New Jersey Environmental Agency fines itself for destroying environment

Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) destroyed a protected animal habitat to create another one. Now it has to fine itself.

The DEP has charged itself with violating environmental laws, after its 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 irony of this situation is not lost on environmental groups as well as those who find the department redundant. While the former are concerned about the DEP’s ability to hold itself accountable, the latter see the action of the DEP as a point of mockery.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife intended to use the land to build a habitat for a species of bird, the American woodcock, which is in decline on the eastern seaboard due to the loss of meadow and scrub habitats. However, in doing so, they destroyed protected lands that were intended to protect two other species: the threatened barred owl and the endangered red-shouldered hawk.

This situation came to light in March, when environmental groups sent a letter to the DEP protesting the land clearing in the Glassboro Wildlife Management Area in Gloucester County in South Jersey.

In response to the letter, the DEP suspended 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 the barred owl and red-shouldered hawk, and another 12 acres of freshwater wetland transition areas, which are also protected lands, were cleared of vegetation and soil.

The DEP issued a letter of violation on April 6 “for unauthorized regulated activity,” and is set to issue a penalty assessment by the end of the month. It remains unclear how the DEP fining itself will work.

The DEP has not yet commented on the potential cost of the violation, or whether it will take further action to hold itself accountable for the destruction of protected wetlands.