Barnegat Bay Watershed Addition to Forsythe Refuge Complete

A vital habitat corridor adjacent to both the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and New Jersey state forest lands will become an addition to the refuge, The Trust for Public Land and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today.

The 79-acre property in Eagleswood, Ocean County, had been slated for development of 4 lots as recently as 2007. In January 2010 the landowner, Stockton Land Company, LLC, asked The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization, to help with a conservation option for the land. Given the land’s significant resource values, including the main stem of a Barnegat Bay tributary, Westecunk Creek, and the property’s intact habitat for wintering bald eagles, wading birds, and migrating songbirds and raptors, the land was a priority for addition to the Forsythe refuge. With this addition, the entire 260-acre Westecunk Creek property has been preserved since TPL identified it in 1995 as vital to maintaining the health of Barnegat Bay.

“Completing the conservation of the Westecunk Creek corridor is vital to the habitat supported by the Forsythe refuge, and a milestone for preserving Barnegat Bay’s water quality,” said Anthony Cucchi, TPL’s New Jersey director. “TPL is grateful to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New Jersey congressional delegation for their commitment to this substantial conservation opportunity in the Barnegat Bay watershed.”

TPL has protected more than 11,500 acres in the Barnegat Bay watershed since 1990, and has offered two conservation plans for the watershed in that time, most recently Barnegat Bay 2020: A Vision for the Future of Conservation in 2008.

“Our relationship with conservation organizations like The Trust for Public Land is critical to the continued protection of habitat for fish and wildlife in the State of New Jersey,” said Virginia Rettig, Refuge Manager for E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

Funding for the purchase came entirely from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the principal federal program for conservation of key lands within our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other popular and sensitive areas, and for support of state and local parks and recreation. The program is funded using a fraction of offshore oil and gas revenues, and unlike other federal spending, uses no taxpayer dollars. Every year, however, Congress approves the amount allocated through the LWCF to federal land management agencies, in this case the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations committee, and U.S. Senator Robert Menendez supported the federal funding for this protection effort.

“Preserving New Jersey’s treasured natural resources is essential to the ecological and economic health of our state, and I will continue working in Congress to support conservation efforts,” Sen. Lautenberg said. “The Trust for Public Land is doing important work by leveraging federal resources to protect wildlife, preserve open space and protect the Barnegat Bay.”

“As a longtime advocate on behalf of environmental sustainability, I am proud to have recommended funding for this important initiative, which will help protect an area crucial to the Forsythe refuge’s habitat,” said Sen. Menendez. “Preserving our state’s lands, wildlife and water resources ensures that these natural treasures are available for generations to come. This project is also a good model for using offshore oil and gas revenues, instead of taxpayer’s money, for public conservation efforts.”

“I am thrilled that the Westecunk Creek property has been preserved as part of the Forsythe Refuge,” said Congressman Jon Runyan, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee representing New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District. “Barnegat Bay is a national treasure and we must do everything we can to preserve it for future generations.”

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL has helped protect 3 million acres nationwide, including more than 24,000 acres in New Jersey. TPL depends on the support of individuals, corporations, and foundations.