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February 24, 2012

The state Department of Environmental Protection has added five new species to the Garden State’s endangered list: three birds -- the black rail, golden-winged warbler and red knot; the gray petaltail, a species of dragonfly; and the Indiana bat, which is also federally endangered. The red knot shorebird has long been a concern in New Jersey since it migrates thousands of miles each spring to the shores of Delaware Bay to feast on the eggs of horseshoe crabs and then returns to its arctic nesting grounds. The numbers of both horseshoe crabs and red knots have declined significantly in recent years because of overharvesting of the crabs.

While five species were put on the endangered list, another seven, including the bald eagle, were upgraded from endangered to threatened during the non-breeding season.

Although the state DEP touted improvements in the environment and advancements in its scientific tools to judge the state’s resources, Jeff Tittel, director of the NJ chapter of the Sierra Club, said they represented rollbacks to rules protecting threatened and endangered species.

The state has created a new category of declining species, which it calls “special concern.” The state says it is a special watch list but Tittel argues it’s the Christie administration's way of getting around providing protection to declining species. He also objects to limiting protection of certain birds, such as the golden winged warbler, black rail, and bald eagle, to their breeding habitats. The areas these birds use to forage during migration will not be guarded against destruction, he noted. As a result, Tittel predicted that 31,000 acres, or more than 50 square miles, of critical habitat will be vulnerable to sprawl and development.

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