Home > Uncategorized > Opposition Growing To DEP Bull’s Island Clearcut Plan

Opposition Growing To DEP Bull’s Island Clearcut Plan

Will DEP Commissioner Martin listen and abandon his fatally flawed plan?

[Update: 8/6/12 – “Mark in the Morning” column gets word out on Bull’s Island, see: N.J. full of natural resources, history that are worth preserving – end update]

Since we last posted on this issue, we are pleased to report that strong public opposition is growing to the DEP’s plans to clearcut 6 acres of magnificent 200 year old trees on the northern portion of Bull’s Island.

Among governing bodies, Delaware Township just joined Alexandrian Township, and the Delaware River Wild & Scenic Management Committee (and perhaps others) in opposition to the DEP plan.

US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers have also weighed in with regulatory oversight and enforcement actions in response to DEP’s actions on the Island.

The Delaware River advocacy community, led by Delaware Riverkeeper Network; the regional conservation community; NJ Audubon, NJ Sierra Club, and professional forestry community are joining the battle.

Here’s a flavor of their opposition.

Emile Devito, PhD, Manager of Science and Stewardship at NJ Conservation Foundation recently wrote DEP Commisioner Martin to oppose the clearcut plan and to warn DEP that their restoration approach is doomed to failure. Devito’s letter concluded:

My conclusions are derived from 33 years of experience in examining and measuring forest structure in floodplain forests along major rivers from the Raritan and Delaware River in New Jersey to the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers in Wisconsin:

  • If clear-cut, restoration in any of the relatively flat portion of the floodplain forest at Bull’s Island will almost certainly fail. Once the camping facilities are removed, the forest area should be added to the Bull’s Island Natural Area.
  • Low-cost restoration can be attempted along a few of the severely eroding or bare riverbanks, especially at the D&R Canal inlet, but even in these places the intensity of the floods is likely to render any restoration work moot.

We do not support the removal of the mature forest at Bull’s Island. We do not believe that any restoration plan for the island has a reasonable or decent chance of success. As described above, floods will dictate what happens at Bull’s Island, and restoration efforts will be futile. Plantings cannot be protected from deer, as any attempt at fencing will be destroyed by floods. The droughty sand and gravel soils will make successful establishment of plantings highly unlikely, as there are extended droughts and heat waves every summer. Deep raging floods will likely scour away any plantings before they are established.

Based on Devito’s analysis, NJCF issued an Action Alert to its members urging that they call DEP Commissioner Bob Martin (609-292-2885) to oppose the DEP’s Plan and Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission to reject the DEP’s application (email concerns to D&R CC ED marlendooley@comcast.net)

Well recognized ecological restoration forestry expert Leslie Sauer wrote the DRCC on July 29  to oppose the DEP plan (scroll down for letter):

Dear Commissioners,

This letter is a response to the proposed clearing of old-growth trees at Bulls Island State Park. As an expert in forest restoration, I could not disagree more strongly with the NJDEP.

The Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission will review NJDEP’s proposed plan to cut hundreds of mature trees from the north end of Bull’s Island. So far, the citizens of NJ, who own this State park, know very little about this plan, because it has involved no public participation and it is woefully incomplete, except about cutting the giant trees.

A large and powerful coalition of citizens, local governments, regional planners, ecologists, foresters, river advocates, environmental groups, birders, and park users has come out in opposition to the DEP’s “War on Killer Trees”.

Will DEP Commissioner Martin listen and abandon his fatally flawed plan?

At this point, I am very concerned that the D&R Canal Commission lacks the technical resources and institutional and political muscle to block DEP. They may even lack a quorum to block the DEP plan. 

And recall that Governor Christie and DEP Commissioner Martin last year tried to abolish the Commission entirely – a huge embarrassment that is probably motivating Martin to settle some political scores. For example, the Governor has not made appointments to the Commission, while Bob martin over at DEP has dragged his feet in approving staffing for the Commission. Lack of appointments makes getting a quorum difficult.

Only political pressure by  concerned citizens and direct action can block this hair brained DEP scheme. 

The DEP regulators are compromised because this is DEP Commissioner Martin’s plan and it fails basic scientific and legal tests. As we noted:

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.”

Sorry, no pictures today – TAKE ACTION – CALL GOVERNOR CHRISTIE (609-292-6000) and DEP Commissioner Martin (609-292-2885) to BLOCK THIS SCHEME!


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  1. Kim Yousey
    August 9th, 2012 at 01:28 | #1

    It brings a phrase to mind… In our governor’s own parlance, these trees are big enough to keep it from hitting Trenton

  1. August 19th, 2012 at 12:17 | #1
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