New Jersey Emerging Conservation Professionals

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Hiking in the Pine Barrens. Photo by Felysse Goldman.

Interested in pursuing a career in New Jersey’s environmental field? Want to learn more about what types of jobs are out there? Or do you want to go hiking with a group of recent grads who love the outdoors and craft beer? Check out New Jersey Emerging Conservation Professionals on Facebook!

Back in March of 2015, a group of “emerging professionals” got together during a forum at an environmental conference. Everyone enjoyed their time at the event and wanted to continue hanging out and talking about career goals, challenges that young professionals face, great birding locations in the Garden State, etc. Soon, our Facebook group was formed.

We post community events, create our own  like Birds and Beers, we visit a birding spot and hit a local brewery afterwards and we recently started organizing weekend retreats. In early April 2016, a group of us spent the weekend kayaking down the Batsto River in the Pine Barrens with Pinelands Adventures and hiking in Franklin Parker Preserve.

New Jersey Emerging Conservation Professionals also participate in volunteer events, like helping out at amphibian crossing nights with the Friends of East Brunswick Environmental Commission.

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Spotted Salamander in East Brunswick, New Jersey

Check us out on Facebook and join us at our next event!

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Restoring Thompsons Beach Salt Marsh along the Delaware Bayshore

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To restore Thompsons Beach, along New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore, in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, a team led by Conserve Wildlife Foundation and American Littoral Society removed debris from the beach, removed rubble from the road leading to the beach, and placed over 40,000 cubic yards of sand (weighing over 9 million pounds) onto the beach. We were filled with pride when we saw sanderlings and ruddy turnstones feeding this August on horseshoe crab larvae on our newly restored beach. We were delighted to learn that this spring, Thompsons Beach had the highest abundance of horseshoe crab egg clusters out of all the beaches that our team monitors on Delaware Bay.

How do we keep the momentum going? How do we ensure our restoration work at Thompsons Beach yields long-term, sustainable results? The answer is clear: we protect the backbone that the beach sits on — the salt marsh behind the beach.

Read the full post on RestoreNJBayshore.org.

Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count on Sandy Hook

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Counting birds on Spermacetti Cove, Sandy Hook in Highlands, New Jersey.

Counting birds on Spermacetti Cove, Sandy Hook in Highlands, New Jersey.

Today marks the start of National Audubon Society‘s 115th Christmas Bird Count (CBC)! From December 14 through January 5, thousands of volunteers across North America are invited to go out, count birds and contribute data to an early-winter bird census.

When looking at the CBC Map, you will see that every state offers a significant number of local counts, which cover about a 10-15 mile diameter circle each. Since every CBC is a real census, and since the 15-mile diameter circle contains a lot of area to be covered, single-observer counts are not allowed. To participate on the CBC, you need to join an existing CBC circle. You can find one near you online!

All data from the local counts across North America gets compiled, reviewed and documented. The Christmas Bird Count allows researchers, conservation biologists, and interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.

For example, in the 1980’s, CBC data was used to document the decline of wintering populations of the American Black Duck. Conservation measures were put into effect shortly after, to reduce hunting pressure on the species.

Learn more about how the CBC data has been used recently in Audubon’s Birds & Climate Change and Common Birds in Decline reports.

I joined the local Sandy Hook Count this morning, which covers a 10-mile radius around Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook Unit in Highlands, New Jersey.

White-winged Scoter. Photo: AllAboutBirds.org © Ken Phenicie Jr

White-winged Scoter. Photo: AllAboutBirds.org © Ken Phenicie Jr

The Sandy Hook Count is split up into smaller territories, since there is such a large amount of bird habitat to cover in the park. I joined members of Monmouth County Audubon Society and helped count birds in the South Sandy Hook territory. We scanned Sandy Hook Bay for waterfowl and gulls, walked to Nike Pond and looked for songbirds, and we also traveled through the ancient Holly Forest, where we saw a few raptors. Many areas of Sandy Hook that are usually closed to the public were open to us for the CBC.

In the short three hours that I joined the group, we watched a number of Harbor Seals sunning on Skeleton Hill Island (!) and saw and heard a number of great birds:

  • American Black Duck
  • American Crow
  • American Goldfinch
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Brant
  • Bufflehead
  • Canada Goose
  • Carolina Wren
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Gray Catbird
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Herring Gull
  • Horned Grebe
  • House Finch
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Harrier
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Sanderling
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • White-winged Scoter
Bufflehead. Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org © Brian L. Sullivan

Bufflehead Photo: AllAboutBirds.org © Brian L. Sullivan

Wondering how this incredible citizen science initiative all got started? The first Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was completed on Christmas Day of the year 1900 as an “alternative activity to an event called the ‘side hunt‘ where people chose sides, then went out and shot as many birds as they could.” The group that came in with the largest number of dead birds was declared the winner of the event. Frank Chapman, a famous ornithologist, recognized that over-hunting would only exacerbate declining bird populations, and proposed to count birds on Christmas Day rather than shoot them.

To get involved in this historic event, visit The National Audubon Society’s website.

Counting waterfowl on Sandy Hook Bay.

Counting waterfowl on Sandy Hook Bay.

#GivingTuesday 2014: Celebrate All Things Winged with The Raptor Trust

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Scoured the shelves for deals on Black Friday? Gearing up for gadget buying on Cyber Monday? Don’t forget to honor the most important day of this week (after Thanksgiving, of course), Giving Tuesday.

Giving Tuesday is a call to action, a national day of giving around the annual shopping and spending season. The third annual #GivingTuesday will take place on this coming Tuesday December 2, 2014.

GT_Street-wall_2014#GivingTuesday is a day for giving back, to write a check to a worthwhile cause or to donate your time and expertise to charity. #GivingTuesday, where global charities, families, businesses, community centers, students and more have come together to shape a new movement. A movement so compelling that the White House has taken notice.

A day that inspires personal philanthropy and encourages bigger, better and smarter charitable giving during the holiday season. A day that proves that the holidays can be about both giving and giving back.

Show your support for Giving Tuesday by taking a photo and uploading it to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #UNselfie. For more information, check out the short YouTube video below or visit #GivingTuesday on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

On Giving Tuesday 2014, I have decided to give back to the birds in my home state. One of my favorite organizations working specifically on avian rehabilitation and education is The Raptor Trust. My sister and I visited the Trust back in May of this year and had an incredible day. Everyone on staff was extremely friendly and enthusiastically answered our questions about the birds of prey in their care. Even the volunteer working the at gift shop was proud to discuss the history of the Trust and their birds with us.  For those birds that would not survive if they were released, The Raptor Trust property has become their home. We were able to see these residents up close and personal. The birds were so beautiful that we walked through the Trust twice to be sure we didn’t miss anybody!

Vilma, The Raptor Trust's Barred Owl plays a key role in the organization's educational programs. Photo by Joy Yagid.

Vilma, The Raptor Trust’s Barred Owl plays a key role in the organization’s educational programs. Photo by Joy Yagid.

Officially founded in 1983, The Raptor Trust is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and one of the premier wild bird rehabilitation centers in the United States.

Located in Millington, NJ, the Trust property includes a hospital with state-of-the-art medical facilities, quality exterior housing for several hundred birds, and an education building. For three decades, the Trust has worked tirelessly to fulfill it’s mission:

  • To provide free care and assistance to injured, sick, or orphaned wild birds.
  • To educate people about wild birds, especially birds of prey.
  • To provide a humane example for others.
The Raptor Trust Director Chris Soucy. Photo Credit: NewJerseyHills.com.

The Raptor Trust Director Chris Soucy. Photo Credit: NewJerseyHills.com.

20-something Environmentalist sat down with Director of The Raptor Trust, Chris Soucy, and asked what continues to motivate and inspire the work that he is doing.

Chris explained, “One of the greatest rewards in our work is to be able to release a bird back into the wild after we have cared for it. The birds come to us sick, injured or orphaned bird in great numbers – as many as 4,000 each year.  It takes a huge team of dedicated volunteers, along with a medical staff, veterinarians, educators and administrative help to run the center. These caring people put their hearts and souls into the work we do. Because we are successful more often than not in releasing our patients back into the wild where they belong, the rewarding feeling that comes from it happens all the time – for our staff and volunteers, for the people who find injured birds and bring them to us, and no doubt for the birds themselves.”

Red-Tailed Hawk Release. Photo from The Raptor Trust's Facebook page.

Red-Tailed Hawk Release. Photo from The Raptor Trust’s Facebook page.

Chris went on to explain, “In our 32+ year history we have cared for over 90,000 wild birds and released more than half of them back into the wild. On site, we have a full-service medical center and a education center where we present programs to thousands of visitors each year about birds, wildlife and conservation.  Our center is open to the public year round, and visitors here can see hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures up close and learn about what amazing and ecologically important creatures they are.”

Please consider The Raptor Trust when making your year-end gifts this #GivingTuesday and throughout the holiday season. Help them help all things winged.

To learn how to get involved with The Raptor Trust, and for more amazing photographs of birds of prey, like them on Facebook.

Here are a few other excellent New Jersey organizations working on
wildlife issues:

This #GivingTuesday, Tuesday, December 2, 2014, consider making an impact on the world. Choose an issue that you are passionate and donate your time or funds to organizations that are part of the solution. Be a force for good.

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Guest Blog: What We Can All Learn from Laguna Chicabal

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Guest Blog By: Kelley Scholl

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Kelley grew up in lovely Northborough, Massachusetts, but is now lucky enough to have pieces of her heart scattered the world over.  Her interests are: politics, kind people, pretty places, and good beer.  She attended University of Delaware where after approximately 80 majors, she graduated with degrees in Sociology and Biological Sciences.  A few weeks later, Kelley left for the greatest adventure… Peace Corps Guatemala!  

Currently, Kelley lives in a small, indigenous village in the Western Highlands where she facilitates a Healthy Schools program in 14 schools.  The idea is to utilize schools to promote health in the greater community.  Kelley works with the health centers, parents groups, teachers, principals, and her favorite – groups of 5th and 6th grade peer educators.

Please check out her blog to learn more about her experience and contact Kelley with any questions you may have about Peace Corps or Guatemala!

“It’s really difficult for me to write about life in Guatemala. It’s hard to talk about it. It’s hard to tell my very best friends about it. When I left for the Peace Corps 17 months ago, trouble sharing my experience was not on my radar as far as developing world difficulties, yet it is something that I think of nearly every day now.

The reason it’s so hard to share my experience is that Guatemala is a place I both love and hate. Like any culture close-up, it is one of contrast. It’s a land of poverty, yet that’s not what is truly holding it back. It is a land where women are generally in charge of the family’s purse strings, but have no reproductive rights or even the right to walk down the street safely. People are kind, but not friendly. It’s a land of extreme Christianity, and also a place where alcohol abuse and adultery are rampant. In a cruel, ironic twist, its children have the 6th highest rate of malnourishment in the world, while its adult population has the 10th highest rate of obesity.  It’s a land where I am impressed by how respectful and hard working the children are, but truly saddened by how quickly they must grow up. It’s a land where people wake up before the sun to farm, but government workers will not stay a second past their workday, no matter what the benefit may be to their community. It’s a land that centers its tourism industry on being the ‘Land of the Maya,’ but allows 73% of the indigenous people to live in poverty.

image001Even the beautiful, traditional Guatemalan dress (at left) – or ‘traje’ – is a point of contention. Those who wear it do so to respect their past and their indigenous heritage. Others point out that the traje is not truly Maya, but something forced upon the Maya people by the Spanish conquistadors in order to contain and oppress them.

So, when people say, ‘Tell me about Guatemala,’ I want to tell them everything and nothing at all. I usually tell them nothing, which is a shame.

Recently, I’ve begun to think that the only thing worse than misrepresenting Guatemala is not even trying to share my experience in the ‘Land of Eternal Spring.’

Despite my own inability to wrap my head around my experience in Guatemala, let alone my inability to share it, there are still beautiful lessons that everyone should learn from Guatemala.

One of these lessons can be learned at Laguna Chicabal (pictured below), a sacred, crater lake, nestled in the forest of San Martín Sacatepéquez, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

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However, Laguna Chicabal is more than just a pretty place; it is one of the most important sites in the Maya Cosmovision and a place that receives the highest reverence from its inhabitants and visitors.

So, here’s how the story goes… A long, long time ago, the lake was lower down on the volcano. Today hikers pass by this dry crater on their way up to the current lake. However, the people who lived by the lake did not take care of it. They washed their clothes in it, bathed in it, and did not understand what a sacred gift the lake was. So, the gods took away the lake and when they gave it back, they relocated it to higher up on the mountain. Since then, the people around the lake have vowed to preserve it, to keep it clean, and to protect it.

While Guatemalan rivers are typically filled with trash, Laguna Chicabal and the area surrounding it is pristine. Swimming in the lake can get you kidnapped (supposedly). In a part of the country without much in the way of resources, the community has dedicated themselves to watching over this sacred gift, this lake. People don’t toss trash on the lake’s beach, and if they do there are daily trash pick-ups to clean up the mess. There are many beautiful places in Guatemala – volcanoes, beaches, forests – yet; I have never seen Guatemalans take such an interest in maintaining an area. Community members care for this part of the world better than they care for their own backyards. With not much to give financially, locals dedicate hours of hard work and give their upmost respect to this parcel of sacred land and water. The sign below greets visitors on their way into the park.

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What is so amazing about the protection efforts at Laguna Chicabal – unlike many of our own attempts at environmentalism – is that it isn’t rooted in a political movement, or a need to increase tourism, or a desire to preserve enough resources for our grandchildren, or concerns about changes in weather. It’s simply a way of life. The people who watch out for Laguna Chicabal do so because of a deep, profound respect for the land. They have known for a long time what the rest of us should figure out – the Earth is a gift and that’s the only reason we need to protect it. We must defend the Earth, not because of a catchy slogan or even scientific facts; we should watch out for the Earth because we respect it and it is our duty.

I guess if can view only a few experiences and lessons from my time in Guatemala with total clarity, a reverence for the Earth is not such a bad thing to learn.

Now I just need to expand this view from Laguna Chicabal to the rest of Guatemala to everywhere else. Wanna help?”

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The First State’s First (Developed?) National Park

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The First State (Delaware) has finally gotten it’s first National Park!  Hooray!  Major victory!  Preserving land!  Enter a development group called Woodlawn Trustees.

The park known locally as “The Valley,” but more formally as “Beaver Valley” is west of 202/Concord Pike on the Pennsylvania/Delaware border.  Beaver Valley is known for its beauty, recreational wonders, historic significance, and ecologic values. Beaver Valley has remained undeveloped since 1683, offering hundreds of acres of trails that have been used for generations.  The property boasts several horse farms, open fields of hay for local stables, a winery and vineyard, woodlands, and streams which feed the Brandywine river.

Before 2012, the 771 acres owned by Woodlawn Trustees had been protected as a wildlife refuge for, in some cases, over 50 years. The open space supports bald eagles, owls, hawks, fox, deer, raccoons, skunks, turtles, and birds.  This area includes wetlands, steep slopes, rare plants, bog turtle habitat and trails. “The Valley” also provides walkers, runners, horse and bicycle riders with a place to go to enjoy nature.

On October 2, 2012 Concord Township Board of Supervisors held a rezoning hearing about 325 acres of their land in Beaver Valley. The purpose was to accommodate for a few different types of developers:
– Wilson (commercial)
– McKee and Concord Homes (residential)
– Eastern States Development (active adult)
– Woodlawn Trust (common open space)

If zoning laws are successfully changed, hundreds of acres of Beaver Valley will be lost to 3 large residential developments (400+ houses) and an 180,000 square foot commercial (big box) building. 

savethevalleyAccording to SaveTheValley.org, “the land at stake adjoins the newly recognized National Monument in Delaware and Chester County. Developers are attempting to purchase this land and change zoning laws so that it may be bulldozed and built upon before the remainder of the land joins our new National Monument.”

This plan would cause a loss of open space, increased air, water, light and noise pollution, as well as, an extremely negative impact on wildlife and local ecosystems.

I think the development plan for Beaver Valley would cause much more than that.  If we allow for developers to build on preserved land, we set a precedent for all other developers to do the same in all other parks.  One park in Delaware/Pennsylvania has implications for National Parks through the United States.  I believe this to be a national issue and that community action must be taken to prevent Beaver Valley from being bulldozed.

What can you do to help Save the Valley? 

Assigning (Monetary) Value to the Environment

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On Public Lands Day 2011, my friend and I spent some time in White Clay Creek State Park.  As we walked through the park, a few female Mallard ducks flew over the creek.  We found a few large spiders in vernal ponds and a grasshopper jumping around through the weeds.  We could not, however, identify a certain type of frog that was present on the trail we were hiking.  The frogs were scattered throughout the trail; we could hear them.  My friend and I would identify where we thought the sound was coming from in the wet grass and then run our hands over the area, pull back the plants; we even stepped carefully around the area to try to scare the frog into our sight.  The elusive amphibians were too sneaky for us.  I became frustrated and said, “Whatever.  It’s not like it’s that important anyway.”  My friend, being a bit more patient than I am, responded, “I’d still like to know what it is though.  I still want to know what’s around us.”

I stopped to think about his remark.  He was right.  We should still know what is around us.  We should connect with our living, active surroundings.  As an Environmental Studies major, I do feel connected to the environment and in my opinion; all species have an intrinsic value and a right to exist.  But sometimes I can get frustrated in the “instant gratification” society that we live in today.  My friend’s comment gave me perspective and I later took my shoes off just to feel the water rushing from the creek under them and walked all the way home with silt covering my feet.  It was my turn to offer him perspective.  After he asked why I had my shoes off, as if it was an act of extreme social deviance, I explained that it is important to experience nature and not feel apart from it.  My shoes had suddenly become a barrier between the soil and my feet, so I removed them and got a little dirty.  I was not caused any physical pain.  I feel I should spread the word; being out in nature will ground you and give you a different outlook, not necessarily cause you any harm.

With a guest speaker in one of my classes, we discussed value using the differences between wealth and income.  In my International Human Rights Class, we review ways that humans have assigned monetary value to other humans and likened them to property.  How should we assign value to the environment to ensure better conservation?  Is it even moral to do so?  There are always political debates centered on carbon taxes and cap and trade programs, but what value can we assign to the frog in White Clay Creek State Park that could not be seen?  Robert Costanza, of Maryland’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, has stated that, “A resource [like the Chesapeake] can be driven to extinction before the market even realizes it was there” (Wennersten 195).  The wildlife in WCCSP is representative of the flora and fauna throughout the state of Delaware.  Perhaps a large number of our unidentified amphibians have lost their habitats to commercial development and suburban sprawl.  If an Environment Studies major and Rutgers University Cook College graduate could not identify the frog; I’m going to venture to say that the developers in Delaware have not.  The thought of losing a species without even knowing it existed in the first place is startling to me.

I believe that the environment should be given some sort of value, by as demonstrated in Wennersten’s book, defining the environment in solely economic terms only leads to more destructive, profit-motivated behaviors.  We must transition to a new social consciousness similar to the “land stewardship” that Wendell Berry spoke of.  We should “seek to redevelop rural culture in terms of an ethic and way of life based upon love of place and devotion to the land,” (Wennersten 220) so as to save the frog in Delaware and the flora and fauna throughout the world.


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