Though it is the country’s most densely populated state, New Jersey is blessed with an impressive variety of plants, animals and supporting natural communities. From barrier beaches and coastal marshes at the ocean edge, through the floodplain forests and barrens of pine, across the fertile rolling hills of the piedmont, to the highlands, ridges, and valleys of northwestern New Jersey, the state is a profusion of flora and fauna.
Located at a biological crossroads, unique to the state’s geography, species as varied as the Pine Barrens tree frog and the Indiana Bat are at the northern limit of their range, while animals such as the northern goshawk and the blue-spotted salamander are at southern limit of their range in the state. With over five hundred recorded species, New Jersey ranks as one of the most diverse wildlife habitats in the country.
New Jersey also plays a central role to the lives of birds flying the extent of the planet. Shorebird populations that winter as far south as Tierra del Fuego rely on horseshoe crab eggs on the Delaware Bay to fuel their flights to their Arctic breeding grounds. And brightly patterned reptiles and delicate orchids throughout the state provide a backdrop to the several hundred passerine, butterfly, and dragonfly species that use the ocean coast and mountain ridges as migratory highways every year.
New Jersey has much to offer. To the north, the panoramic vistas available from atop the Kittatinny Ridge overlook the dense forests of hickory, oak and birch of the Delaware Valley. Directly to the east, sit the rugged, glacially sculpted hill country of the Highlands and their cascading waterfalls. In central New Jersey, visitors can experience our nation’;s first National Reserve, the Pine Barrens, an extensive wilderness tract along the middle-Atlantic seaboard consisting of over a million acres of sandy, acidic, soils supporting a contiguous Pitch Pine forest, with seemingly endless fragrant cedar swamps. And to the south, the wind sculpted coastal landscape of Island Beach State Park supports an array of plants and animals found nowhere else in NJ. Standing in stark contrast to the highly developed shore region, this resilient ribbon of 30 foot high sand dunes, forest, freshwater wetlands, and tidal marshes, is the last 9 mile stretch of natural coastal barrier island left in the state.
At first glance, it maybe hard to imagine such a diverse and abundant natural history in a place with such unyielding suburban sprawl spilling out from every major urban center. But for those willing to venture off the beaten path, one can experience the state’;s hidden treasures, with thanks to the wildlife refuges and state parks set aside by the efforts of visionary conservationists of years past.