2019 Year in Review
From the Director
With your help, our ambitious 2015—2020 conservation goals are in sight—and in a few cases achieved early!
This year has seen some big conservation achievements, including the largest dam removal to date in the state of New Jersey. Our efforts to focus statewide protection of lands and waters on the highest-priority areas are gaining momentum. And, as always, we are planning for the future, preparing to raise the bar on our conservation impact.
How can we have an even bigger conservation impact? Certainly, it will involve leveraging our strengths—our foundation in science, our experience bringing together collaborative partnerships, and our track record of delivering tangible, lasting results. Consider Bobcat Alley: it not only contains critical habitat for our state’s last remaining wild feline, it is a key link in a larger greenway stretching from Alabama into Canada that will be a vital migratory corridor as temperatures continue to warm. And we will be applying what we’ve learned implementing nature-based solutions for coastal resilience, not only along the Jersey Shore, but also in cities and other communities where nature can help address flooding and other impacts from climate change.
But first, let’s take a moment to celebrate the conservation progress that you made possible this year—thank you!
Driven by science and focused on identifying the most critical lands to protect for people, wildlife and resilience to climate change, the New Jersey Chapter built on its legacy of collaboration, resulting in 2,624 newly protected acres.
Highlight: Bobcat Alley Land Protection
The Nature Conservancy continues to protect land in Bobcat Alley, a 32,000-acre corridor linking the Highlands to the Appalachians that provides vital habitat for species like the endangered bobcat and serves as a key link in a larger east coast greenway.
In the summer of 2018, we acquired 109 acres in the heart of Bobcat Alley that exemplify the corridor’s ecological significance. This hilly property in Hardwick Township is quintessential “ridge and valley.” Its rich variety of terrain—open glades, rock outcroppings, forested slopes and wetland valleys—make the parcel a high-ranking site for climate resilience, setting the stage for species to adjust to changing climate conditions. Vernal pools and seasonal headwaters provide clean water for the Paulins Kill, the key Delaware River tributary where our freshwater restoration is focused. This property will become part of a new preserve named in memory of our founding Trustee, Elizabeth “Betty” Merck.
We have reached several exciting milestones toward our goal to restore the health of the entire Paulins Kill watershed: completing the largest dam removal in New Jersey history, exceeding our ambitious tree-planting goal, and designing a restoration plan for the degraded headwaters of this key Delaware River tributary.
Highlight: Beyond the Columbia Dam
Five years after the first meeting of a coalition to remove the Columbia Dam, the project is complete, and the Paulins Kill is flowing freely into the Delaware River! While record-breaking rain required constant and creative problem-solving, the last piece of the dam was removed in March. Just weeks later, on Earth Day, American shad were documented swimming upstream in Blairstown—the first time in over 100 years that they were able to access their historic spawning grounds! In addition to removing the dam, we stabilized three nearby bridges and planted over 10,500 native trees and shrubs in floodplains formerly inundated by the dam.
Inspired in part by our success with the Columbia Dam, the Town of Blairstown has asked The Nature Conservancy to take the lead on removal of the Paulina Dam, 10 miles upriver from the Columbia. Its removal will open another seven miles of river for migratory fish like shad and reduce risks for paddlers and anglers, as well as landowners downstream. We are also working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on a feasibility study to remove the County Line Dam, a smaller, privately owned dam upstream from the Paulina.
In total, these three dam removals will reopen nearly 45 miles of mainstem river and tributaries!
With the growing urgency to create resilient coastal communities able to adapt to sea level rise and other impacts of climate change, the Chapter doubled down on efforts to incentivize the use of nature-based solutions by towns up and down New Jersey’s coasts.
Highlight: Enhancing Habitat for Beach-Nesting Birds
In addition to helping our towns become resilient to rising seas and a changing climate, we also want to help our iconic beach-nesting birds thrive. The Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows Preserve is a popular destination for both people and birds. But over the past several years, most nests along the beach have been lost to predators, while encroaching vegetation has diminished nesting attempts.
This season, our staff came up with creative ideas to improve habitat, encourage nesting and thwart predators. On the beach, they removed vegetation, added 45 tons of crushed shell to create habitat beach-nesting birds prefer, and added fencing above and below ground to keep digging predators out. In a marsh further inland, the team added 75 tons of shell to an island less accessible to predators. Staff constructed a custom, solar-powered system to play piping plover and least tern calls and built plover and tern decoys, along with painted wooden eggs, to attract beach-nesters and confuse predators like crows.
So far, least terns have established two colonies on our beach: one inside the fence with at least 10 nests and another just outside with at least 6. We have also observed three American oystercatcher nests. While proof of success will come from the number of chicks fledged at the end of the season, we’re seeing many more birds than in recent years, so we are hopeful that our experiment is making a difference!