle — and one that is likely to get harder. It joins Barnegat Lighthouse, a popular tourism spot at the northern tip of Long Beach Island, on the Atlantic coast, in being threatened by unrelenting sea level rise. The two historic lighthouses offer a vivid look at the tough choices New Jersey is willing to make when it comes to prioritizing historic structures.
Since the Maurice River Township Historical Society took charge of East Point’s upkeep 50 years ago, volunteers like Patterson have waged a battle for recognition with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which owns the lighthouse and its grounds.
In that time, compared with other historic lighthouses in the state, the department has done little to protect East Point from erosion made severe by the combination of naturally subsiding land and unnaturally accelerating sea level rise.
Lack of support for East Point
The effects of that lack of support were particularly striking this spring. For much of last year, Patterson was locked in a standoff with the department over the terms of a new management agreement that would have allowed the state to terminate its partnership with the society with little notice, as well as be entitled to revenues from its museum and gift shop, which in part sells work by local artists.
Because of the standoff, Patterson felt she had to shelve plans for a berm project that she believes is necessary to save East Point from not just the next Superstorm Sandy, which flooded the lighthouse, but regular nuisance flooding. Local municipalities had offered to provide topsoil and sand fill for free, and the society had cobbled together enough donations to pay for labor. Meanwhile, in March, the DEP announced that it would begin a $1.3 million restoration of Barnegat Lighthouse, paid for by the state’s corporate business tax.
Barnegat and East Point are two of the oldest lighthouses in the state that are still in operation. East Point was first lit in 1849 and Barnegat in 1859. Both structures were originally built hundreds of feet back from the water’s edge, but natural erosion and sea level rise have reduced those buffers to stone throws from the waves.
In March, the Department of Environmental Protection announced that it would begin a $1.3 million restoration of Barnegat Lighthouse, paid for by the state’s corporate business tax.
That is where many of the similarities between the two lighthouses end. In 1957, the land around Barnegat was made a state park, and in 1971 the lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Since the late 1980s, Barnegat and the surrounding land have been restored and rebuilt with millions of state and federal dollars to save it from the results of age and the encroaching sea, including an Army Corps of Engineers-built rock seawall.
Barnegat is facing at least a 1% chance of flooding each year already. That chance increases to at least 10% each year by 2040, and by 2060, the lighthouse will face a chronic annual flood risk, the Climate Central analysis found.
Already at risk of chronic flooding
Down in Cumberland County, however, the historic, but less heralded, East Point Lighthouse is already at risk of chronic flooding, with a 99% chance of at least one annual flood.
Rapidly rising waters spell trouble not just for these landmarks, but for historic sites across the country. A 2014 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists identified intensifying flood, coastal erosion and wildfire threats to historical sites and infrastructure across the nation, as well as state and local parks.
Cornell University professor Sara Bronin says that a whole range of natural hazards increasingly threaten historic sites. “You can see that in sea level rise in coastal areas, wildfires in the West, and even increased precipitation leading to more erosion, mudslides and moisture that ends up being retained in the buildings, structures and sites that we’ve tried to protect by designating them historic,” she said.
‘If East Point got anywhere near even a small fraction of the support and infrastructure over the years that they’ve seen at Barnegat, or Cape May, or any of the other lighthouses, it would be a really nice tourist place.’
Bronin has worked in local planning and zoning as a lawyer, architect and policymaker, and is the current nominee to serve as chair of the U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Her 2020 paper identifies how federal law makes it difficult and costly for climate-related adaptations to historic properties, and finds that the legal standards typically applied to physical changes to preservation sites inadequately address climate change.
“Currently the way that we protect historic properties is something of a patchwork with local, state and federal officials each looking at the issue from a different angle and not necessarily coordinating,” Bronin said.
Inequitable preservation efforts
This can lead to inequitable preservation efforts in the face of worsening climate change. The same year that Barnegat became a federally recognized historic place, 83 miles to the south, on the Delaware bayshore, East Point was nearly destroyed by fire. By that point, the lighthouse had been abandoned for decades — the fire inspired the Maurice River Historical Society to push for the structure’s renovation.
It wasn’t until 1995 that East Point was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and not until 1998 that an exterior restoration was completed by a volunteer effort led by the Maurice River Historical Society. In 2019, the state attempted to address East Point’s dire erosion problem with a sand-filled synthetic “geotube” berm along the shoreline. The project was meant to be a temporary solution, but almost immediately, storm surges were breaching the berm, rendering the lighthouse property “a big bowl of water with no place to go,” as Patterson described it last year.
Instead of a park, much of the land around East Point is state-owned preserved open space and wildlife management areas, meaning it is to remain essentially untouched rather than built up with hard infrastructure to defend against sea level rise.
“If East Point got anywhere near even a small fraction of the support and infrastructure over the years that they’ve seen at Barnegat, or Cape May, or any of the other lighthouses, it would be a really nice tourist place,” Patterson said. “But [the department’s] mission is to, basically, gather up as much land as possible and let it go back to nature. Protecting history is completely against what they’re trying to do here.”
After being abandoned for decades and nearly destroyed by a fire in 1971, East Point Lighthouse was rescued and restored by volunteers of the Maurice River Historical Society, and its lantern was reactivated in 1980.
In a statement, New Jersey’s Chief Resilience Officer, Nick Angarone said: “The DEP evaluates historic assets and structures against climate change, including sea-level rise, looking at issues such as risks to a structure, benefits and public access. The Barnegat Light Lighthouse and East Point Lighthouse are both vulnerable to sea-level rise and face different threats from climate change. The Department recognizes the value of both historic structures as well as the importance they have to their communities and visitors. With that in mind, we assess the needs of each lighthouse and account for all available resources, including federal funding, to ensure that both lighthouses continue to stand as New Jersey beacons for future generations.”
It’s not that Patterson isn’t happy to see the state investing in Barnegat Light, she said. It’s just that it seems unfair to prioritize one over the other. “I want to see Barnegat get the attention it’s getting,” she said. “I don’t want money taken from them to give to us — I want it given to them and us.”
It’s a race against time, and limited resources. A professor and chair of the department of historic preservation at the University of Kentucky, Douglas Appler says the lack of funding for historic preservation, and reliance on philanthropies and individuals for investment, means officials don’t have much leeway with deciding where the money goes. “There are limits to what local government and state government can do in a system where everything is basically privately driven,” he said.
Appler says this is particularly true in smaller towns and municipalities — like the unincorporated community of 227 people living in Heislerville, where East Point is found. “They don’t have a ton of levers to pull.”
‘They don’t get away with treating Barnegat the same way they get away with treating the southern bayshore.’
Patterson worries that, because East Point is a “money pit,” in terms of upkeep, the state is only interested in seeing the structure and the property disappear. And while Barnegat is also expensive to maintain, it is central to the tourism economy of Long Beach Island, home to some of the Jersey Shore’s most expensive real estate.
“They don’t get away with treating Barnegat the same way they get away with treating the southern bayshore,” Patterson said. “We’re treated like the neglected stepchild — there’s not enough of us to add up to enough votes, and we don’t have enough millionaires to add up to enough contributions to their campaigns.”
If the state would only invest…
The bayshore municipalities of Cumberland County are among some of the poorest in New Jersey. If the state would only invest in the property, Patterson insisted, it could become a tourist attraction that would help prop up Maurice River Township and surrounding economically depressed municipalities.
“Maurice River Township would look different,” Patterson said. “Restaurants could survive, and businesses could make it, because they would have people coming in.”
Already, Patterson hosts Christmas and Easter events on the historical society’s shoestring budget. But she envisions restoring the old drainage ditch behind the lighthouse by removing the invasive phragmites, which have taken over, with native plants like bayberry, beach plum and goldenrod. Tourists and schoolchildren could learn about what a native coastal New Jersey landscape looks like — one that isn’t relentlessly inundated by saltwater, that is. Just something more than a rutted dirt road to the property would be nice, Patterson said.
There was some good news recently. Though the state would only issue the historical society a license agreement instead of a lease — preventing the group from doing their own renovation work — they did change the terms so that revenues from the museum and gift shop can’t be taken by the state. And the berm project is being allowed by the DEP to move forward. If the final approval processes go well, Patterson is hoping topsoil and sand will be rolling in within the next few weeks.
Patterson thinks stopgap solutions are better than nothing, but she plans to continue to fight for more substantial fixes to preserve the landmark as seas continue to rise and storms continue to intensify.
“Nothing would make me happier than to hear, twenty years from now, somebody say, ‘I just care so much about the place because we always had such a good time there,” Patterson said. “Because it’s a part of my history.’”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to add more detail to a statement from New Jersey’s Chief Resilience Officer Nick Angarone.
— Breanne Sharp and Kelly Van Baalen (Climate Central) contributed data reporting.
This story was produced in partnership with Climate Central, a Princeton-based nonprofit, nonpartisan climate science and reporting organization.
ON EARTH DAY, MURPHY ADMINISTRATION LAUNCHES “OUTSIDE, TOGETHER!” A COMPREHENSIVE OUTDOOR RECREATION PLAN
Five-Year Blueprint Will Set Open Space, Parkland, Outdoor Equity and Funding Priorities to Best Serve the Recreation and Conservation Needs of All New Jersey Residents
(22/P21) TRENTON – To expand upon the Murphy Administration’s historic investments in local parks, open space and natural resource restoration, the Department of Environmental Protection is launching Outside, Together!, a recreational initiative that will bring the public, local leaders, conservation organizations and ecotourism industry together to produce a Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette announced today, Earth Day, at Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus.
To mark the importance of this work, Commissioner LaTourette is issuing an Administrative Order to update the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), which sets the state’s priorities for, and access to, parklands and open space. That update will be the Outside, Together! planning initiative.
DEP is taking a new approach to updating its SCORP, a recurring requirement to remain eligible for National Park Service funding. Outside, Together! will have deep and robust public engagement, and reform funding policies and protocols for prioritizing land acquisitions. Those reforms are expected to ensure fairer and more equitable distribution of recreation and conservation funds. The announcement of this initiative ties in with this year’s Earth Day global theme of Invest In Our Planet.
“The Outside, Together! plan will give us an opportunity to ensure that our communities have equitable access to the benefits of New Jersey’s natural resources,” said Governor Murphy. “This initiative is especially imperative as we continue to assess how climate change will impact recreational activities, as well as the future of our natural resources. I look forward to expanding our investments in local parks, open space and natural resource restoration to best serve all of our New Jersey residents.”
Earlier this year, DEP established the Community Investment and Economic Revitalization Program, recognizing that the work of the department sits at the intersection of environmental, social and economic improvement. A main function of the program is to strengthen investments in natural capital that can enhance quality of life for all New Jerseyans. It is through this new program that DEP is taking a new approach to updating the SCORP.
“Every New Jersey community should have quality equipment, amenities and opportunities for families and children to enjoy the outdoors,” Commissioner LaTourette said. “Outside, Together! is DEP’s pledge to the public that their input is essential in creating a blueprint that enhances and ensures fair and equitable recreation and conservation practices statewide.”
Within the Administrative Order issued today, Commissioner LaTourette charged an Advisory Committee to partner with DEP and engage the public on six core principles for Outside, Together!:
Beginning this summer, and into next spring, multiple opportunities for engagement will allow DEP to set priorities, determine action to optimize access to open space and parklands and help ensure that the state’s recreational investments are consistent with the Murphy Administration’s environmental, climate, equity and economic goals. Some of the actions that the Advisory Committee will engage in include:
DEP will issue a solicitation in coming weeks to hire a consultant to work with the Advisory Committee on Outside, Together! plan development. DEP has secured a National Park Service Land and Water Conservation Fund SCORP Planning Grant to offset a portion of the cost.
Advisory Committee members will include DEP’s assistant commissioners from the Community Investment and Economic Revitalization, Fish & Wildlife, and Parks, Forests & Historic Sites programs as well as representatives of environmental advocacy organizations, environmental justice advocates, economic development entities and other community groups.
“ANJEC is excited to partner with the DEP and celebrate the launch of Outside, Together!,” said Jennifer Coffey, Executive Director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions. “Access to high quality open spaces is a right that belongs to every New Jersey resident, and this project brings improved equitable access to open spaces, particularly in communities that do not already benefit from preserved spaces and wild places. We know that high quality open spaces are essential to enhancing our resiliency to the impacts of the climate crisis and provide economic benefit by stabilizing taxes and increasing surrounding home values.”
“Interaction is the gateway to understanding,” said Marcus Sibley, NJ NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice Chairman. “There have been longstanding barriers to access and inclusion in our outdoor recreational spaces, therefore we’re supportive of initiatives such as ‘Outside, Together!’ due to the possibilities for growth, progress and healing when we’re all outside, together.”
“Protection of parks, lands and wildlife is an integral part of the Sierra Club, which is why we are very excited about DEP’s ‘Outside, Together!’ initiative,” said Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey Director of the Sierra Club. “New Jersey is one of the most unique places in the country. From the Highlands to the Pinelands, to the beautiful beaches of Sandy Hook to the massive Lake Hopatcong. These types of areas need to move forward with appropriate growth and development and utilize their historic eco-tourism potential. At the same time, they need to be resilient to climate impacts. More importantly, open space, parks and historic sites must be accessible to all, especially in urban areas.”
The Advisory Committee is expected to convene in June and begin doing research and surveys this summer. Stakeholder engagement is tentatively planned to begin this fall, with a draft plan developed in early 2023. The plan could be ready for public review as early as spring 2023 and finalized that summer.
To learn more about Outside, Together! and view a copy of the Administrative Order, visit https://dep.nj.gov/outside-together
For more information about Earth Week and Earth Day in New Jersey, as well as the DEP’s 50+2 anniversary party on Saturday, April 23 at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, visit https://nj.gov/dep/52earthday/
Follow Commissioner LaTourette on Twitter and Instagram @shawnlatur and follow the DEP on Twitter @NewJerseyDEP, Facebook @newjerseydep, Instagram @nj.dep and LinkedIn @newjerseydep
A New Island for Birds Emerges Along the New Jersey Coast
By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist
Something unusual and exciting has happened just off the coast of New Jersey; a new island that has become a haven for birds has formed. Located on the southern edge of the Little Egg Inlet, the island is about 1000 feet offshore of Little Beach Island, a Unit of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge). Of course, it didn’t form overnight, an emergent shoal has been noted in that location since about 2018, and it has slowly been growing, likely as a result of the longshore drift of sand from Long Beach Island. The island, dubbed Horseshoe Island because of its distinctive shape, provides incredibly valuable habitat for nesting and migratory birds, including many at-risk species.
Field biologists from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) had been eyeing the offshore “sand bar” with their scopes and binoculars for signs of bird activity over the past three years while they were monitoring beach nesting bird sites on nearby Refuge lands. Shorebirds were observed during low tides, but it wasn’t until last spring (2021) that it appeared the island’s elevation was high enough during all tide cycles to support nesting birds. From a distance, American oystercatchers were regularly spied in early spring suggesting they might be nesting, and so in May the CWF crew boated out to get an up-close look. On that initial trip they found several oystercatcher nests, even some hatched chicks, as well as signs of terns prospecting to nest. Most surprising of all was the large size of the island – estimated at about 100 acres at high tide - which wasn’t apparent from views from the mainland.
No sooner was nesting documented at Horseshoe Island than a strong nor’easter swept along the entire Northeast Atlantic Coast over Memorial Day weekend, flooding most beach nesting bird nests along its path. There were fears it may have swept the island away as well, but once the weather settled, CWF staff were able to get out to find that not only had the island survived, but that new colonies of terns and black skimmers had arrived. Biologists from NJ Fish and Wildlife - Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) regularly monitored the island for the rest of the summer. Reducing human disturbance was important so they posted portions of the site to alert the public that birds needed protection.
In its maiden nesting year, the island’s bird tallies were quite spectacular, including the presence of New Jersey’s largest least tern colony (470 adults). The island was also home to one of just a few black skimmer colonies in the state. In addition to both of those state endangered species, common and royal terns nested at the site, including the northernmost colony of royal terns in the Western Hemisphere. Piping plovers and red knots - both federally threatened and state endangered species - also used the island. In addition to all of this breeding, the site hosted a multitude of other seabirds and shorebirds that used the area for resting and foraging.
Not surprisingly, as quickly as birds discovered the island, boaters also made their way to the site as the summer progressed last year. With the densest human population and one of the most developed coastlines in the nation, finding highly suitable and undisturbed habitat for coastal birds in New Jersey is incredibly difficult. It is nearly unprecedented that a new site could develop like Horseshoe Island: an undisturbed, predator-free habitat for rare birds.
To ensure this new site remained the haven for birds that it was in 2021, the ENSP and Refuge petitioned the state’s Tidelands Resource Council (Council) for joint management rights of the island. The Council approved a plan that allows the agencies to close the island to public use from March 1 to September 30 each year – the most critical time for nesting and migratory shorebirds – for the next five years. As a result, people are not allowed on the island, nor are boat or personal watercraft landings permitted during the restricted period.
Staff from the state and CWF (acting on behalf of the Refuge) have already begun preliminary monitoring of bird usage at the site, as well as posting for the public closure. In additional to frequent biological monitoring, the site will be patrolled to monitor unauthorized public usage and the agencies will conduct outreach about the purpose of the closure. Although managing and monitoring an offshore island in a dynamic coastal environment presents numerous logistical challenges, staff at the ENSP, Refuge, and CWF are excited about the opportunity to secure a safe future for wildlife using the site.
For more information about the island and its management, read the Horseshoe Island Management Plan:
Charging stations key to getting more EVs on the road
TOM JOHNSON, ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT WRITER | APRIL 14, 2022 | ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT, TRANSPORTATION
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
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.
A new fight to save Delaware’s ancient fish
ANDREW S. LEWIS | APRIL 11, 2022 | ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT, WATER
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.
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?”
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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
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.”
New Jersey Conservation Foundation preserves land for you. But we can't do it alone. Become a member today!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation
170 Longview Road | Far Hills, New Jersey 07931-2623
(908) 234-1225 | email@example.com
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As seas rise, NJ’s wetlands disappear
Andrew S. Lewis | November 2, 2021 | Energy & Environment
Fall storms do damage as development pressures increase
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.
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.
“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?”
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