New Jersey recently surpassed 300,000 acres of preserved open space in Wildlife Management Areas, which is the most of any state in the northeast. WMA is the designation for a tract that can be used for hunting and fishing as well as hiking, birding, and other recreational purposes. (Contrast this to wildlife refuges or parks, where hunting is not allowed.)
Unfortunately, sharing the same space for different uses can sometimes be a cause for conflict or resentment, especially between hunters and naturalists. But as long as this is handled properly - with clear rules that are known publicly - conflicts can be reduced.
WMAs make up more than 44 percent of all state-owned open space, but are distinct from other preserved parcels. The object of WMAs is to preserve habitat important to native wildlife species, while also keeping those areas open to activities such as bird watching and hunting.
In the late 1800s, public and private conservation efforts began to bring back New Jersey's native wildlife, which was killed off or pushed out by centuries of farming and lumbering that destroyed their habitat. Hunting and fishing regulations were already well in place by 1932, when the state's Board of Fish and Game Commissioners--what is now know as the state Fish and Game Council--purchased the first WMA.
It was a 387-acre Sussex County parcel called the Walpack Tract, and at the time wildlife authorities referred to the land as "public shooting and fishing grounds."
For another 30 years, the state used fees collected from hunting and fishing licenses to preserve a total of 100,000 WMA acres. But in 1961, voter approval of the state's Green Acres program initiated a new era of land preservation, using public funds to purchase WMA property as well as other types of open space.
Green Acres celebrated its own milestone last year with the acquisition and preservation of 38,000 acres for open space. It was the largest amount preserved under the program in a single year, and included 8,000 acres designated as WMAs.
Other properties included in the WMA network in 2005 were 852 acres added to the Bear Swamp WMA in Sussex County, 1,074 acres added to the Paulinskill WMA in Sussex County and 529 acres added to the Wild Cat Ridge WMA in Morris County.