Our Rebuttal to Misinformation
In a recent article of “The State We’re In” by the NJ Conservation Foundation (NJCF), Tom Gilbert slams DEP Fish and Wildlife (DEP F&W) for a recent management effort on the Glassboro Wildlife Management Area. Although one may agree that the need for a permit to operate within a wetlands transition area and small area of wetlands should have been better investigated, the effort to enhance wildlife habitat was a worthy goal. Assertions by NJCF that vernal ponds necessary for rare amphibians were destroyed is disputed by DEP F&W and such vernal pools were not flagged during an internal review by endangered species biologists. The article implies managing for the American woodcock is not necessary and states it is a “species not of concern” based upon a classification by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
How ironic that “The State We’re In” ignores New Jersey’s own classification. Our State Wildlife Action Plan classifies woodcock as a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” and the US Fish and Wildlife’s classifies woodcock as a species having a significant population decline. The IUCN classification of “not of concern” may be appropriate compared to the needs of the entire world-wide conglomerate of wildlife species, however, such a classification is irrelevant in New Jersey.
The New Jersey woodcock population experienced an 80% population decline (data from 1970-2017) and the East Coast population experienced a 50% population decline (1968-2021). The legal responsibility of NJDEP and the USFWS is to take steps to reverse that trend which is attributed to a loss of habitat.
Woodcock and many species of wildlife require moist meadows and moist young forest habitat to survive. NJDEP estimates that New Jersey young forests, those 20 years or younger in age, are lost at a rate of 1500 acres per year. Eighty-eight percent of New Jersey shrubland and young forest-dependent bird species are declining. By contrast, only 20% of New Jersey bird species that depend on mature forest are declining. Clearly there is a need to create appropriate habitat.
Within young forest, the thick stem density of shrubs and tree saplings provide cover to protect woodcock and other species from predators. Moist soil found in wetland transition and wetland soils is an important habitat component for earthworms, upon which the woodcock feed. Worm availability varies with changes in soil moisture and temperature, and thus management for woodcock along a slope or moisture gradient is necessary.
Left unmanaged, meadows and young forests will quickly succeed (grow) to stages unsuitable for woodcock and countless other species. We can not sit back and let nature take its course to create such valuable habitat on its own, by fire or other natural disturbances that have serious human consequences. Rather we must continue to recognize it is our responsibility to manage public land for all species. Including those dependent on meadows and young forest. Especially those species in OUR backyard that are “of greatest conservation need!” if permits are warranted, apply for them and issue them – in order to meet the goals of the New Jersey State Wildlife Action Plan.