The American proverb known as “Go big or go home” may be the worst idea when it comes to local conservation efforts. More often than not when local folks band together to try to save a patch of woods, meadow or pond they begin a frantic search for an endangered species, trying to recall sightings they may have had or calling groups in to find that elusive species that will save their neighborhood from unwanted development. But sadly, by that time it may already be much too late to stop the bulldozers.
Our obsession to find a Bald Eagle perched high in a tree with the belief that it’s all we need to stop development and save wildlife habitat is well meaning but misguided, especially when the more important sighting may actually be the Oak Tree our national symbol happens to be perched on.
As a member of the Bergen County Open Space Trust Find Advisory Committee for many years I can say first hand that there is much less open space for the county to buy, and it gets more expensive every year. In addition, the quality of wildlife habitat to save is now becoming an endangered species of its own. It has now become a battle for every acre and in every town, at least the ones that even have available open space left. It has become much more important than ever to protect and preserve the land we have left and we don’t need to wait to find an endangered species in order to find a reason to save it and put value on it.
The typical panicked phone calls to me usually starts with, “Help! A developer got approval for town houses on my favorite patch of woods next to my house and I want to stop it and I even saw an eagle there once.” Usually stories like this do not have a happy ending. If you do have a favorite natural area begin a conversation with your local representatives. Tell them that protecting open space is an important way to fight climate change that it is critical to migratory birds whose population have declined by 3 billion since 1970.
Let them know that our pollinators depend on these habitats that we also depend on for our own survival and yes! there very well could be an endangered species on the property that needs to be documented now, not when it is already too late. There is also another species that is often overlooked, suffering from habitat loss and finding a clean environment in which to live … it is us!
We should never for a minute let our elected officials forgot that we, as a human species, also need a safe, happy and healthy environment for us to live, thrive and raise our young. This should never be overlooked or scoffed at. Being told you can drive to a local park or there are parks in other towns for you to use is not acceptable. More and more studies show that the mental and physical health of all of us and our families depends dearly on us getting outside and connecting with nature. There is no substitute.
No matter if it’s a Norther Harrier or Eastern Tailed Blue, a Bumble Bee or Little Brown Bat, all species are important and play an important, vital role in maintaining a diverse habitat that supports all life, including our endangered species We cannot have Bald Eagles if we don’t keep the water clean so that they can have healthy populations of fish, and if we don’t protect and save the wetlands and wildlife around them. We can’t have Peregrine Falcons unless we protect waterfowl and shorebirds, and we will never have the Wood Thrush fill our forests with their music unless we save our Oak Trees and native plants which are the foundation of every healthy habitat.
There are no Monarch Butterflies without milkweed and there is no milkweed unless we protect the habitat in which it grows. All habitats and wildlife is worth saving and fighting for and very often it’s not those big, obvious things that make the fields and meadows of our neighborhoods important. More often than not it’s the things we look past, ignoring the obvious while searching for the ones species that we hope will save us. To report an Endangered species go to https://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/tandespp.htm
If there is open space you want saved in your town, form a committee, contact your elected officials, and tell them why it is important and start now. If there is an endangered species sighted please fill out the forms with NJDEP, because if you don’t your sightings will not even be considered by the powers that be, and please remember that every habitat is critical to the survival and wellbeing of countless wildlife species, every one of which is worth preserving and protecting.