The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently announced the publication of a new booklet entitled Endangered Beach Nesting Bird Management on New Jersey’s Municipal Beaches. The booklet is a cooperative effort between the two agencies and was designed as a guide for municipal officials in protecting endangered beach nesters (piping plovers, least terns and black skimmers) and their habitat.
“This booklet offers coastal municipalities an opportunity to play an active role in the protection of New Jersey’s endangered beach nesting birds and the habitat on which they depend,” said division Director Bob McDowell.
The concept of cooperative wildlife management between federal, state and local governments, private businesses and the public is a burgeoning transition toward shared stewardship of New Jersey’s and the nation’s endangered fish and wildlife resources.
“Restoring and protecting our threatened and endangered wildlife is just too large a task to fall on one or two governmental agencies. Federal, state and local governments, as well as citizens and the private sector must share the responsibility if we are to preserve our wildlife heritage,” said Cliff Day, Supervisor of the USFWS’ New Jersey Office.
This sense of cooperative stewardship is especially critical for beach nesting species like the piping plover and least tern, that nest on high profile, heavily used municipal beaches.
Protecting endangered beach nesting birds in New Jersey has become one of the primary management programs of the division’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP). With the cooperative efforts of municipalities and other landowners, the division and the USFWS have been able to deter population declines on several of the state’s beaches. Though these results are encouraging, according to McDowell, given the variety and magnitude of problems facing these birds, their protection and restoration will require ongoing attention. Such efforts rely on funding and in such fiscally-trying times, the success of beach nester restoration hangs precariously in the balance.
Larry Niles, chief of the division’s ENSP, is concerned that special projects such as the one that helped develop the beach nester management booklet could be dropped if the program’s primary source of funding, a “check-off” on the state income tax form, continues to decline. “If funds continue to diminish, we will need to narrow our focus to more immediate, critical management activities such as protective fencing around nesting areas. Unfortunately, in such a situation, public outreach and work with local governments that pay long-term dividends would suffer,” Niles said.
Projects designed to provide public outreach and assistance to municipalities serve another important purpose. In addition to fostering a cooperative sense of stewardship, state and federal biologists help local towns avoid violations of endangered species laws. Many of the daily beach management activities conducted by municipalities carry the risk of harming or harassing protected birds. Without the guidance of endangered species biologists, many towns could inadvertently violate established regulations.
According to Cliff Day, fostering an increased municipal involvement in beachnester protection does not mean that wildlife management agencies are planning to forsake their traditional role. “We cannot simply switch from the current practice of wildlife biologists carrying out beach nesting bird management on municipal beaches to one of directing coastal towns to conduct these activities themselves. Instead, our intent is to provide the information and resources for community officials and citizens to gain a greater understanding of beach nesting bird management and municipal beach management. By combining our various areas of expertise, we can develop and carry out more innovative, collective management strategies that will continue and accelerate the recovery of endangered beach nesting birds.”