Sound conservation practices are built on a solid foundation in science.
At New Jersey Audubon, we’ve practiced this model since 1897, as we work to make New Jersey a better place for people and wildlife.
A recent example of this work can be found at the state’s airports and airfields. In New Jersey’s dense landscape, airfields have become critical for supporting populations of breeding birds and are a focal area of study for New Jersey Audubon.
For safety purposes, airfields must maintain open fields of view but can also provide critical grassland habitats.
Grasslands are in decline in New Jersey because of over-development, as well as forest growth resulting from a lack of natural wildfires and abandoned farm fields.
New Jersey Audubon conducted two, three-year studies to quantify the reproductive success of grassland breeding birds on regional airfields and a five-year investigation of habitat use and response to restoration efforts by grassland birds at the Atlantic City Airport.
From the expertise we gained, New Jersey Audubon offered specific management recommendations, as the McGuire Airfield at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is in the process of revising its vegetation management plan.
We gave concrete, science-based suggestions that would protect endangered grassland birds, such as the Grasshopper Sparrow and Upland Sandpiper, as well as decrease the risk of bird strikes from aircraft.
The Upland Sandpiper is a brown speckled bird that, while classified as a shorebird, actually inhabits grassy areas, where it scrapes out a depression to lay its clutch of four eggs and is often sighted perching on fence posts.
Because our studies document that Upland Sandpipers will nest in grassy areas maintained at a height of 7-14 inches, we suggested adjusting the plan so that the base may continue to function as nesting habitat while simultaneously discouraging the larger and flocking birds attracted to the shorter 4-6-inch grass height planned, which are more likely to pose a dangerous strike hazard to aircraft.
Maintaining this airfield habitat, the base can be used to aid grassland-dependent species which are in sharp decline.
The importance of this base is critical: Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is one of only three sites in New Jersey that supports breeding populations of Upland Sandpipers, a species listed as endangered in the state and considered critically impaired for breeding populations.
New Jersey Audubon is putting forth practical solutions so that this habitat can function as a working airfield, while providing nesting opportunities for species that have far too little habitat remaining.
We are greatly appreciative of the working relationship between New Jersey Audubon and the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst staff, which ultimately decided to implement our recommendations in their revised management plan.
Together, we are creating successful and implementable conservation actions, which will help several species now dependent upon managed habitats to better survive.
This is not only a win for the conservation of rare grassland species, but an example of how conservation can and should work, with science-based, adaptive recommendations put into place as a result of partnerships and collaborative efforts between research-based non-profit organizations and the public and/or private sector.
In New Jersey, and other places with limited open space and budgetary constraints, such collaboration is the key to conservation.
Eric Stiles is president and CEO of New Jersey Audubon.