DEP Launches ‘Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey’ Project

May 22, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

The Endangered and Nongame Species Program within the Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife has unveiled a new project to make New Jersey’s landscape and roadways friendlier to wildlife seeking food, shelter and mates, and to help sustain healthy populations of various species.

“Here in New Jersey, urbanization and roads have made a patchwork of our natural lands, putting the connectedness of habitats and wildlife populations in jeopardy,” said DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe. The Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey project – CHANJ (pronounced “change”) – “offers new tools to help secure and restore habitat connectivity across the state, giving wildlife the ability to meet all their needs now, and to adapt as best they can to a changing climate.”

A statewide CHANJ mapping tool highlights New Jersey’s remaining intact habitats, called “Cores,” and the best opportunities to link them, called “Corridors.” It also identifies road segments that cut through habitats and are likely to pose problems for animal movement. The mapping is available via an online CHANJ web viewer where land managers, transportation planners, conservation groups and the public can visualize their place in the state’s habitat connectivity puzzle.

Meanwhile, a companion guidance document can help users make strategic choices about preserving land, restoring habitat and mitigating the impacts of roads on wildlife.

“At least 127 terrestrial wildlife species in New Jersey may benefit from the CHANJ vision, including 82 species of Greatest Conservation Need, such as the bobcat, blue-spotted salamander and northern diamondback terrapin, whose populations are low or declining and in need of conservation,” the DEP explained. “Numerous aquatic organisms, as well as plants, will also benefit from a more connected landscape.

Although its major tools are just now being released, CHANJ has already let to the installation of two wildlife tunnel projects to help animals such as turtles and salamanders cross roadways at major roadkill hot spots, and a third project is in the design phase. Trained surveyors are also evaluating below-road stream culverts and rating how well aquatic and land-based animals can move through them, so that improvements can be targeted in the most needed places.

“In addition, a statewide gene flow study is using DNA from roadkill to determine whether various mammal populations – from deer to foxes to squirrels – are becoming more isolated from each other due to landscape fragmentation,” the DEP explained.

As Division of Fish and Wildlife Acting Director Dave Golden noted, “Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey gives us a literal roadmap for focusing our efforts ahead, filling in the gaps, and securing a legacy of healthy, connected ecosystems for the future.”

And, according to Eric Olsen, director of land programs for The Nature Conservancy in New Jersey, “With our climate changing it’s hard to predict the future habitat needs of our wildlife species. We’re especially excited that CHANJ can help scientifically prioritize where to focus our efforts to connect habitats and decrease wildlife mortality.”  —J.K.-H.

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