Protecting the Natives

Oct 16, 2019

To the Editor:

In a column section called “De-Foxing to Save Piping Plovers” (10/2), my friend Jay Mann states that his intention is to “confuse” the issue of predator management at the Holgate Refuge. Since predator management is such a sensitive issue, which is also critical to maintaining ecological balance on a crowded barrier island, I favor more clarity.

The column suggests that managers might be incorrectly scapegoating fox and failing to understand the causes of predation at Holgate. That is not the case. I am the digital data manager for New Jersey’s (and other states’) native beach nesting birds, including those in the Holgate Refuge. It is a lot of data.

Every season, teams of expert biologists transect these habitats and record everything, every single day. Every bird, every egg, every chick. They record the precise location, behavior and species of every predator encountered. Every track is photographed and logged. Every nest lost gets forensics and photos. Trail cams run all over the habitats across the state, and all of the photos are studied.

There is very little mystery to what is happening with the animals in New Jersey’s habitats, which is eating what, which is thriving, and which is at risk. The data does not lie. All of this data is at the fingertips of managers, who then use it to inform management strategy.

The piece also mischaracterizes the issue of predator management as a simple choice between plover and fox. Predator management is actually a much larger issue of maintaining some balance between our rapidly vanishing native animals (like piping plovers, least terns, diamondback and black skimmers) and our ever-increasing “human subsidized predators” (like fox, crows, feral cats and raccoons).

We caused and sustain this ecological imbalance, so we have a responsibility to mitigate it. Left unchecked, the end result would be the extinction of LBI’s unique, native animal population with imported animals that couldn’t survive here without access to our trash and handouts (which will also ultimately become a human nuisance).

Predator management is an unfortunate business, but a necessary tool. Yet leaving a little bit of what made the Island special in the first place is part of our innate responsibility because of our outsized, disruptive impact on the ecology here (especially our introduction of destructive, non-native predators).

I’m deeply grateful there are people out there willing to bear the responsibility for me, and to preserve the Island’s natural treasures for the future. We owe it to them to seek clarity from their expertise, rather than undermine it by sowing confusion.

“Northside” Jim Verhagen

North Beach


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