Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

When Earth Day was established 40 years ago, the Pine Barrens in South Jersey & the Great Swamp in North Central Jersey were seriously threatened with destruction. A huge dam had been proposed for the Delaware River just north of The Water Gap. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel had opened the possibility of a similar crossing between Cape May & Delaware. The Tocks Island Dam was probably never really feasible for geologic reason, but the Army Corps of Engineers hadn't been convinced, & land was purchased. Suburban sprawl was wrecking rural Jersey - that couldn't be stopped, so preservation became key. Since development was synonymous with "progress" in the minds of most people, the early conservation efforts had an oddly conservative feel to them in what were - & still are - Republican areas of the State. Hungry developers tried to paint conservation groups as a bunch of local kooks - suburban women in many instances - in alliance with national kook organizations. "You can't stop progress."

Every battle had at least two fronts: the impulse of federal & state agencies to build big, & local zoning boards, which more often than not were favorable to land development & developers. Jersey's large townships were run by men with little vision of even controlled development. Some of Jersey's worse traffic bottlenecks today are the result of bad planning decades ago. With rising property values, struggling dairy farmers near the new Interstates no longer viewed their farms as family heirlooms - they couldn't. Those that didn't sell off piecemeal to stay in business simply sold the whole spread & retired. Who could blame them?

We have no dam, no bridge-tunnel, a Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, & the core of the Pine Barrens intact. Those are achievements. Now the focus has shifted to "green" energy, & in Jersey, watershed protection. We're not much of a dairy state anymore, although we still have considerable industry in "Jersey Fresh" truck farms & in cranberry & blueberry production. Ironically, our wetlands in the formerly industrialized parts of the state are now more interesting than the marshes at the shore.

A Naturalist Along the Jersey Shore by Joanna Burger.
The best part of this book is her account of staying on a sand island in Brigantine Wildlife Sanctuary to study egrets. There's an element of child fantasy to the experience.

Pine Barrens Ecosystem & Landscape edited by Richard T. Forman.
Although much of this book is statistical & scientific data, it's loaded with interesting information, maps, & descriptions, so just browsing through it at random transforms the Barrens from a monotonous flat landscape into a large region extending from the Raritan River to Cape May, from Delaware River to the ocean, with distinctly varying attributes, flora & fauna.

Great Storms of the Jersey Shore
One of the best Christmas presents I ever received from my sister. A coffee table book that really shows how vulnerable the Jersey shore is to a direct hurricane hit or a slow-moving noreastern.

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I've taken Little Contrarian to both the GSNWR and the Pine Barrens, and both of us prefer the latter. My blood pressure drops 20 points when we are alone among the pines.
25 Nature Spectacles in New Jersey - Joanna Burger. Looks good. Haven't read it.
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