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NJ DEPT. OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION NEWS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
4/11/02
02/21

CONTACT: Elaine Makatura 609 292 9289

Study Shows New Jersey's Freshwater Wetlands
Mitigation Program Missed Opportunity for Net Increase in Acreage
DEP Commissioner Campbell Makes Changes to Improve the Program

TRENTON 04/11 -- New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today released the findings of a study designed to assess the success of the state's efforts to mitigate the loss of wetlands by creating new freshwater wetlands. The report shows that the program has been much less than successful. In fact, results of the 90-site study indicate a 22 percent net loss of wetland acreage and that only 45 percent of the created wetland acreage required under the state's program was achieved.

"New Jersey has long required that up to two acres of wetlands be created for every one acre lost," said Commissioner Campbell. "However, setting goals for a net increase in wetlands is futile if, in the end, your results show an actual net loss. The most important lesson we must learn from these results is that mitigation is not a substitute for avoiding and minimizing wetlands fill wherever possible."

The study began in 1998 to assess the state's wetlands mitigation program - focusing only on wetlands creation - in three areas: the percentage and type of acreage successfully created; whether the mitigation project met specific permit requirements; and, the quality of the created wetlands. In all areas, the results showed on average a less than 50 percent success rate.

Wetlands are critical natural resources because they perform vital ecological functions. They help store water and replenish our ground water supplies (importance of which is highlighted during a drought); filter out contaminants to improve the quality of our water resources; protect against flood conditions; prevent shoreline erosion; maintain habitats for plant and animal species; and support recreational opportunities.

"Wetlands mitigation will continue to be critical to achieving an increase in wetland acreage and quality," added Campbell. "This study confirms, however, that efforts to replace wetlands lost to development must be guided by better and more sound criteria and state oversight. The smart growth agenda led by Governor McGreevey will help us not only set but also reach this goal."

The study released today focused only on freshwater wetlands and creation methods - one of several wetland mitigation measures - for two main reasons. First, freshwater wetlands represent more than 75 percent of the state's total wetland acreage, with tidal wetlands making up the remainder. Second, DEP addressed created wetlands, as opposed to wetland restoration or enhancement, because it is the mitigation method least studied and the acreage boundaries are more readily defined.

On average, for each acre of wetland impacted or loss, 0.78 acres of wetlands were actually constructed, resulting in the 0.22 net loss. Some creation sites achieved no wetlands while others achieved in excess of the total proposed.

This study also shows that certain types of wetlands are more difficult to create. For example, construction of forested wetlands was much less successful than the creation of emergent wetlands. The study also found that three times the amount of open water - areas that do not serve the complete functions of the lost wetlands - was created than intended. Only 48 percent of the permit criteria were met for the created wetlands.

With respect to determining the quality of wetlands created, results show that only half of those wetlands created showed the potential to function as natural wetland systems over time.

"While the findings of this study are bleak, I want to commend the talented group of DEP professionals who have once again put New Jersey on the map in the area of wetlands research," said Bradley M. Campbell. "The study provides an honest baseline of the wetlands mitigation program, arming us with the information we need to improve the program and achieve better results in the future."

DEP has already taken some steps to improve the program by adopting new rules that require permittees to develop performance-based wetland mitigation requirements to ensure better planning, implementation and compliance. Some of the requirements include strengthening detailed site plans and water budgets. The study also helps to enhance the DEP's database capabilities and a monitoring protocol to better assess mitigation into the future.

To further help ensure the program's future success, Commissioner Campbell today announced new policy directives, including:

  • Requiring all projects be certified by a consulting biologist at the time of project completion. While most permits now require use of a consulting biologist, the practice is often to have the biologist sign-off only on the design and specifications rather than the completed project;
  • Requiring a third party certification of compliance with permit conditions for larger projects;
  • Strengthening the bonding requirements for all permits that include wetlands mitigation, ensuring the financial means to complete a successful project. These requirements had once been included in all permits but the practice was relaxed during the last Administration.
  • Devoting a portion of the Governor's five percent budget increase for enforcement to the wetlands permitting program;
  • Promoting the aggregation of small mitigation projects to a single large site or to a mitigation bank where oversight is more effective;
  • Requiring on-site meeting between DEP and construction designers and contractors prior to implementation of the mitigation project.

Under state law, impacts to natural wetlands require compensation through creation, enhancement, restoration and/or land preservation. Estimates show that New Jersey lost 39 percent of its wetlands through the 1970s with 20 percent of the loss occurring between the 1950s and the 1970s. The Legislature enacted the New Jersey Wetlands Act of 1970 and the New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act of 1987 to provide additional regulatory authority beyond federal law for dredge and fill activities.

New Jersey's wetland resources continue to be subject to increasing stress. As the nation's most densely populated state, New Jersey has experienced a population increase of about one-percent annually over the last decade. Recent data show that the state lost approximately 1,755 acres of wetlands per year between 1986 and 1995, before the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act was fully implemented.

Visit the DEP web site at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/dsr/wetlands/ for an electronic version of the study.


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