The Garden State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently charged its Division of Fish and Wildlife for violating unauthorized habitat construction for the American woodcock.

The work indiscreetly displaced threatened and endangered birds such as barred owl and red-shouldered hawk. New Jersey’s Government is Facing Fire After Internal Damages Report Charges Unauthorized Habitat Construction Endangered Species Habitat Gets Destroyed as New Jersey’s Division of Fish and Wildlife Throws Habitat Construction Guidelines to Wind.

The recently exposed mishap by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife lies in violation of unauthorized habitat construction reported for the American woodcock. The ambitious habitat construction project was designed to offer new nesting grounds to the American woodcock, but what the project leaders failed to consider was potential damage to existing vulnerable and endangered species’ habitats.

The division’s activities caused the clearing of vegetation and the disturbance of soil in nearly three acres of land known as “exceptional resource value freshwater wetlands.” Before the construction started, this land had natural dwellings for the barred owl and red-shouldered hawk, which are labeled as threatened and endangered species, respectively.

Moreover, the project also involved the clearing and disturbance of an additional 12 acres of land near the wetlands known as transition areas, which also enjoys full legal protection against tampering.

The department acknowledged its violations and sent a violation notice to the same division that broke the guidelines mentioned in the notice. The famous SNAFU has violated state conservation laws and can thus avail its own penalties. The department did not respond to questions about potential fines – nor is it clear whether any money might change hands, given that the department is both the accuser and accused.

Environmental activists have been vocal about the department’s inadequate internal review process, claiming that such accidents show the essential need for better and more reliable monitoring.

Despite the department’s clarification that it was unaware of any work being done without authorization on its website, environmentalists have found that the case exhibits their lack of accountability and responsibility toward the conservation of threatened and endangered species residing through protected lands.

The project aimed to create new meadow habitats for the American woodcock; however, it ended up doing more damage than good, destroying mature oak and pine forests and filling in some wetlands. In early March, four conservation groups wrote to the department to express their displeasure about the work, and the agency issued the violation notice on April 6.

The department’s website shows that the environmental agency is deeply committed to protecting wetlands with unique habitats that host both native and migratory species. With increased public scrutiny and awareness in light of these recent mishaps, it is apparent the department must consult experts before approving any more projects that disturb the habitats of wildlife already facing threats from the climate crisis.

The Fish and Wildlife Division’s Bureau of Land Management must implement adequate soil conservation measures within ten days, and within 30 days, the DEP requires them to submit a plan to restore the site. This must include the removal of wood chips placed during the botched habitat construction project. By the end of April, the DEP plans on issuing a notice of penalty assessment.

Fish and Wildlife will also suggest more environmentally beneficial measures that the public will discuss during a specified public comment period about the case.

The current New Jersey environmental debacle illustrates the crucial need for appropriate environmental approval processes to involve rigorous assessments by experts to minimize damages to threatened and endangered species’ habitats. More than that, it further reveals that environmental and sustainability initiatives remain delicate issues that require careful implementation and monitoring not to cause more harm than good.