New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the U.S. and because of that, people may lose sight of the fact that the state has a vast wealth of wildlife where there is diverse geography, and diverse climate, according to Alex Ireland, president, and CEO of NJ Audubon.

There are a lot of wildlife species that live in New Jersey year-round and migrate through the Garden State.

But some species need our help, Ireland said. A state wildlife action plan lists more than 650 species that are in danger of one day being listed as threatened and endangered or being driven to extinction.

In total, there are over 3,000 species listed in the state wildlife action plan.

“Here in New Jersey, we really have an opportunity to focus on species that are still common and to take steps to have them remain common,” Ireland said.

One example is the American Goldfinch. Another is the Eastern Meadowlark, a beautiful, bright yellow bird that can be seen in grassland habitats in New Jersey.

Species like this need conservation action and grassland restoration, according to Ireland.

🐦 Recovering America's Wildlife Act

To help the state’s wildlife, Ireland said there is a bipartisan bill going through Congress called The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.

With habitat loss, climate change, invasive species, and emerging diseases taking their toll on our birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, and bees, this act will help at-risk species with cost-effective, collaborative conservation.

Piping Plover (Photo Credit: Chris Neff)
Piping Plover (Photo Credit: Chris Neff)

“The bill is aimed at funding proactive local efforts to recover thousands of at-risk wildlife species while creating jobs, and promoting the outdoor recreation economy. This could be the most significant investment in wildlife in a generation,” Ireland said.

The bill specifically is designed to provide funding to states to implement congressionally mandated wildlife action plans. Ireland said this, in large part, seeks to prevent species from becoming endangered.

🔴 RAWA has bipartisan support 🔵

“So, RAWA has debated during the last Congress that would have directed roughly 13 billion dollars over 10 years to states, territories, and tribes for conservation and restoration and protection of wildlife and habitat,” he said.

Across the nation, state agencies have identified 12,000 species in need of assistance. The wildlife action plans would guide the spending.

The bill passed the House in mid-June, Ireland said. It had 47 co-sponsors in the Senate, including 16 Republicans. But Ireland said it was excluded from the $1.7 trillion spending bill that moved through Congress in late December and was recently signed by President Joe Biden.

“So now, we really need action in this Congress. We need this Congress to pick this common-sense legislation back up and try to move it forward again,” he said.
Currently, there is no funding to help at-risk species in New Jersey.

If the bill is passed, New Jersey will receive more than $10 million annually, Ireland added.

Western meadowlark, rocky mountain arsenal wildlife refuge, western meadowlark
Eastern Meadowlark (AP)

The bill targets species not yet listed as endangered and non-game species. It’s really designed to dig into the state wildlife action plans, look at those species that rely on natural and managed habitat across the state, and take proactive action to avoid those species being listed in the future, Ireland explained.

💰 NJ wildlife's economic impact

He said it just makes sense to spend money on prevention because it’s more cost-effective in the long run.

Ireland stressed just how important New Jersey’s wildlife is to the state. Not only do we thrive in the presence of wildlife, but it’s also important to remember New Jersey has a non-trivial outdoor recreation economy exceeding $10 billion, supporting upwards of 100,000 jobs directly. So, habitat and species conservation has economic benefits.

“As people from all backyards get outside, interact with nature, and see species, that conservation ethic can grow. So, it’s good for the people. It’s good for our economy. It’s good for the state of New Jersey,” Ireland said.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at

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