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The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is charging itself with violating environmental laws.
The NJ DEP’s Bureau of Coastal and Land Use Compliance and Enforcement cited the Division of Fish and Wildlife for illegally clearing 15 acres of protected wetlands. The Division of Fish and Wildlife intended to use the land to build a habitat for a species of bird, but in doing so, destroyed protected lands intended to protect two other species. Environmental groups complained, and the DEP agreed and charged itself.
According to the DEP website, the Division of Fish and Wildlife was in the process of clearing 21 acres of land to build a “meadow habitat” for the American woodcock, a bird in the sandpiper family that is in decline on the eastern seaboard because its meadow and scrub habitats have grown into full forests.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the situation began on March 6, when environmental groups in the state sent a letter to the DEP protesting the land clearing in the Glassboro Wildlife Management Area in Gloucester County in South Jersey. “‘Creation and management’ is a gross mischaracterization of the unlawful environmental damage that has occurred at this site: the wetland soil and flora that were previously undisturbed have been destroyed, and the mature forest that was already habitat for numerous rare species of plants and birds was clear-cut logged,” the groups wrote.
“At the present time, NJDEP has cleared the entire area,” they added. “All trees have been cut, and all stumps bulldozed. The wetlands and uplands have been made nearly indistinguishable, and the landscape is in the process of being leveled using land graders and earth movers. All natural resources – plants, animals, soils and surface geology – have been altered, removed or exterminated.”
The DEP responded to the letter by suspending the project on March 10. The Bureau of Coastal and Land Use later determined that the project had destroyed mature oak and pine forests in and near protected wetlands, and filled in some others. Some three acres of the cleared land had damaged habitat for two other bird species: the barred owl, which is threatened, and the red-shouldered hawk, which is endangered. Another 12 acres of freshwater wetland transition areas, which are also protected lands, were cleared of vegetation and soil.
A DEP spokesman told the Inquirer that it issued a letter of violation on April 6 “for unauthorized regulated activity.” By the end of the month, it would issue a penalty assessment. The notice includes a threat of penalties, but it is unclear exactly how the DEP fining itself would work. Under the conditions of the violation, the Division of Fish and Wildlife must submit a plan to restore the affected areas within 30 days, and open the process to the public. It must also propose additional environmentally beneficial measures.
The environmental miscue comes as New Jersey is dealing with a potential environmental disaster. In recent weeks, at least 13 whales have washed up on the shores of New Jersey, along with at least 25 dolphins. Additionally, a few porpoises have washed up on the Jersey Shore beaches, The Daily Wire reported.
The deaths of the aquatic mammals coincide with prep work for several offshore wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean, including three in New Jersey. Critics argue that the work, including sonar and seabed rock sampling, are responsible for the deaths. But Democratic Governor Phil Murphy has called their claims “disinformation” and said he would proceed with the projects. Federal authorities have also dismissed them.