Bobcats are New Jersey’s only native wildcat. But they’re not wild about people! Just ask Tyler Christensen, a photographer and wildlife researcher who has spent years stalking bobcats, considered endangered in New Jersey.
“I’ve never seen a bobcat in person here in New Jersey,” says Tyler. “They’re so secretive, they avoid people like the plague. You can study these cats your whole life and not see one.” It doesn’t help that bobcats are active mainly at night and during twilight hours.
That’s why remote photography is a priceless tool for Tyler and other bobcat researchers. Tyler has captured many bobcat images using unmanned, motion-triggered cameras.
This past January, acting on a tip about bobcat sightings along the route of the proposed PennEast gas pipeline in Hunterdon and Mercer counties, Tyler set up remote cameras at seven locations.
It took three months, but his efforts paid off. In March, one of Tyler’s remote cameras along the pipeline route captured a clear image of a bobcat that was later verified by wildlife experts.
The image is evidence that bobcats are expanding their range beyond Warren, Sussex, Morris and Passaic counties.
It was only about 40 ago that bobcats had essentially vanished from New Jersey due to habitat loss.
Bobcat restoration efforts began in the late 1970s, when state wildlife officials trapped cats in Maine and brought them to New Jersey. From 1978 to 1982, 24 bobcats were released in sections of Warren, Sussex and Morris counties north of Interstate 80. In 1991, the bobcat was placed on the state’s endangered species list.
It appears that they are now on the rebound, although exact numbers are as elusive as the cats themselves.
The state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program counts bobcat numbers and monitors population trends. The state uses a number of methods, including trapping bobcats and outfitting them with radio collars, using trained dogs to detect bobcat scat in the woods, and installing video cameras at highway locations where animals are known to use drainage culverts and stream crossings to get from one side of the road to the other.
Another source of data, sadly, includes dead bobcats found along roadsides, the victims of motor vehicle collisions. Researchers from the Endangered and Nongame Species Program collect the bodies, test the DNA and keep track of “mortality hot spots.”
Conservationists are working to protect bobcat habitat in northern New Jersey. The New Jersey Chapter of The Nature Conservancy recently launched “Bobcat Alley,” a project to create a corridor of preserved land connecting the New Jersey Highlands with the Kittatinny Ridge, the easternmost edge of the Appalachian Mountains in New Jersey.
About a third of Bobcat Alley’s 32,000 acres are preserved, and The Nature Conservancy hopes to preserve another 3,500 acres within the next five years.
It remains to be seen what measures will be taken to protect bobcats in other parts of this state we’re in – especially areas that would be impacted by the PennEast pipeline, should it be built.
PennEast previously stated that it has no plans to survey for bobcat in order to avoid or minimize impacts on the species, claiming that the pipeline route does not contain suitable bobcat habitat. And the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) opted not to require PennEast to assess the environmental damage the project would cause to New Jersey’s natural resources, including rare animals like bobcats and their habitats.
Clearly, judging from Tyler Christensen’s photo, there’s much more to be learned about bobcat habitat in the Hunterdon-Mercer area.
Should PennEast apply again for permits, it will be up to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to closely scrutinize the impacts the pipeline would have on bobcats and other endangered, threatened and special concern species.
The Endangered and Nongame Species Program has done a great job restoring bobcats in New Jersey, so let’s hope the Department of Environmental Protection will take action to protect their habitats and ensure their continued recovery in this state we’re in.
To learn more about bobcats in New Jersey, go to www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/ensp/pdf/en d-thrtened/bobcat.pdf. For more about the Bobcat Alley project, visit The Nature Conservancy’s website at www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/ regions/northamerica/unitedsta tes/newjersey/explore/new- jersey-bobcat-alley.xml.
And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation in Morristown.