About Us

Edwin B. Forsythe Refuge was originally two distinct refuges: Brigantine and Barnegat.  They were established in 1939 and 1967 respectively, to protect tidal wetland and shallow bay habitat for migratory water birds. In 1984 they were combined under the Edwin B. Forsythe name, in honor of the late conservationist Congressman from New Jersey.  The refuge protects more than 48,000 acres of southern New Jersey coastal habitats which is actively managed for migratory birds. More than 82 percent of Forsythe refuge is wetlands, of which 78 percent is salt marsh salt marsh
Salt marshes are found in tidal areas near the coast, where freshwater mixes with saltwater.

Learn more about salt marsh
, interspersed with shallow coves and bays.  The refuge’s location in one of the Atlantic Flyway’s most active flight paths makes it an important link in seasonal bird migration. Its value for the protection of water birds and their habitat continues to increase as people develop the New Jersey shore for our own use. 

The refuge lies on the indigenous homelands of the Lenni Lenape. Lenni Lenape Indians were the first people to enjoy the wealth of seafood available in New Jersey. Lenni Lenape means “true people” in the language of the Delaware Indians. 

A wilderness area wilderness area
Wilderness areas are places untamed by humans. The Wilderness Act of 1964 allows Congress to designate wilderness areas for protection to ensure that America's pristine wild lands will not disappear. Wilderness areas can be part of national wildlife refuges, national parks, national forests or public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

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on the Mullica River in Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.
Wilderness Areas

The Brigantine National Wilderness Area comprises 6,681 acres of pristine saltmarsh and barrier beach/sand dune habitats subdivided into the Holgate (barrier beach and sand dunes), Little Beach Island (barrier beach, sand dunes, maritime forest, and saltmarsh islands), and Motts-Mullica (saltmarsh) units.  The United States Congress designated the Brigantine National Wilderness Area in 1975 to preserve refuge wetlands for the benefit of waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, beach-nesting birds and other wildlife.  Both the Holgate and Little Beach Island units are two of the few remaining undeveloped barrier beaches in New Jersey in addition to being one of the most important nesting areas in the State for the piping plover listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

A view of the back dunes found on Little Beach Island.

The Wilderness also preserves the original site of one of the many life-saving stations found along the Atlantic coast before the creation of the Coast Guard. Station #120 was built on the edge of Pullen's Island (present day Little Beach) in the early 1870s. 

In 1977, Congress acknowledged the uniqueness of the Brigantine Wilderness Area by naming it as a Class I air quality area. Congress charged the Service with the responsibility of protecting the air quality and air quality related values (AQRVs) of the area from manmade pollution.

For more information about Brigantine Wilderness, visit wilderness.net.

Our Mission

Refuge Purpose

Each unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System is established to serve a statutory purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its lands and waters. All activities on those acres are reviewed for compatibility with this statutory purpose.  

Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (NWR, refuge) is located in Atlantic, Burlington and Ocean Counties, New Jersey. In order to meet specific refuge and other broader Service directives, the following purposes were established for the Edwin B. Forsythe NWR:

  • For lands acquired under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act (16 U.S.C. §715-715r), as amended, “…for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds….” (16 U.S.C. §715d).
  •  “…the development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources….” (16 U.S.C. §742f(a)(4), Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956).
  •  “…the conservation of the wetlands of the Nation in order to maintain the public benefits they provide and to help fulfill international obligations (regarding migratory birds)…” (16 U.S.C. §3901(b), 100 Stat. 3583 Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986).
  •  “…to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” (78 Stat. 890:16 U.S.C. 1121 (note), 1131-1136, Wilderness Act of 1964).
Refuge Vision

Each unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System is established to serve a statutory purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its lands and waters. All activities on those acres are reviewed for compatibility with this statutory purpose.  

Our History

The Brigantine Railroad

The marshes of the Refuge were once a big part of the Brigantine Beach Railroad. The railroad was constructed as an expansion of the Camden and Atlantic Railroad. Tracks were constructed through uplands to make an offshoot from Pomona to the end of Great Creek Road in Galloway. Today, that spot is the intersection between the refuge’s South Dike and Gull Pond Tower Road.

From there, nearly 2-1/2 miles of trainbed were constructed in the marsh east towards Brigantine Island. After refuge establishment, that bed was raised significantly to create the impoundment we see today, which allows management of migratory birds throughout the year. Beyond the bed, a wooden trestle was constructed across Grassy Sound to carry tourists and goods to Brigantine as tourism there flourished.

While the Brigantine Beach Railroad was never a financial success, it was a severe storm on September 12, 1903 that forced its demise when much of the trestle was destroyed. Some of the metal tracks were salvaged within a few years after closure of the route; however, most of what remained stayed in place until metal scrapping surged during World Wars I and II for munitions and planes. Today, some of the trestle can still be seen (by boat) in Grassy Sound.

For more complete information read Chapter 5 from Atlantic City Railroad: The Royal Route to the Sea by W. George Cook (1980) click here.

Establishment of the Refuge

On September 22, 1984, the Brigantine NWR (established 1939) and the Barnegat NWR (established 1967) were joined to create one refuge in Southern New Jersey named after Congressman Edwin B. Forsythe. Though born in Chester County, PA in 1916, Congressman Forsythe spent most of his life in Moorestown, NJ, Burlington County. He served on a variety of township boards and was the Mayor of Moorestown from 1957 to 1962. He became a member of the NJ State Senate in 1964, and served as Senate President in 1968. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representative’s 91st Congress in 1970, and he served seven consecutive terms until his untimely death on March 29, 1984.

The Legacy of Congressman Edwin B. Forsythe

Congressman Forsythe was known as a low-key but highly dedicated and extremely conscientious person. He was “not a showboat,” but a very thoughtful, able, forward-looking, and visionary public servant who had the highest integrity, compassion and courage. Forsythe was a known defender of the National Wildlife Refuge System, a fisherman, and enjoyed the coastal habitats of his home state, particularly Brigantine and Barnegat National Wildlife Refuges.

During the time he was in Congress, changes were occurring on the environmental policy landscape. Rachel Carson had earlier published Silent Spring in 1962 to raise awareness about pesticides. In 1968, Apollo 8 took the first photograph of Earth from space, which gave people a new perspective about its fragility. The National Environmental Policy Act was created in 1970, which required all federal actions to consider the environment, and the first Earth Day was celebrated that year. Nationally elected officials across the board were talking about the importance of protecting the environment as the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration were established.

Congressman Forsythe was incredibly active in the establishment of key pieces of national legislation. He served on the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee where he contributed to legislation affecting U.S. maritime policy, the Coast Guard, the Panama Canal, and the Outer Continental Shelf. He also served on the Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and the Environment where he worked on fisheries development and protection, wildlife management, and environmental protection.

Those Committee assignments allowed Congressman Forsythe to be significantly involved with the establishment of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. In 1976, he was the primary sponsor of the Fishery Conservation and Management Act (the 200-mile limit offshore fishing law), which led to the creation of regional fisheries management councils and assigned the Coast Guard enforcement responsibilities in the conservation zones.

While the Endangered Species Protection Act was passed in 1966, it was largely limited to allowing the federal government to identify and “list” species as endangered with some limited protections, and to preserve and acquire habitats for those species. After a 1973 conference with 80 nations of the world, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed, which was the first unified global comment on species protection and trade. Later that year, Congressman Forsythe’s efforts in this new world landscape included upgrading species protection in the United States with the passing of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This act was much more robust than the 1966 legislation: it made plants and all invertebrates eligible for federal protection; it addressed “take” issues that resulted in impacts to listed species; it required all federal agencies to conserve listed species and to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if their actions were to affect them; and, most profoundly, it prohibited federal agencies from authorizing, funding, or carrying out any action that would jeopardize a listed species or destroy or modify its "critical habitat."

Shortly before his passing of lung cancer, he was instrumental in helping to acquire about 4,000 acres of marsh habitat known as the “Oak Island” area of the refuge near the Mullica River. About a month after Forsythe’s death in March 1984, the Congress approved H.J. Res. 537: Designation of Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. A renaming ceremony was held at the refuge in Galloway Township on September 22 that year. At that time, a memorial plaque inlaid on a boulder was unveiled and still rests in the headquarters area.

It is clear that Congressman Forsythe was dearly missed. In honor of his environmental passion, July 1, 1984 to July 1, 1985 was declared by the U.S. Congress as the “Year of the Ocean” in the United States. The intention of the declaration was to increase awareness and education of all the ocean has to offer and why its protection is important. His environmental legacy is remembered today at his namesake refuge.

Information for this article was taken from “Edwin B. Forsythe, Late a Representative from New Jersey, Memorial Addresses Delivered in Congress,” US Government Printing Office, 1984.