Monday, November 12, 2012

Maybe the problem is with the word 'trees'

On the Garden State Parkway, down near Cape May, New Jersey, there are three exits that are not what one would expect on a major highway. These exits have no on and off ramps, instead they are intersections with red lights. For years the highway engineers, and many others, have been saying that something ‘should be done.’ What they mean is that these exits should be the sort of exits that one would expect on a major highway -- after all, the many beachgoers need to get to and from their destinations safely and quickly. Now it seems that 125 million dollars of federal and state money have been found to fix the exits. Good news, right? Well, listen to the rest of the story before you make up your mind.

Along this same stretch of highway, between mile markers 9 and 11 to be exact, on the ocean side, there is a strip of mature native forest separating the highway full of fast cars from the homes and schools. The forest contains tall tulip polar trees, ancient hollies, nut-bearing hickories, colorful sassafras, red cedars sheltering birds, shrubs covered with berries; and this is just a short list made after one stop. There are probably no rare plants in there, but maybe there are – no one I spoke with knew of a vegetation survey. This forest is protecting the nearby residents from the noise and the air pollution produced by the highway cars just a short distance away; it is feeding the birds as they migrate up and down the coast; it is cleaning the polluted storm water that runs off the highway and toward the wetlands; it is absorbing the carbon dioxide that is changing our sea level; it is beautiful, and it is home to other beautiful creatures.

The sticking point is that the highway ‘fixers’ do not want to disrupt traffic too much while they are doing the fixing. So the plan is to put a temporary road….wait for it….right where the forest now stands. Not to worry, say the engineers, when the highway is ‘improved’ they will erect a wall to buffer the residents from noise. Twenty-six acres of trees will be cut, but 19 acres of trees will be replanted after the construction is finished.
Almost sounds reasonable, almost. Maybe the problem is with the word ‘trees;’ because I don’t think there is any way the ‘trees’ they plan to remove will be compensated for by the ‘trees’ they plan to plant in that post-construction zone. I think it is a very bad idea to remove this particular forest to create a temporary road. People everywhere are urged to plant trees because of their many environmental benefits, and while people everywhere are trying to do the right thing, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority is planning to undo the good they are doing. Forest cover continues to decline.

Local residents are asking Governor Chris Christy to step in. I hope he does. I am not an expert on the situation, but from the little I have read, and seen, this precious forest should stay.

All photos taken from the NJ forest discussed in this post. (by Maloof)

1 comment:

  1. There are a number of odd little ecosystems like that in the midst of urban environments. Some freeway islands are right in the middle of interstates. Others are between railroad tracks and major roads. The oldest are generally between two different sets of railroad tracks, which were once roads, some of them Indian roads that led down to Mesoamerica and sometimes settler roads. Somebody local has to take a look and see what is there. At the very minimum, the soil and leaf debris should be saved and used elsewhere. Many contain historic sites of various sorgts.


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