New Jersey War on “Killer Trees” Violates Federal Law
Bull’s Island Is Habitat for Endangered Bat and Protected Migratory Birds
Trenton — Ongoing and planned forestry work on Bull’s Island State Park is at odds with federal wildlife protections, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which today asked the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to intervene. New Jersey officials are cutting old growth sycamore trees and plan to clear-cut more than 200 trees from state parkland on the banks of the Delaware River.
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has not consulted with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service which enforces the Endangered Species and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts. The giant sycamores on Bull’s Island provide ideal shelter for a variety of wildlife, including the critically endangered Indiana bat as well as the Cerulean Warbler and a dozen other protected migratory birds. The Island also abuts protected bald eagle foraging habitat.
DEP actions that are the focus of the PEER complaint include:
- Cutting several large sycamores during the height of nesting season. Scores of additional trees are tagged, apparently for removal; and
- A plan to denude the northern portion of Bull’s Island (from the wing dam to the tip).
“Thinning trees during nesting and roosting season flouts basic wildlife management tenets,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that the area is also within a Wild & Scenic River corridor and DEP is contravening the multi-agency management plan it signed. “The state is managing this unique river park like a municipal golf course which gets mowed whether it needs it or not.”
In a separate operation, DEP dredged the Delaware & Raritan Canal in violation of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local Soil Conservation District permits. The state agency also bulldozed riparian vegetation and dumped dredge fill along 450 feet of the Delaware River bank. In response to a PEER complaint, the Corps has halted the dredging and ordered restoration of the riverfront.
Federal wildlife laws protect both the animals and the habitat upon which they depend. Moreover, detailed federal guidance on how these lands are supposed to be managed stresses the need to minimize tree clearing, to avoid digging and dozing and, above all, to avoid cutting trees and branches during nesting season. Not only do current DEP actions violate these protective measures but the agency’s plan to clear-cut a large portion of the Island destroys much of its wildlife habitat value.
“State officials are not immune from prosecution for violating federal wildlife laws,” Wolfe added. “It would behoove the DEP to consult with all its partners – federal, regional and local – before blundering forward on its own.”
See Fish & Wildlife Service guidance on Indiana bat
View Fish & Wildlife Service management plan for the Cerulean Warbler
Examine the Wild & Scenic River management plan for lower Delaware
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