Originally appeared on New Jersey Newsroom.
249 acres in Eagleswood and 136 acres in Stafford
The state Green Acres Program has purchased 385 acres of forests in the Barnegat Bay watershed, and Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said Monday the agency is on pace to preserve some 3,000 acres in the watershed by the end of the year.
The Green Acres State Land Acquisition Program purchased the land, encompassing two separate properties, for $607,052 from International Recycling Systems. The acquisitions are intended to preserve high-quality Pinelands habitat that will help protect water quality in the headwaters of Cedar Run, Westecunk Creek and Mill Creek, all tributaries of Barnegat Bay.
The properties - 249 acres in Eagleswood and 136 acres in Stafford - will be added to the Stafford Forge Wildlife Management Area, managed by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Both properties consist of pine and oak forests that provide suitable habitat for species such as the state-endangered Pine Barrens tree frog, the state-threatened northern pine snake and the pine warbler.
At more than 11,500 acres, Stafford Forge is one of New Jersey's largest wildlife management areas. The area is popular with hikers, canoeists, bird watchers, hunters and nature lovers.
Since launching an effort to restore the ecologically stressed bay in December 2010, the state Department of Environmental Protection has set its sights on preserving 50,000 acres in the watershed. Martin said protected land helps filter and control stormwater that can carry harmful nutrients into the bay.
“The Christie administration remains steadfast in its commitment to improving water quality in Barnegat Bay, an ecologically and economically vital asset to the state," Martin said. "The preservation of land is a critical component of Governor Christie's 10-point comprehensive restoration plan for the bay."
The Christie administration has committed nearly $3 million to the preservation of more than 2,000 acres in the watershed so far, including projects that have added 180 acres to the DEP's Forestry Resource Education Center in Jackson, expanded Double Trouble State Park by 306 acres, and assisted Ocean County in preserving 836 acres of Pinelands in Ocean Township.
In addition, the Green Acres Program has reached agreement on a project that will permanently protect a 436-acre Boy Scout camp in Ocean County.