NJDEP issues violations to its own bureau for destroying 15 acres of protected wetlands at Glassboro WMA
Apr 12, 2023
TRENTON, NJ – The NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) Bureau of Coastal & Land Use Compliance & Enforcement has issued a Notice of Violation to another division of NJDEP, the Division of Fish & Wildlife, for illegally clearing nearly 15 acres of protected wetlands and wetlands transition areas at the Glassboro Wildlife Management Area.
The action comes after NJ Conservation Foundation, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, South Jersey Land and Water Trust, and Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River sent a letter to NJDEP alleging a violation of the Freshwater Wetlands Act and urging the Department to cease a project that removed all trees and stumps and bulldozed the site in order to create habitat for American Woodcock, a game species.
Fish & Wildlife’s activities took place in February without an opportunity for public comment. The project was suspended March 10 following the protests from conservation organizations.
The NJDEP’s Bureau of Coastal & Land Use Compliance & Enforcement, which issued the violations last week, determined that nearly three acres of freshwater wetlands damaged during the project provided suitable habitat for the state’s threatened barred owl and endangered red-shouldered hawk. Nearly 12 more acres within a freshwater wetland transition area, described by the bureau as having “exceptional resource value,” were cleared of vegetation and soils were disturbed by Fish & Wildlife’s habitat project.
NJ Conservation’s Co-Executive Director, Tom Gilbert, said they are glad NJDEP is taking the violations of the Freshwater Wetlands Act seriously.
“This should never have happened, so they must also take steps to improve their clearly inadequate internal review process and meaningfully engage the public,” said Gilbert. “No significant projects should move forward without being subject to comprehensive review with public input. Our public lands deserve better.”
Among the conditions for settling the violations at the Glassboro WMA, Fish & Wildlife must submit a restoration plan for the site within 30 days of receiving the Notice of Violation and provide an opportunity for public input on that plan.
“Pinelands Preservation Alliance thanks NJDEP for being accountable for their actions, but we also need the public to trust that current projects are being evaluated with appropriate rigor,” said Jaclyn Rhoads, Assistant Executive Director of the Alliance. “DEP should provide a list of current projects on their website for the public’s review. It is because of the public that we were able to stop further destruction of this landscape.”
“South Jersey Land and Water Trust appreciates NJDEP’s acknowledgement of the unfortunate habitat damage caused in the Glassboro WMA,” said Janet Eisenhauser, President of the Trust. “We look forward to our continued partnering in our joint mission to protect our critical natural habitats in South Jersey and throughout the State.”