LETTER – NJ FISH AND WILDLIFE RECORD LAND PURCHASES: HOW WILL THEY MANAGE IT?

The DEP is celebrating another land acquisition to their Wildlife Management Areas that has increased the size of the system to 350,000 acres. At the same time, they are also marking their 125th anniversary of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife this year. Recent acquisitions include an 18-acre addition to the Prospertown Lake WMA in Millstone; a 28-acre addition to the New Sweden WMA in Lawrence Township; a 204-acre addition to the Heislerville WMA in Maurice River Township; and a 36-acre addition to the Peaslee WMA in Buena Vista. In addition, numerous parcels totaling 217 acres were added to the Hammonton Creek WMA and Makepeace Lake WMA, both in Mullica Township. We are concerned that while DEP is purchasing these new properties they are at risk to logging. Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club released the following statement:

“As the Division of Fish and Wildlife keeps acquiring more lands, they have less staff to manage them and have turned to ways of getting money through logging. They are supposed to be the Division of Fish and Wildlife, but they are really the Division of Fish and Hunt Wildlife. Instead of encouraging biodiversity, they are managing lands for hunting and more deer. While they are clear-cutting mature forests for grouse habitat, they are causing deer over-population and invasive species. This is completely unnecessary because they could easily use barren land like sand pits and farms without sacrificing wildlife habitat and environmentally sensitive forests. Given what has happened at Sparta Mountain’s Wildlife Management Area, the Division is clearly more concerned about privatizing our public lands rather than managing species and ecosystems. While they are celebrating their anniversary, the world has changed in the past 125 years, but the Division has not.”

“The Christie Administration’s cuts to DEP funding has crippled the Division’s ability to do their job. Christie has gone after the DEP’s budget with a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ tactic. Before he came into office, DEP’s budget was close to $400 million and now it is $274 million. The NJDFW also can’t properly function or evolve without enough staff. Without staff, enforcement isn’t done either. Under Governor Christie, DEP staff is down by 40 percent and enforcement is down 60 percent, while our parks are falling apart. Without funding and staff, the Division has not been able to manage the wildlife or wild place of New Jersey in a way meant to conserve and protect them. Instead, we’ve seen the Christie Administration push to destroy wild places and ignore science for political science.”

“In the funding they do have, the DEP has included land stewardship. It is defined as ‘an activity that goes beyond routine maintenance to restore and enhance lands for recreational and conservation purposes.’ These stewardship activities will actually be logging and other things that undermine the protection of natural resources in our parks. For example, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife cut down trees to create grass habitat. While they are adding more acreage to Wildlife Management Areas in the Pinelands, they could be clear-cutting to create habitat for invasive species. They proposed clear-cutting in the Pinelands to create quail hunting habitat. All this has done is open the area up for deer and invasive species overpopulation.”

“We’re seeing this come into play as the Division works alongside New Jersey Audubon to allow logging of the environmentally important Sparta Mountain. The DEP has been trying to de-list the site in order to move forward with their Forest Stewardship Plan that will turn the Mountain into a field for bird habitat. They are just using the Golden Warbler habitat as an excuse to clear-cut an environmentally sensitive forest in the Highlands. Under the Christie Administration these lands have been subject to abuse of so-called forest stewardship.”

“Since being controlled by the Christie Administration, the Division’s Fish and Game Council is making dangerous and anti-environmental rules. Their regulation to allow leg-hold traps in New Jersey violates the law and legislative intent. We need to manage our lands in a holistic way and leghold traps are irresponsible and dangerous. The Fish and Game Council are supposed to be stewards of the land and leghold traps are not stewardship. Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. It is not good stewardship of public lands if you have traps that can maim or hurt hikers or pets. It’s also not good conservation policy to over-trap species or hurt innocent or even Endangered Species.”

“We call them the Division of Fish and Kill Wildlife since they’re more concerned with killing animals than protecting them. They keep increasing beer hunt numbers, times, dates and weapons to kill more bears. Instead of more hunting, we need a real management plan, one that includes strong education and uses warning signs in the region, education materials at trail heads, enforcing not feeding bears, and garbage management. Hunting bears is doing nothing to reduce these incidents and instead the state needs to put in place a real management plan with education. We know that increased education works better to decrease bear incidents than increased hunts, but the Division is too stuck in their ways and without enough funding from the Christie Administration to make it work.”

“The job of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife is to manage the wildlife in our state by balancing recreation and conservation protection. However, under the Christie Administration, the Division has had neither the funding nor the leadership to do this. Instead, they continuously sell out to polluters, developers, and hunters. We hope that under a new Governor, the Division can be restored. Then they can once again work to protect our wildlife, manage our wild places, and keep New Jersey green for generations to come.”

The DEP release can be found below:

The state’s network of Wildlife Management Areas has reached an important milestone with recent land acquisitions increasing the size of the system to 350,000 acres, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.

To put this in perspective, New Jersey has more acreage in its Wildlife Management Area (WMA) system than its much larger neighbor New York State, and more than Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined.

“This achievement is especially notable since it is coming during the 125th anniversary of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife,” Commissioner Martin said. “Wildlife Management Areas, managed by the Division of Fish and Wildlife, provide countless hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities, and protect a wide range of landscapes, habitats, and wildlife that reflect the state’s diversity. The Christie Administration is proud to celebrate this impressive system of natural lands that are so important to the sporting community, our residents and our quality of life.”

The 122-unit Wildlife Management Area system had its beginning with the purchase of the 387-acre Walpack Tract in Sussex County in 1932 as a “Public Shooting and Fishing Ground” by the Board of Fish and Game Commissioners, the predecessor of today’s New Jersey Fish and Game Council.

Wildlife Management Areas can be found across the state, from the vast salt marshes of Delaware Bay, to the pitch pine and oak forests of the Pinelands, to the rocky ridges of northwestern New Jersey’s Kittatinny Ridge.

In recent months, the Division of Fish and Wildlife, through the DEP’s Green Acres Program, added 502 acres to the system, nudging its size to just over 350,000 acres.

Recent acquisitions include an 18-acre addition to the Prospertown Lake WMA in Millstone, Monmouth County; a 28-acre addition to the New Sweden WMA in Lawrence Township, Cumberland County; a 204-acre addition to the Heislerville WMA in Maurice River Township, Cumberland County; and a 36-acre addition to the Peaslee WMA in Buena Vista, Atlantic County. In addition, numerous parcels totaling 217 acres were added to the Hammonton Creek WMA and Makepeace Lake WMA, both in Mullica Township, Atlantic County.

The purchase of lands for the Wildlife Management Area system was initially funded entirely from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. In fact, the first 100,000 acres were purchased with license revenues supported by New Jersey’s sportsmen and sportswomen.

In 1961, the first Green Acres bond issue was approved by state voters, enabling the public to participate in the development of the system. Operational funding for the management of Wildlife Management Areas continues to be provided by hunters and anglers.

Wildlife Management Areas account for nearly 45 percent of state-owned public open space in New Jersey. The largest WMA is the nearly 34,000-acre Peaslee Wildlife Management Area in Cumberland County.

While Wildlife Management Areas were originally established primarily to provide areas for hunting, trapping, and fishing, their purpose has greatly expanded beyond that today.

“Hunting and fishing enthusiasts will always find Wildlife Management Areas ideal for their use, but activities such as bird watching, nature photography, cross-country skiing and hiking are growing in popularity on these lands,” said Division of Fish and Wildlife Director Larry Herrighty. “New Jersey’s hunters and anglers are to be commended for their support of the Wildlife Management Area system and the recreational opportunities they help provide.”

The number of people in search of wildlife-oriented recreational opportunities has grown significantly as shown by the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The 2011 National Survey found that 794,000 people hunted and fished in New Jersey, and more than 2.4 million participated in other wildlife-oriented recreational activities, such as bird watching, wildlife observation and photography.

The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife is one of the oldest state wildlife management agencies in the nation, tracing its beginning to March 8, 1892, with the enactment of legislation calling for the appointments of three fish and game commissioners and a paid “game protector” for the “better protection of the fishing interests and of the game birds and game animals of this state.”

This structure evolved into the New Jersey Division of Fish and Game, which was integrated into the DEP when the latter was formed on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.  In 1979, the Division of Fish and Game became the Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, and in 2000, the name was changed to the Division of Fish and Wildlife to encompass its mission of managing all wildlife.

For more information on New Jersey’s Wildlife Management Areas, visit:www.njfishandwildlife.com/wmas.htm<http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/wmas.htm> on the Fish and Wildlife website.

An updated list of all the Wildlife Management Areas, as well as regulations and maps is available at:

www.njfishandwildlife.com/wmaland.htm<http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/wmaland.htm>

For a history of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, click on the logo above or visit: www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/history.htm<http://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/history.htm>

 

Toni Granato
Administrative Assistant 

New Jersey Sierra Club