NJ Audubon quietly helping Delaware Bay habitat and birds

So much needs to be done to keep a watershed healthy, especially one in the heavily urbanized core of the Northeast.

A recently announced mix of federal and private funding will get a lot of bang for its millions of bucks, enabling 45 projects throughout the Delaware River watershed.

These will enhance recreation, water quality and habitat conservation; reduce runoff pollution; restore 439 acres of wetlands; plant over 50,000 trees; and open more than 65 miles of water for fish such as spawning shad to pass.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the US Fish and Wildlife Service awarded $15.8 million in grants. Conservation and environmental groups matched that with $16 million to bring funding for the watershed projects to $31.8 million.

The projects are along or near tributaries in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

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One supported by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey will restore a Delaware Bay location where red knots stop during migration. Another project will restore existing and lost critical tidal freshwater marsh habitat at the Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Salem County.

Given that South Jersey is a historic birding hotspot, one project managed and partly funded by New Jersey Audubon is of special interest. It will conserve and create critical habitat on Delaware Bay for the federally threatened eastern black rail and the at-risk saltmarsh sparrow.

Exactly where must be kept secret.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service previously had “determined that designation of critical habitat for the eastern black rail is not prudent, because doing so would more widely announce the exact location of this species, which is extremely vulnerable to disturbance.”

“Our project to conserve high marsh habitats for black rail and saltmarsh sparrow endeavors to work with Delaware Bay landowners to modify salt hay farming practices that accommodate the needs of these two high conservation priority species,” said David Mizrahi, NJ Audubon’s vice president of research and monitoring.

The shy little black rail is an elusive marsh bird whose presence has declined by more than 90% the past 25 years because of loss, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat. Now rising seas are swamping its breeding sites in the marshlands.

The East Coast is the only place on Earth where saltmarsh sparrows are found. They too are rapidly declining due to sea level rise and loss of habitat, and 80% may already have disappeared.

“Both projects will contribute to the outcome of a cleaner, healthier and safer watershed for both humans and wildlife,” said Alex Ireland, president of New Jersey Audubon.

Some advocacy groups seem to focus on partisan posturing and raising money. The 175 members of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed are exemplary in focusing on making solid improvements, doing much of the work themselves, and adding their funds to those of the public to get much more done. Like the natural world they help, they usually work quietly at mostly thankless jobs.

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