A red-shouldered hawk soars above ridges and valleys. A showy lady’s slipper orchid blooms deep in the forest. A bog turtle suns itself on a log. A bobcat hunts at twilight. Pine Barrens tree frogs croak throughout the woods on a warm night. An osprey swoops into the sea and emerges with a fish.
These nature sights and sounds in this state we’re in are as diverse as they are beautiful.
Thanks to a temperate climate and varied geography – everything from ocean beaches to rugged mountains - this small, densely-developed state has more plant and animal species than plenty of states many times larger.
New Jersey spans both northern and southern landscapes, so numerous species reach the limits of their northernmost or southernmost ranges here. And New Jersey serves as one of the world’s most important pathways for migrating birds.
New Jersey’s thousands of species include 415 mammals, breeding birds, reptiles, amphibians and freshwater fish; 500 migratory birds, marine mammals and saltwater fish; and tens of thousands of invertebrates. More than 2,100 native plants grow here, including several species found nowhere else in the world.
During spring and fall migrations, 1.5 million shorebirds and as many as 80,000 raptors stop overs in New Jersey.
But today, many of these native plants and animals face serious threats, including habitat loss, competition from invasive species, land disturbance, contamination and climate change.
Eighty-six New Jersey animals are listed by the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program as endangered or threatened. Endangered species are those whose prospects for survival in New Jersey are in immediate jeopardy, while threatened species are those that could become endangered if conditions further deteriorate.
A total 818 plants are considered either endangered or “species of concern.” The species of concern designation means these plants are monitored to keep an eye on possible status changes.
Red-shouldered hawks, showy lady’s slipper orchids, bog turtles, bobcats, Pine Barrens tree frogs and ospreys are all among those species in peril.
But there’s also hope! Preserving natural lands – especially large, intact properties - is a major key to protecting New Jersey’s biodiversity.
New Jersey has five national wildlife refuges, more than 170 state-owned wildlife management areas, state parks and state forests, and hundreds of tracts of forests and meadows owned by counties, municipalities and nonprofit land conservation organizations. Natural areas extend from High Point State Park in Sussex County to the tip of the Cape May peninsula.
New natural areas are continually created. In 2014, New Jersey voters approved a ballot question for a permanent, sustainable source of land preservation funding through the use of Corporate Business Tax revenues. Funds are now flowing to the state’s Green Acres Program for many new open space projects.
In addition to preserving more land and habitat, here’s a checklist for protecting New Jersey’s rich diversity of plants and animals:
To see a list of New Jersey’s endangered and threatened animal species, go to www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/tandespp.htm. For a list of rare plants, go to www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/natural/heritage/njplantlist.pdf. And for a comprehensive field guide to New Jersey’s rare animals, go to www.conservewildlifenj.org/species/fieldguide/. To learn more about the state’s Natural Areas System, go to www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/natural/natareas.html.
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