DEP Will Delist Threatened Cooper’s Hawk to Promote Development
[Update: 11/11/09 Ed Rodgers of NJN TV news did a great story last night, click here, runs from time 8:55 – 11:15 – end update ]
At the recent NJ Business and Industry Association panel discussion, DEP Commissioner Mauriello made a commitment that DEP would soon propose rules to delist the Cooper’s hawk as a State threatened species.
The move would not only eliminate protections for the hawk, but allow development of untold acres of currently protected forested breeding, nesting, and foraging habitat.
Maurillo’s announcement was made in response (and clearly appeared to be a concession) to a specific developer who complained that his $40 million project was blocked by the current threatened listing, which protects critical habitat from development. This developer also claimed that “hundreds of millions of dollars of development” is blocked by the current State threatened species designation. Mauriello replied that he was aware of this specific project, had reviewed the developer’s fax to him, and thanked him for it too (gee, can I have another?). Mauriello even suggested that the developer apply for other DEP permits in the interim, which he would approve.
Mauriello did not say whether biologists at DEP’s Endangered and Non-Game Species Program were clamoring for delisting Cooper’s hawk, or whether the move was made in response to political pressure by developers. I checked all the recent posted minutes of the Endangered & Non-Game Species Advisory Council and could find nothing about delisting, so if Mauriello is doing an end run around ENSAC then it looks like the political deal is in.
Regardless of whether the delisting is scientifically justified, it is obvious that political pressure is impacting DEP priorities. DEP has severe deficits of staff, not only to conduct the biological studies, but to write the regulations. Delisting would seem to be a very poor priority to assign scarce staff to work on. For example, according to ENSP (1/16/08):
The E/T habitat regulations have not yet been proposed, nor is there a specific schedule for doing
so. The current fiscal status of the State and the need for an additional staff to implement the
regulations is partly responsible for the delay in the proposal. The Commissioner remains
committed to implementing regulations protecting E&T wildlife habitat.
So I pose the question to the experts out there – is this delisting justified? Has the Cooper’s hawk fully recovered? Even if it has recovered, is removal of current protections a wise move?
I do not work on birds and clearly am no woodland raptor expert. Here is the best information I could find on DEP’s website:
Status and Conservation
Until the mid-1930s, many raptor species, including the Cooper’s hawk, were shot in large numbers during migration and on their breeding grounds because of suspected poultry and game bird predation. Regardless, the Cooper’s hawk remained a fairly common breeding species in New Jersey’s forests until the 1950s when habitat loss caused population declines. In addition, the pesticide DDT impaired reproduction and contributed to population declines observed from the 1950s to 1970s. Due to the reduction in the state’s breeding population and the loss of habitat, the Cooper’s hawk was listed as an endangered species in New Jersey in 1974. The New Jersey Natural Heritage Program considers the Cooper’s hawk to be “apparently secure globally,” yet “rare in the State (breeding) (Office of Natural Lands Management 1998). Concern for this species is evident in nearby states, such as New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, where it is listed as threatened, and Massachusetts and New York, where it is considered a species of Special Concern. The National Audubon Society also included the Cooper’s hawk on its Blue List of Imperiled Species from 1971 to 1982 and in 1986, the final year of the list.
Following the nationwide ban of DDT in 1972 and the reforestation of fallow lands throughout the state, Cooper’s hawk populations began to recover. Cooper’s hawks experienced increases in New Jersey Christmas Bird Counts from 1959 to 1988 and Breeding Bird Surveys from 1980 to 1999 (Sauer et al. 1996, Sauer et al. 2001). Other recent surveys have also shown a substantial increase in the breeding population of Cooper’s hawks in New Jersey. As a result, the status of the Cooper’s hawk was reclassified from endangered to threatened in New Jersey in 1999. The loss of large, contiguous forests remains a threat to this species and warrants the continued protection of Cooper’s hawk nesting habitats (Source NJDEP link).
Recommendations: Identify, protect, maintain, enhance, and restore the remaining large contiguous tracts of forest and forested wetland habitat as identified by the Landscape Project for the longterm viability of forest-dwelling, area-sensitive and interior-nesting wildlife. These include such species or suites as the Cooper’s hawk, red-headed woodpecker, and forestinterior species such as interior forest passerines, cavity nesting birds, and forest-dwelling bats.
Landscape Project – Justification:
The home ranges of Cooper’s hawks are highly variable, both geographically and seasonally. Only breeding records of Cooper’s hawks are used in the Landscape Project to value habitat. Home range calculations reported in the literature for Cooper’s hawks during the breeding season range from 65.5 ha to 784 ha. The average being 348 ha, or an area equivalent to having a 1.1 km radius. The ENSP uses a 1.0 km radius to represent the occurrence area boundary for all Cooper’s hawk breeding records used in the Landscape Project. This represents a slightly conservative estimate of the breeding season home ranges of Cooper’s hawks as reported in the literature.
Source: NJDEP: New Jersey’s Landscape Project (Version 3.0 – Highlands – 2008)
Statewide Version 2.0 http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/wap/pdf/wap_attach_a.pdf
Basis for recent Green Acres land acquisition – 170 acre tract in Kingwood Township along Delaware
“The tract encompasses a portion of a Natural Heritage Priority Site, which delineates important areas for the state’s biodiversity. The site consists of wooded bluffs, dry woods, steep rocky slopes and a small stream within a deep ravine. The tract supports threatened animals including the Cooper’s hawk and barred owl.”