Researchers from Rowan and Rutgers University have recently released a new report looking at the changes in NJ’s land use from 1986 to 2007. A prior report looked at the changes from 1995 to 2002. This report adds the period between 2002 to 2007. This report shows some very amazing facts.
The rate of development in NJ increased by 7% from 2002 to 2007. From 1995 to 2002 NJ lost an average of 15,123 acres per year to urbanization, but that increased to 16,061 acres per year from 2002 to 2007. As we continued to increase urbanization in the State of New Jersey we lost forests, wetlands, open space, and forestlands. These land use changes have ramifications. For example we lost 66.3 square miles of forest over 21 years. This loss of land to urbanization has many negative environmental impacts. The loss of forests has increased the fragmentation of habitat and has created more fringe areas. Species that rely on large areas of habitat will have less large areas to hunt, bred and to live. Fringe habitat encourages invasive species to take over.
We continue to lose wetlands to urbanization. From 2002 to 2007 we lost 8,652 acres of wetlands or the slightly more than the total area of the Hackensack Meadowlands. It is somewhat surprising at the level of wetlands loss since 1995 as overall federal policy is for zero wetlands loss. Another issue with NJ’s wetlands loss is NJ’s water quality. It is well accepted that when a watershed has 10% or more of its land covered by impervious surface that watershed is impacted to various degrees. Increasing impervious cover will have an impact on water quality as well as flooding. NJ’s 2008 Integrated Water Quality Report shows that NJ’s waters are not fairing well. 63% of the streams that could be assessed did not meet the standards for aquatic life. 41% of our waters do not meet the designation for recreational use and we do not know enough to determine the status of another 40%. Interesting, the report reveals that fish and invertebrate communities were commonly impacted in urban areas and that “increase in impervious surfaces was related to a negative response in the aquatic invertebrate community.” As we continue to pave over NJ our water quality will decrease. This will also cause continued efforts to clean up our streams, rivers and lakes to be a more expensive proposition.
Another interesting fact the report reveals is that almost 50% of the development has taken place outside of the areas designated for growth within our state plan. This is contrary to NJ’s State Plan, but a look at this issue will have to wait for another post.