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Natural Areas Program
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The New Jersey Legislature established the Natural Areas System within the Department of Environmental Protection in 1961, realizing that the development and alteration of habitats in New Jersey ultimately leads to the loss of species, vegetative communities and natural ecosystems that contribute immeasurably to our quality of life. The Natural Areas Act created a kind of Noah’s Ark for the natural features of the state, setting aside certain ecologically significant areas using a stricter set of rules than those governing other state-owned lands. Today, the Natural Areas System consists of 43 designated natural areas encompassing almost 40,000 acres, and extends from the Dryden Kuser Natural Area in High Point State Park to Cape May Point Natural Area on the tip of Cape May peninsula.

Natural Areas enjoy an exceptional degree of protection. System lands may not be sold, leased or exchanged, and they may not be altered in any way without the approval of the DEP. Although boundary revisions are possible, only legislation may remove an area from the System. When an area becomes part of the Natural Areas System, the DEP is required to develop and adopt a comprehensive management plan to ensure the continued protection of the ecosystems and species found within the area. The Natural Areas Council, a seven-member board appointed by the governor, advises the Commissioner on all matters relating to the System. The Natural Areas System Rules at N.J.A.C. 7:5A provide detailed procedures for classification and designation of natural areas, development of management plans, allowable uses and practices, procedures for conducting research and scientific activities, and revising boundaries. The rules also contain a list of all designated State Natural Areas, including a management objective for each.

Ongoing management activities in natural areas range from periodic survey to monitor the status of an endangered plant to research on restoration of a natural forest ecosystem. In the Batsto Natural Area, Atlantic and Burlington counties, a program is underway to monitor and manage populations of the state endangered bog asphodel (Narthecium americanum), a yellow-flowered lily restricted worldwide to a portion of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Since 1999, the program has conducted experimentation to foster the regeneration of Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) in New Jersey’s highest elevation cedar swamp at the Dryden Kuser Natural Area, Sussex County. Suppression of hardwood vegetation and exclusion of deer appear to be key factors in unleashing cedar in this swamp forest. In the Island Beach Southern Natural Area, Ocean County, colonies of the invasive nonindigenous plant Japanese sedge (Carex kobomugi), which outcompetes native vegetation and may destabilize coastal dunes, are being removed and replaced with our native American beachgrass.

The DEP is committed to providing public access to natural areas as long as it does not conflict with the goal of preservation of natural diversity. Protection is combined with the opportunity for a broad range of public activities including scientific research, education, hiking, hunting, fishing and boating. The scientific community is encouraged to perform research, particularly that which will contribute to our understanding and management of these lands and the species they support. Contact the Office of Natural Lands Management for guidance on requirements for conducting research in natural areas.

 

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Copyright © State of New Jersey, 1996-2004
Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: January 4, 2007

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