Arbor Day 2012
Arbor Day 2012
Our Animal Kingdom
Sherry L. Roth
When we hear the term “Animal Kingdom”, thoughts of exotic animal species come to mind. You may think of big cats, giraffes and elephants of the African savannah. However, when we think about our animal kingdom here in Stafford, what comes to your mind?
Many of our animals in Stafford Township are closely linked to the unique Pinelands habitat that we have to the west of the Garden State Parkway. Many other species are linked to the fragile watersheds of the Barnegat Bay. Most likely you have seen many of our most common mammal species, including but certainly not limited to squirrels, rabbits, mice, rats, opossum, chipmunks, raccoons, skunk and deer. But did you know that we also have otter and beaver? A recent trip to the headwaters of Manahawkin Lake revealed that beaver are busy building dams and changing the landscape; turning upland hardwood forest into flooded areas. Manahawkin is also home to four nesting pairs of American Eagles, a pair of which have been spotted along the shores of Manahawkin Lake. Have you witnessed bats at night feasting on the mosquitoes that are so abundant in our area? Few have witnessed the barred owl, which is nocturnal and shy around people. Residents in our community marvel at the majestic red-tailed hawk, which is a fierce predator for some of our smaller mammals. And the antics of the large turkey buzzards are a site to see. This large bird species has been around since prehistoric times.
Our animal kingdom includes an enormous array of species, which can be divided into two distinct categories; invertebrates (animals without a backbone or spinal column) and vertebrates (animals with a backbone or spinal column). Some examples of invertebrates include the tiniest of protozoa, annelids (such as earthworms) and arthropods (such as crabs, spiders and insects). Arthropods make up over 75% of the world's animal species. Arthropods include animals such as insects, crustaceansand arachnids. The largest group of arthropods are the insects. The next largest group is the crustaceans, including lobsters and crabs. The arachnids include spiders and ticks. Other arthropods include centipedes and millipedes. Vertebrates include fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, primates, rodents and marsupials. Although vertebrates represent only a very small percentage of all animals, their size and mobility often allow them to dominate their environment.
Since we have such a diversity of habitats between the pinelands to the west and the estuaries of Barnegat Bay to the east, there is much to explore for any budding biologist, entomologist or environmental scientist!
How can you protect your local animal kingdom? Limit the use of fertilizers and pesticides which enter our drainage systems and ultimately into the Barnegat Bay. Protect breeding and nesting habitats. Set aside open space to protect areas where animals live. Keep our habitats clean and free from debris.
The most important and effective ways that we can protect our animal kingdom is to protect their habitat. Animals need a place to live and making sure that they have a home is sometimes challenging with the pressures of development. You see, you can’t tell people and developers that they can’t develop their property, but thankfully there are laws that protect environmentally sensitive lands. The most notable of these laws are the Endangered Species Act, Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act (N.J.S.A. 13:9B) and the Wetlands Act of 1970 (N.J.S.A. 13:9A). These laws work hand in hand to protect animal species and their habitats, especially since the majority of our threatened and endangered species live in or need wetlands during some stage of their life cycle.
Regulations exist that specifically protect our shore areas and ultimately the Barnegat Bay; the Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA) (N.J.S.A. 13:19) and the Waterfront Development Act (N.J.S.A. 12:5-3). And because much of the land belonging to Stafford Township rests in the Pinelands region (everything west of the Garden State Parkway), these areas are protected by the Pinelands Protection Act.
As you can imagine, getting approval to build something can be a daunting task! This is especially so if a property is restricted by environmentally sensitive habitats. Often times, builders are denied the opportunity to build on their property and it can be saved for vital habitat. The first step in choosing a property to build on is to conduct a preliminary assessment. During this process, all of the developmental restrictions are mapped out and a determination can be made as to the likelihood of obtaining an approval to build on the property. At this stage a builder will decide if this is a good property to develop. When builders decide to develop a property, they are always asked to minimize the impact of development as much as possible by limiting the amount of trees that can be cut down, making sure that the stormwater runoff is clean and will be managed to reduce downstream flooding. Many forms of mitigation may occur, such as re-planting the trees that are cut down (either on the property or elsewhere), timing of construction to avoid impacting species during breeding seasons, or setting aside lands for preservation just to name a few.
70% of lands in Stafford have been sold to the federal government or purchased by the township to be set aside for open space. These lands, most of which are forested, serve as vital habitat to support the animals that live in our township. Yes, they are important even for the fish and crustaceans that live in Barnegat Bay! The extensive network of freshwater and tidal wetlands along our tributaries and our shore work overtime to filter out contaminates from entering into our waterways. The majority of these lands are part of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. These lands provide our community with passive recreational uses. Much can be learned by foraging the paths that exist in the forested areas, or by visiting the “Bridge to Nowhere” to observe migrating bird species, turtles, snakes, fish, etc. Great satisfaction can be found when we sit still and admire the wonders of natural environment that surrounds us.
To develop a better understanding of how trees are essential to provide habitat for our animal kingdom, the Stafford Township Environmental Commission developed as its 2012 Arbor Day theme “O.A.K.” (Our Animal Kingdom). Each year, through our Arbor Day and Tree City Celebration, we encourage all children in Stafford schools to participate in our poster, poem and essay contests based on our theme. Savings bonds, medals and awards will be given in each category to the winning students grades K-12 who best represent an understanding of the numerous ways animals improve our lives. The awards will be presented at the televised Arbor Day and Tree City ceremony on Friday, April 27thbeginning at 3:45 pm at the Ocean Acres Community Center located at 489 Nautilus Drive, Ocean Acres, Manahawkin.
The Environmental Commission is also looking for sponsors for the various awards to be presented to the children. If any business, individual, or group would like to sponsor any of the awards, please contact Ms. Annemarie Sillitoe in the Stafford Township Department of Community Development at (609) 597-1000 ext. 8537.