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