Philadelphia Inquirer -
When he created a natural habitat on the acre surrounding his Cape May County home, Mike Crewe didn’t know he’d be summoned to court to answer for it. His Lower Township property had become a kind of oasis amid the area’s manicured lawns, a colorful meadow for monarch butterflies, native bees, and other species of wildlife.
So Crewe, program director of the New Jersey Audubon Society’s Cape May Bird Observatory, was disappointed by the reaction of neighbors who complained about his un-mowed grounds to the municipality, which cited him for code violations last winter.
The clash was settled in a plea bargain, with the local prosecutor allowing half an acre as habitat, but the case clearly demonstrated the problem homeowners face in trying to provide food and shelter for wildlife, then running into municipal ordinances that require mowing.
That issue would be resolved by a bill that passed the New Jersey Assembly’s Environment and Solid Waste Committee last month and that awaits a vote by the full Assembly and passage by the Senate.
The measure, sponsored by Assembly Appropriations Committee Chairman John Burzichelli and Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, calls on the state Department of Environmental Protection to establish a certification program to encourage habitat plans and license them, heading off municipal code violations.
The program will help homeowners “take an active role in protecting our environment,” said Jon Bramnick, Assembly minority leader (R., Union), who has – with his wife, Pat – created a habitat at their Westfield home. “Altering a property to comply with standards established by the DEP will help wildlife return to its natural habitat.”
The change can’t come soon enough for New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation, New Jersey Audubon Society officials said. More than 30 percent of the land is considered urban, including lawns at office parks, golf courses, athletic fields, and residential yards. Lawns take up much of the 1.6 million acres of urban development.