The fight over Jackson Township’s tree preservation ordinance points up how important it is to get ordinances right the first time, but that’s not the only thing it shows. Unfortunately the law was written to require replacement of every tree removed from development, or an in-lieu fee, and that’s where it missed the mark. Since replacing every tree would be impossible, builders were essentially forced to pay the fee. (Must be a lot of tree chopping going on down there, since the fund has collected $1,937,598.33 since 2003 and has a $663,039 balance.)
The Tree Escrow Fund was created so that the town could plant trees or shrubs on public property elsewhere in town. But the appellate court agreed with now-retired Superior Court Judge Eugene D. Serpentelli's 2005 finding that Jackson did not explain how planting trees on
township land could benefit the properties from which the trees were removed.
And here’s where I have a problem. Clearly none of the judges grasps the fact that trees’ ability to scrub the air and lower ambient temperature is regional as well as local. A single mature tree can absorb one ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime. To those of us in the peanut gallery, this is self-evident. Everyone in the area suffers when trees are removed, and everyone benefits when they are planted.
Every house, commercial, and industrial facility built creates more impervious cover, reducing the ability of rainwater to recharge our water sources. And every tree removed not only degrades our air quality, but also eliminates food, nesting materials, and nesting sites for birds and mammals.
It seems to me that any judge who is in a position to make decisions that involve what precious little is left of New Jersey’s natural environment ought, at the least, be required to have a basic knowledge of plant and environmental science, and animal physiology.