Conserve Wildlife Blog

“Wild New Jersey” Celebrates 10 Years with Monthly Blog Adventures in 2021

February 17th, 2021

Book excerpts each month to be accompanied by timely wildlife updates

by David Wheeler

Growing up in suburban and coastal New Jersey, I was fascinated by wildlife from my earliest days. Whether catching frogs in the neighborhood, or collecting safari cards and watching Nature specials on Komodo dragons, wildlife both local and global captured my imagination like nothing else. My studies and early career focused on other areas, such as writing and communications, but the great outdoors was never far from my thoughts.

When the time was right, I decided to write what would become my book, “Wild New Jersey: Nature Adventures in the Garden State.” I spent time with many of the top scientists and naturalists in the state, as I devoted all my free time for a year to undertaking a whirlwind journey around New Jersey, experiencing its wildlife, nature destinations, and outdoor activities first-hand.

It has now been 10 years since “Wild New Jersey” was published. In those ensuing years, I became the Executive Director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation, the dynamic organization that had featured so prominently in my book. Many themes I covered then resound even more today. The across-the-board impacts of climate change on New Jersey’s wildlife. Escalating land development, particularly in suburban areas. An even greater emphasis on protecting wildlife corridors and contiguous habitat. An increasing awareness of many species thriving in urban areas against daunting odds.

For better or worse, the populations of most of New Jersey species I highlighted 10 years ago have continued on the same trends of recovery or decline. That’s good news for bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and ospreys, along with bobcats and coyotes. It’s more worrisome for many bat, amphibian and reptile species, as well as many songbirds, shorebirds, and pollinators.

Sadly, a few of the wildlife pioneers and conservation heroes with whom I was privileged to spend time or enjoy conversations while writing my book have since passed away, including field biologist Charles Kontos, Len Soucy, founder of the Raptor Trust, and Dery Bennett, founder of American Littoral Society. Their legacies carry forward today as strong as ever.

David Wheeler and his son on a more recent “Wild New Jersey” adventure in Barnegat Bay. Photo by Ben Wurst

With our past year marked by serious restrictions on both our interaction with others and the activities we can enjoy, many New Jerseyans may have a building list of adventures that we are considering once safety permits. Thankfully, these options haven’t changed much at all over the 10 years since I wrote “Wild New Jersey.” With the right timing and guides, we still can go out and enjoy dog sledding, birding on the open ocean, mountain hikes in bear country, and nighttime treks through a cranberry bog – or, on the more serene side, pontoon boat wildlife tours, river floats, seining, and bird walks led by top experts.

Those kinds of adventures are still out there for the taking in every corner of the state. Some of it can be done right now, while other trips may have to wait until we get further along in our fight against COVID-19.

In the meantime, I am excited to celebrate 10 years of Wild New Jersey with you. For the next year, Conserve Wildlife Foundation will run a seasonal excerpt each month, along with updated commentary giving context to a featured species, habitat, or locale.

Join me on Friday in kicking off our series with a book excerpt and update on the unlikely return of a predator to New Jersey’s wilds.

David Wheeler is the Executive Director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation and the author of Wild New Jersey: Nature Adventures in the Garden State.

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