Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund Supports Project for Endangered Bog Turtle

Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund Supports Endangered Bog Turtle Project in New Jersey

New Federal Funding Allows for 50 Acres of Salem County Habitat Improvement for Official State Reptile

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The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife and New Jersey Audubon are on a mission to save the state’s official reptile: the bog turtle. Once abundant throughout New Jersey, bog turtles are now listed in the state as endangered and are restricted to rural portions of southern and northwestern New Jersey. Thankfully, new funds provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as part of the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund will allow for restoring and connecting 50 acres of wetland and upland turtle habitat in Salem County, NJ.

The Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund was realized thanks to the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, Congressional allies, and partners advocating for the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (DRBCA) and funding for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) created by the Act. After the DRBCA passed in 2016, the Coalition focused on ensuring $5 million in funding to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the DRBRP for the first time in fiscal year 2018, which ultimately funded the bog turtle project in New Jersey and twenty-four other projects across the watershed.

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“The bog turtle is the state’s rarest turtle and with continual threats on the horizon, we must protect this unique reptile. It’s thrilling to see the Division of Fish and Wildlife and New Jersey Audubon working together to maintain current bog turtle populations and to establish new ones in my district. I’m grateful for additional federal dollars that are being invested in the wildlife and environment of New Jersey,” said Congressman Jeff Van Drew (NJ-2).

A site in Salem County, managed by the Division of Fish and Wildlife, will serve as a starting point for restoring and connecting 50 acres of bog turtle habitat in the Upper Salem River Watershed. A six-year-old bog turtle found at this location in 2013 jump-started restoration because it showed the area had the ability to sustain new turtles, since the last bog turtle found there was in 2001. Tracking the turtles through radio telemetry began in 2015, and there are currently at least 10 bog turtles known to be living on-site.

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“The bog turtle, which depends on clean water and clean habitat, is an important indicator of a healthy ecosystem,” DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe said. “The DEP is proud to partner with New Jersey Audubon to restore and protect this important piece of their habitat in southern New Jersey. Partnerships such as this are vital to managing and promoting thriving natural resources, a key priority for the DEP.”

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While the bog turtle is small, typically about 4 inches, it’s importance to New Jersey is paramount. These turtles face many challenges, including poaching and development, and since they are semi-aquatic, they also need very specific habitat to ensure their success. Bog turtles need everything from muck and mud to dry patches for nesting and abundant sunlight. We’re optimistic that at this particular site we can improve nesting habitat and potentially see the 10 turtles that live there turn in to 20 or 30 for increased genetic variation,” said Bill Pitts, Zoologist for the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

The bog turtle is endangered because it is a victim of habitat loss and degradation, development and illegal collecting. In addition to these setbacks, bog turtles need a dynamic habitat that includes wet and mucky areas, while also needing open areas with plenty of hummocks for nesting and basking and shrubby areas for overwintering. The DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife acquired the land in the 1990s, and New Jersey Audubon has worked with them since 2013 to restore the site by removing invasive plants, thinning out woody vegetation and creating new wetlands and buffer areas by planting old agricultural fields with native grasses, sedges, rushes, forbs and native shrubs.

“Our goal for this site is to double the current bog turtle habitat from about three acres to at least six acres in order to improve nesting habitat that will allow the turtles to reproduce more successfully,” added Kristen Meistrell, Southern NJ Stewardship Project Director for New Jersey Audubon. “This involves wetland creation on an adjacent field, restoring buffer areas and creating overwintering habitat by planting native shrubs, and restoring natural hydrology to the surrounding areas since the land had been historically drained and ditched for agricultural purposes.”

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Earlier this year New Jersey Audubon was granted $88,300 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, as part of the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund, to continue restoration efforts at this site and to begin creating, restoring and connecting habitat throughout the rest of the Upper Salem River Watershed. The project aims to reach at least 200 private landowners who have currently occupied, suitable or connecting habitat for bog turtles. Habitat assessments will be conducted to determine if any management activities are needed, with a goal of restoring and creating 50 acres of suitable wetland habitat and surrounding uplands.

The bog turtle population has declined by at least 50 percent across the U.S. during the past 20 years, and in 1997 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the bog turtle to the list of federally threatened species. The Salem County project is also expected to improve water quality as new wetlands are being created within the headwaters of the Salem River that will filter water before it enters the Delaware River.

A Summer of Celebration: The Delaware’s Treasured Tributaries!

It would be difficult to find a person living in or visiting the Delaware River Watershed who does not have a memory connecting them to the Delaware River main stem or one of its tributaries. Whether it’s sitting outside on a warm summer’s night by the waterside with a cold drink in hand, splashing joyfully with your friends in the cool creek water to beat the heat, or finally catching that monstrous striper that you swear has been avoiding you for years. If you live along the Schuylkill River (PA), the Christina River (DE), the Neversink River (NY), the Rancocas Creek (NJ), or any of the 216 Delaware River tributaries, there’s always outdoor adventure to be had.

Five Years Strong: Delaware’s Water Warriors Continue to Rally for Clean Water

The Delaware River Watershed is no stranger to water quality and flooding issues. In Delaware, the need for sustainable clean water is growing. After all, 90 percent of Delaware’s waterways are considered impaired and communities across the state, many of which are underserved, face chronic flooding. As the need for clean water funding grows, state and local budgets decrease, leaving a large gap between funding and statewide needs. Delaware Nature Society (DNS) has studied and advocated for Delaware’s water quality for decades and concluded that it would take a grassroots advocacy and education effort to push for much needed funding. So, in 2015 DNS brought together a core group of conservation organizations and pitched the idea of building a statewide outreach and education campaign to grow a strong, unified voice for clean water funding.

New Jersey Falls Short in Funding the Delaware River Basin Commission

In the just-released New Jersey 2020 fiscal year budget, funding fell $200,000 short for the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), a four-state agency charged with overseeing water quality and quantity of the Delaware River Basin. In response, the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, a network of over 140 nonprofits located within the four states of the Basin (NY, NJ, PA, DE) have prepared the following statement.

CDRW Comes to Harrisburg: 2019 Pennsylvania Clean Water Education Day

On May 1, 2019, the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW) and Choose Clean Water (CCW) joined forces to storm Harrisburg for the second annual Pennsylvania Clean Water Education Day spearheaded by PennFuture. In total, about thirty individuals from both organizations came together during at the state capitol to educate lawmakers in a series of meetings, literature drop-offs, and a press conference highlighting the importance of clean water. Twenty-three meetings with Pennsylvania senators and house members were held that day along with thirty literature drop-offs. With 13 million people relying on the Delaware River Basin for water, clean water must take priority for the health, safety, and the economy of the region.

Benefits to Delaware River Watershed Communities from the Land & Water Conservation Fund

With the spring weather breaking into warm summer days, now is the perfect time to enjoy the green, open spaces of the watershed. The Delaware River Watershed has become a haven for outdoor recreation, from hiking and biking to watercraft activities like kayaking and tubing. Outdoor recreation in the watershed not only brings families together for memorable bonding experiences, but it succeeds in bringing together like-minded outdoor enthusiasts. Preservation of green, open spaces is an asset to communities while also making economic sense, since outdoor recreation brings in $887 billion annually on a national level. Safeguarding recreation by conserving outdoor spaces in the watershed is critical, which is why the Congress must fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).