20,000 Protest New Jersey Plan to Clear-Cut Bull’s Island
Tree Removals Expand as State Eschews Public Review or Expert Consultation
Trenton — Ignoring mounting public opposition, New Jersey is proceeding with an expanded plan to de-forest Bull’s Island State Park along the Delaware River scenic corridor, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which has gathered more than 20,000 signatures in protest of the plan. With cutting slated to begin this fall, state officials have yet to reveal their precise plan or to consult with other federal and state agencies that have expressed concerns.
Bull’s Island hosts a magnificent floodplain forest, including stands of rare 200-year-old sycamore old growth. The Island is a bird watchers mecca, sheltering eagles and rare migratory songbirds such as the Cerulean and Yellow-throated warblers. It is a key component of the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park, one of the most renowned scenic corridors east of the Mississippi.
In 2011, a camper was tragically killed and his wife injured when a huge sycamore snapped and fell on their tent. The Island’s northern end where they were camping has since been closed to all camping. In the ensuing months, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) conducted a tree “health assessment” and developed a “comprehensive management plan,” according to its website.
Despite ecological objections from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other agencies, the DEP has –
- Enlarged the original plan from the 5-acre northern end to address the much larger central (“down river”) portion of the island. Several scores of trees have been marked, apparently for removal across an area covering half of the 88-acre Island;
- Proceeded in secrecy, denying public record requests for plans while indicating that DEP will develop its plan internally without consulting any outside agencies or experts; and
- Ignored alternative approaches. Its own internal consultant, for example, recommended that the inherent risks be managed through traffic and use restrictions, not cutting – a suggestion which appears to have been ignored.
“There is no reason state forest management should be treated as a state secret,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, who has made numerous attempts to disgorge DEP plans. “DEP should disclose not only what it intends to cut but what and when it plans to restore. These plans should be subjected to public review and comment.” The DEP plan is still not on tomorrow’s Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission monthly agenda despite requests by the Commission and the public over the past 6 months.
PEER is urging that the entire Island be made a no-cut zone as is currently the case for the southern portion of the Island, a designated natural area. Although other public agencies and private ecological experts have raised a wide variety of sylvicultural, habitat and erosion issues, DEP appears to be relying solely on the assessment of root health from one tree-cutting firm which, presumably, would have a bias for recommending removal.
“By concentrating on individual trees, DEP has lost sight of the forest – and its values,” Wolfe added, noting that he ultimately expects 50,000 to sign the PEER petition protesting DEP Bull’s Island plan. “This tremendous petition outpouring demonstrates that people across the country, not just from New Jersey, care what happens to Bull’s Island.”