New Jersey Declares Stealth War on “Killer Trees”
DEP Plans Emergency Clear-Cut of Bull’s Island State Park on Delaware River
Trenton — New Jersey officials are planning to clear-cut more than 200 trees at Bull’s Island State Park without public notice or a restoration plan, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) may use “emergency” exemptions to skirt outside review of its plan to denude more than 5 acres of parkland.
Bull’s Islands is a spectacular scenic, recreational, and environmental gem on the banks of the Delaware River, a congressionally-designated Wild and Scenic River. It forms a key element of one of the nation’s most recognized linear parks, the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park. On June 28, 2011, a camper was tragically killed and his wife injured when a tree fell on their tent. The huge sycamore had snapped at its root but had passed seasonal inspection earlier that year. DEP announced it would conduct a health assessment of trees but did not disclose its results or their plans, despite repeated inquiries by PEER.
Records obtained by PEER under the Open Public Records Act indicate that DEP management has green-lighted the clear-cutting of more than 200 trees and removing “all vegetative matter” from the northern portion of Bull’s Island (from the wing dam to the tip). DEP adopted this extreme approach despite –
- Its own consultant Report, while concluding that “a majority of trees do pose a high to critical risk of failure” did not address clear-cutting, instead recommending that the inherent risks be managed: “Traffic in this section should be limited to reduced or excluded…”
- DEP has already permanently closed the northern portion of the island to camping and will demolish the bathhouse and all “camping features” thus obviating nearly all risk to the public ; and
- DEP lacks a restoration plan. Nor has it developed a plan to minimize habitat and water quality damage from bulldozing the island, which abuts the major water supply for central New Jersey.
“This harebrained scheme to wipe out supposedly killer trees should be halted in its tracks,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that the condemned trees average 100 feet in height, over 120 years of age, 46-inches diameter-at-breast-height (DBH) and a canopy spread of over 60 feet. “This magnificent old growth is what people go to parks to experience.”
Perhaps as flawed as the substance of its plan was the backdoor process employed by DEP, including:
- Absence of any environmental impact assessment due to DEP upper management decisions to pursue “emergency permits” and “waivers” of ordinary reviews;
- DEP Commissioner Martin approved the tree removal plan before the consultant’s report was even submitted to DEP. His staff have prepared bid documents to sell saw-timber quality lumber; and
- Contrary to public statements by DEP officials that any tree removal would be subject to future DEP permits and the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission review, the Bull’s Island State Park Supervisor and Canal Commission representative were directed NOT to issue any public notification or to even discuss the issues publicly.
“DEP officials have deliberately dissembled and dodged questions because they know this scheme could not stand up under public scrutiny,” added Wolfe, a former DEP analyst, noting that the Canal Commission has yet to even receive a permit application from DEP. “We fear that DEP will seek permission only after the trees are already felled.”
The Canal Commission, which must review and approve all state actions in the Canal Park, meets tomorrow, April 18th, at its office in Stockton.
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability