Improving Conservation on Delaware Bay 8: Six goals to help reshape conservation on Delaware Bay

Theories of change lie within the province of smart people who seek to shift large organizations to better places. Professionals build theories of change with the help of other professionals steeped in the methods of developing them. I am not a theory of change professional. But building and testing a hypothesis has been the focus of my life-long effort to conserve wildlife. So as to not to besmirch the integrity of more formal theories of change, lets call this effort theory of change lite. 2012.11.08.hamster-webcam But I do not take this lightly. This biologist believes conservationists face challenges similar to those faced by those of the early 1900’s or the mid thirties. ( this paper is a wonderful and easily read history of wildlife conservation in the US). Then as now, Industrial exploitation of our natural resources impoverishes both rural people and wildlife. In our time, moneyed interests have successfully diminished the political power of conservationists with issues like gun rights and anti-hunting thus muting any significant political voice for wildlife. Moneyed interests have forced the public out of wildlife conservation work insisting all work be done by professionals so industry can trust the results. This righteous requirement was followed by vicious cuts to the budgets of conservation professionals preventing them from doing the work that might oppose industrial interests. With a free hand, Industrial scale farming, forestry and fishing have ruined rural economies by channeling most of the wealth into the hands of investors and the rich leaving most rural communities impoverished. Ironically their best prescription to overcome these losses is serving them through long-on-promise short-on-return ecotourism projects. What little conservation does take place is usually done at the end of a long history of abuse and with insufficient resources to restore the damaged system. All this while an intentionally disengaged and consequently disinterested public watches without alarm. How do we get free of this cycle that began in the 70’s and now reaches it apotheosis? I suggest 6 pathways.

  1. Free conservation from left-right politics

The people who love animals, whether birder or sportsmen must come together and take a more active leadership role. Citizen wildlife enthusiasts have always been at the heart of bold conservation, in fact it is the only way to create bold action. The great historical conservation movements of the early 1900’s and 1930’s are remembered by their leaders, Teddy Roosevelt, Gilford Pinchot, Ding Darling, Aldo Leopold. In fact these people gained power because the legions of conservationists were willing to support the cause with both political and economic power. Sportsmen, still vigorously support sport hunting and fishing, but allow the agencies they support to waste funding and power. They have also allowed themselves to become part of a right-wing segment more loyal to the NRA than to conservation. Birders on the other hand barely support the nonprofits that serve their interests forcing them to take only bit-parts in the nationwide drama over reversing the problems facing wildlife. Like sportsmen, birders diminish their power by taking on issues detrimental to the cause of conservation like feral cat protection, anti-hunting and anti-trapping. If ever they could put aside their political differences, the two groups together would form a truly powerful coalition of voters, that might stand up to well organized industrial exploitation of land and water resources. If only a small portion of the people who identify themselves as wildlife enthusiasts were to vote as a block, all wildlife in this country would have a long and prosperous future.

  1. Allow the people who love birds to pay for a system that protects them  

Conservation has always depended on the good will of people who love animals. Hunters and fishermen knew this in the 30’s and worked together to create new funding systems like the Pittman Robertson Fish and Wildlife Recovery Act, that created the USFWS and state fish and wildlife agencies as we know them today. Why? Because it was the only way to take on industrial and political interest that only cared for short-term exploitation of fish and wildlife.  The beauty of sportsmen’s system is that it still depends on the hunters and fishermen to maintain it and requires they play significant role. For example the NJ Division of Fish and Wildife is overseen by the Fish and Game Council, composed mostly of hunters and fishermen. Now we need the rest of conservationists to take their part. We need to tax our equipment and use this money to create a new system. Maybe not the same system created by hunters and fishermen nearly 75 years ago but perhaps one based more heavily on public-private partnership that embraces the important role of non-profit conservation groups and community action groups.

  1. Encourage projects within which government agencies take part but citizen groups, communities and non-profits lead.

Government involvement is a necessary part of conservation, but all too often agencies insist on a leadership role with their partners (if they include partners) and relegate citizens to peripheral roles or no role at all. Depending on government leadership in this day of declining budgets and extraordinary political interference, leaves wildlife victim to the interests of moneyed interests. Creating true public private partnerships can help overcome government mistrust and involve more citizens in the process.  Allowing communities, especially rural commutnities, access to project funding would also help more citizens take part.   There is of course a place for agency authority, the history of conservation is replete with the courageous actions of agencies fending off selfish or greedy local authorities or business interests.  But they can only do this with our help. Now is a time for a fresh look at the respective roles of government, conservation groups and citizens. The majority of citizen conservationists and groups they support stand ready to help at a time when agencies can no longer count on increasing staff to meet the challenges they face. Project development and implementation should lean more heavily on the meaningful involvement of citizens in projects funded by state and federal authorities. These projects need not be delivered by government agencies but instead through coalitions of conservation groups that now populate the bayshore, the state and the surrounding region.

  1. Create new ways for the public to take part in conservation and pay for the privilege.

Many activities like, banding birds, animal rescue and tagging fish can create broad scientific platforms while engaging the public in a true experience with wildlife. In my career I have witnessed the misguided trend to exclude citizens, at first because industry would only credit data from agency scientists but now because the scientists themselves have no time for the care and feeding of volunteers. This is not the case in Europe, where guilds of experienced and trained volunteers do many jobs that in the US are done by paid professionals. Ironically US scientist argue ours is a more robust scientific program, yet the British Trust for Ornithology, which relies primarily on volunteers to collect data, claim databases that are among the best in the world, some populated with over 50 years of good data. Excluding people from doing field work robs them of a personal experience with wildlife thereby diminishing their zeal to protect wildlife. This personal experience is worth money to them and in other countries they pay for the privilege. Aren’t hunters and fishermen– who enjoy their sport, supply biologists with gobs of data, and pay for the privilege – doing the same thing? Why not expand the citizen force to include banding, rehabbing injured wildlife, fish taggers and other valuable conservation related activities.

  1. Create conservation solutions that embrace market forces

My experience, both within and outside of government, has helped me understand the importance of market forces in conservation. Profit incentives sound antithetical to conservation, but doesn’t profit now drive conservation, or the lack of it on Delaware Bay? It’s all semantics. The need for funding often determines the direction of most non-profits activities ( how else can they survive) and agencies ( especially now in the a time of diminishing budgets). The need for income colors the perspective of people living on the bay who really cannot be expected to embrace conservation if it only leads to job loss and economic hardship.   Industries dispassionately determine the need for conservation based on costs and profit including the economic benefits of better public relations. Lets face it, we cannot extract economic considerations from the core issues of conservation. Embracing income and profit in conservation is nothing new. The foundation of protection in the great eras of conservation, the early 1900’s the mid 1930’s, rested on creating good income for farmers, fishermen, foresters and other people living in rural areas. How could it be anyway else? We need to consider the economic impact and embrace solutions that help create wealth. More importantly we need to embrace other aspects of hard-nosed business acumen in our work. Consider cost effectiveness.  Too many conservation projects have meaningless monitoring components that tell nothing of the project effectiveness at achieving goals.  For decades many state agency projects funded through sportsmen and taxpayer dollars produce ineffective outcomes or useless results doing nothing more than employing staff. Yet they persist.  Many conservation group projects overlap or have identical goals because their members or funding sources demand their money be spent on current dazzling projects. This is no way to confront the growing hegemony of industry and politicians in their pocket. It doesn’t give the public confidence to see their hard earned money being squandered on useless but flashy projects, projects that are poorly monitored for success, or duplicative efforts by different groups.  A more business like approach is needed.  Short-term projects with long-term surveillance can prove effectiveness and guide subsequent projects. Competition and adaptive management can create much more impact for the current public and private funds now going into conservation. Better coordination amongst the many different groups is essential.

  1. Allow local citizens a role in deciding the character of conservation in their community

The collapse of wildlife populations on Delaware Bay and surrounding uplands followed similar paths, commercial interests trumped local interests. One would hope that agencies would prevent these preventable collapses but they don’t because industrial and political interests overwhelm or bypass scientifically based management. There are many reasons for this covered above, constituent groups pissing away political power by focusing on divisive issues, most prominent among them. But its also because local people have no say. Who are more likely to care about sustainable management, a international country that has no stake in the local economy, or the people who must earn a living in the local economy?   We need to divest management decisions from industry controlled regional and national organizations and create local management initiatives like that established by Maine Lobstermen or Delaware Bay Oystermen. The latter have suffered from oyster diseases, but they do their best to insure a year after year surplus of oysters that can be harvested safely without destroying the population. Why? Because it is the only way to stay in business. Most people including Federal agencies and funding sources mistakenly believe money and programs flow downhill to local communities but they do not.  In NJ money rarely even flows.  State program consume most of the federal monies coming to them through Federal Aid programs, such as Pittman Robertson or State Wildlife Grants. When money does miraculously appears in a communities, it is with some idealogical handcuffs such forcing hunting on communities that distrust hunters, or small scale outreach programs heavy on agency dogma.  Conservation groups would probably do the same ( but from a liberal perspective) if only their members truly supported them.   More resources should go directly to energetic and forward thinking communities to help them focus on developing the capacity to develop smart conservation initiatives that can be replicated within their neighboring communities.  With the impact of climate change becoming increasingly obvious, they are ready for the responsibility.   These are modest initiatives this blogger has gleaned from communities throughout the western hemisphere from Coral Harbor, Canada to Punta Arenas, Chile, from Cape Cod Ma. to San Francisco Bay, CA. These places have few things in common, and their conservation of wildlife is as inconsistent as our own, but within each place lies a conservation innovation that does not rely on more government money or staff. Moreover in many places citizens seem at home in their natural places because they have more to say in its protection and management. How do these goals as up to a theory of change?

Improving Conservation on Delaware Bay 7: A Theory of Change

The lysate industry’s refusing responsibility for restoration of horseshoe crabs, on which they make millions, is only one sad example of failed policy in the many resource depletions on the bay.   Sturgeon, river herring, American eels and weakfish at sea, bobwhite quail, black rails ( all rails really), grassland birds, northern harriers on land.  As it is in many of our nation’s rural areas, the conservation of wild resources on Delaware Bay is broken.  But the permanent protection of thousands of acres of the bay’s marsh and uplands through land acquisition and regulation always makes wildlife population and habitat restoration feasible.  First of all wildlife need habitat and on the bay much of that habitat is locked away for their use.  It gives restoration something to hang on — one might say the bay has good cheek bones but awaits further refinements.

A map lifted from NJ DEP IMAP showing just the state owned public lands on Delaware Bay. The State only pays in lieu of lost property taxes for fifteen years on a diminishing scale, eventually paying nothing.

A map lifted from NJ DEP IMAP showing just the state owned public lands on Delaware Bay. Add to this lands also dedicated to conservation, USFWS Cape May Refuge, The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups,  PSEG Bayside tract and other lands privately owed by without development right, and one can imagine how much of the bayshore is permanently protected.  This does not guard against mismanagement and damaging resource use, but it creates an firm basis on which more enlightened management can blossum.

 

It is the working hypothesis of this blog that we, the conservation community of the bay and those who care about the bay in the region, need to approach conservation in a new way.  This new approach need not rely on more money and staff, at least at first, because significant amounts of people and money are already being deployed.  More would just follow the same projects that have led to where we are right now.  It’s this blog’s view that we need to set aside the need for more resources and instead focus on our approach.

More than ever we need to look more directly at the problems preventing restoration and sustainable use and create new approaches.  More than ever we need to be able to test the veracity of these approaches if only to see if we are on the right track.  In other words we need to create a theory of change, or a testable set of new conservation goals that will take us on a new path to sustainable resource use that benefits wildlife and rural communities.

The previous 6 blogs lay out the need for a new set of goals, the next set will present the goals.  These modest goals aim not at the expression of the problems faced by the people and wildlife of the bay, but the root of those problems, at least in this bloggers opinion.  I draw this theory of change from work done on the bay, but also in all the places in which I have conducted conservation over the course of a 35 year career.   Thus it is a very personal exploration.

Next: 6 new conservation goals for Delaware Bay and other small places like Delaware Bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Improving Conservation on Delaware Bay 6: How to Alienate Communities with Good Intentions

Perched precariously on the banks of the Cohansey River and within sight of the Delaware Bay shipping channels, my hometown of Greenwich, New Jersey was established in the late 17th century by Dutch traders. Subsequently, the English overran the Dutch and by the mid 1700s, the town thrived as the main port of entry for all of the productive South Jersey farming communities. In 1775, insurgent patriots dumped tea into the town’s harbor, an act of courageous defiance completely overshadowed by the more well known and equally heroic Boston Tea Party. Greenwich Quakers used the town as one of many termini of the Underground Railroad that freed African-Americans fleeing slavery in the South.

Our bucolic town still has two Quaker meetinghouses, a stretch given a total population numbering fewer than 800 citizens. The town has no public employees, so volunteers take on most roles conducted by paid staff in larger communities. Property tax rates threaten the centuries-old rural lifestyle of this community, standing at five times that of the wealthy communities of the Atlantic Coast. Curiously, Greenwichers pronounce the town’s name as GREEN-witch, ostensibly to identify outsiders who almost always imperiously insist on the English pronunciation GREN-itch.

I lifted this page from the Historic Greenwich website, a site well worth a visit for its photos of the town in its heyday. I chose this sturgeon picture to highlight the tragic consequences of poor management. The Atlantic Sturgeon was overharvested in the 1980’s and may be lost to the Bay. In fact, it is now a federally listed threatened species. But this species, like others, could potentially be rebuilt because of the Bay’s inherent productivity. It’s a choice.

I lifted this page from the Historic Greenwich website, a site well worth a visit for its photos of the town in its heyday. I chose this sturgeon picture to highlight the tragic consequences of poor management. The Atlantic Sturgeon was overharvested in the 1980’s and may be lost to the Bay. In fact, it is now a federally listed threatened species. But this species, like others, could potentially be rebuilt because of the Bay’s inherent productivity. It’s a choice.

Two years ago, we initiated an effort to get town support for an innocuous state plan for the protection of wildlife. It was a requirement of a well meaning but relatively modest sustainability effort funded by one of the state’s major foundations. The town’s progressives of mostly educated professionals and seniors (including this blogger) pushed the wildlife planning measure. The town’s more working class Tea Party faction opposed it. Of all things, they saw it as a backdoor effort by the United Nations to take over local property rights. After an acrimonious meeting, the towns’ environmental commission tabled the measure because of the group’s objections. The controversy was over a few lines in the state’s wildlife plan describing New Jersey Fish & Wildlife’s hope to require deer management plans (lingo for deer hunting) for all landowners receiving agricultural or forestry property tax assessments.

This conflict had no basis in reason, but it also had no purpose. The state fish and wildlife folks have no staff to do individual deer plans and no real hope of altering tax break legislation. Additionally, the state wildlife action plan within which the deer plan was described never received full funding, and was consequently never fully implemented despite the enormous effort taken to complete it. I know this because I led the creation of the first version while heading the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

The cover of the NJ Wildlife Action Plan speaks to the breadth of the plan, which includes solutions to nearly every problem for wildlife in New Jersey. Unfortunately, this expansive scope was based on similar expansive funding that never really materialized.

The cover of the NJ Wildlife Action Plan speaks to the breadth of the plan, which includes solutions to nearly every problem for wildlife in New Jersey. Unfortunately, this expansive scope was based on similarly expansive funding, which never really materialized.

This experience in my small hometown on the bayshore illustrates the ruinous effect of the political conflict that nestles almost unseen within most conservation efforts. First, the state wildlife plan and sustainability program are inherently a “big government” or group approach that leaves only perfunctory authority to the community. Arguably, this is an inherently liberal approach that runs counter to the political interests of this mostly rural and politically right-leaning population (as is the case with most important wildlife landscapes). This unacknowledged partisan policy approach rankles rural folk and creates destructive countercurrents. These policy initiatives presume government agencies, philanthropies, and conservation groups must anchor solutions to long-standing conservation problems – despite evidence to the contrary.

Moreover, the state wildlife plan highlights another aspect of a “big government” approach that conflicts with right-leaning, market-driven approaches. The plan’s overseers have yet to collect sufficient data to determine the plan’s effectiveness and efficiency. So no one, not even the overseers, know anything of the plan’s progress towards achieving stated goals, or even whether or not the plan has failed altogether.

This is not an easy task. Funders almost religiously avoid funding comprehensive surveillance of their own funded work, opting for easier efforts. For example, characterizing a bird protection effort by estimating the number of glossy brochures that end up in the hands of the public. This may not really characterize success if the brochure ends up on a car floor or in a back pocket unread.

Yet data describing a project’s accomplishments or the lack thereof allows for steady improvement, which with patience, could lead to success after initial failure. Knowing the details of a project often tells you how to make it better in the future. Arguably this method can be seen as a more business-oriented approach that is often overlooked by zealous left-leaning conservationists.

The Sustainability program, unlike the State Wildlife Plan, does a noble job of providing a substantive role for citizens. In our town it led to improvements, like the installation of energy saving lighting in our town’s school. But like the Wildlife Plan, it merely overlays a common solution that doesn’t quite solve the problems facing rural communities. To be fair, it is not meant to, because it’s a plan to improve sustainability across the state. Thus, rural people cannot design solutions suited to the town’s problems. They must overlay statewide solutions if they want to use philanthropic funds to implement them.

This photo from the Sustainable NJ website shows one of the 413 community groups that have registered with this philanthropic effort funded by Dodge Foundation. This is no small feat, given that there are 513 municipalities in New Jersey. The project deserves no criticism because it is one of few examples of a conservation effort working through communities. It does highlight the problem that although it may improve sustainability within all NJ communities, it will not solve the problem of sustainability within one community that may be devastated by poor management of resources.

This photo from the Sustainable NJ website shows one of the 413 community groups that have registered with this philanthropic effort funded by Dodge Foundation. This is no small feat, given that there are 513 municipalities in New Jersey. The project deserves no criticism because it is one of few examples of a conservation effort working through communities. It does highlight the problem that although it may improve sustainability within all NJ communities, it will not solve the problem of sustainability within one community that may be devastated by poor management of resources.

So in the end, the overreaction of our local right wing may have been a tad paranoid. After all, how hard would it be to notice an international intervention in a town of 719 souls? One can never be sure. But one can say that the right wing had one very reasonable point: the solutions we were proposing to the environmental commission reflect a partisan bias, and the citizens have a right to oppose its political implications.

But what can be done? The tea baggers eschew these environmental groups and liberal philanthropy-driven efforts, but as with the rest of their national agenda, they won’t develop alternative solutions that reflect their ideology. It’s as though they have no conservation policy, except to be against liberal policies. Sound familiar? How many national social issues face a similar ideological standoff?

But when did conservation become a partisan battleground? Perhaps this is the greatest threat to conservation; our once strong voice has been fractured into right and left interest groups with virtually no power to alter the steady march of industry in the greedy consumption of our natural wealth. If so, then perhaps what conservationists need more than money or staff is a conservation policy devoid of partisan overlays.

Improving Conservation on Delaware Bay 5: A Graveyard of Dashed Hopes and Unfulfilled Promise

From the viewpoint of a resident, one can look at the Delaware Bay as a graveyard of well intentioned but mostly unsuccessful attempts to manage natural resources. Most of these efforts come and go with only modestly positive effects. Many have huge potential, but this potential never quite crystallizes into tangible benefits. The accumulation of land devoted to public use sparkles the brightest in this meager constellation of semi-successes.

A map lifted from NJ DEP IMAP showing just the state owned public lands on Delaware Bay. The State only pays in lieu of lost property taxes for fifteen years on a diminishing scale, eventually paying nothing.

A map lifted from NJ DEP IMAP showing just the state owned public lands on Delaware Bay. The State only pays in lieu of lost property taxes for fifteen years on a diminishing scale, eventually paying nothing.

Public land undeniably protects the habitat and wildlife that resides within its borders. It also presents a host of potential benefits for residents – better quality of life, improved tourism, and increased recreational opportunities highest among them. This potential, however, never quite morphs into reality. Agencies have almost no funding to manage lands for wildlife or for the people that use them, and so most habitats go unmanaged. Adding to this lack of stewardship, the private lands and waterways surrounding public lands suffer a yearly draining of resources by commercial interests, leaving them ecologically impoverished.

Once you could hunt a state wildlife management area and kill your daily limit of then-abundant bobwhite quail, or take to a Delaware Bay creek and bring back a family-size bucket of large blue claw crabs. No more. Poorly regulated hunts mopped up the rapidly dwindling quail population after farmers implemented intensive farming techniques that left nothing for beleaguered wildlife. Most blue claw crabs find themselves scooped up by commercial operations, which pepper the bay with commercial traps and gather nearly all legal-size crabs. Ever wonder why every crab that tugs at your crab line measures just shy of legal?

Catching a bucket of Blue Claw crabs was once the norm after a day spent crabbing on a Delaware Bay creek. Commercial operations now take most legal crabs, leaving few for residents and visitors unless you want to buy them at $2 apiece.

Catching a bucket of Blue Claw crabs was once the norm after a day spent crabbing on a Delaware Bay creek. Commercial operations now take most legal crabs, leaving few for residents and visitors… unless you want to buy them at $2 apiece.

The greatest negative impact of public land, however, is on property taxes. Public lands or lands devoted to conservation yield far less property tax for local governments than private land, thus contributing to the obscenely unfair property tax rates that prevail in New Jersey. State and federal agencies offer assistance to rural communities to offset this inequity, but the state owns most of the public land and offer miserly payments that always seem to be on the budgetary chopping block.

The property tax structure in New Jersey is an obscene mess that favors the wealthy and leaves the middle class communities of Delaware Bay impoverished. A homeowner with a  $350,000 house in Cumberland County will pay in excess of $8,000/year. But the same house in Avalon, New Jersey, one of the wealthiest communities in the state, will cost less than $2,000/year.

The property tax structure in New Jersey is an obscene mess that favors the wealthy and leaves the middle class communities of Delaware Bay impoverished. A homeowner with a $350,000 house in Cumberland County will pay in excess of $8,000/year. But the same house in Avalon, New Jersey, one of the wealthiest communities in the state, will cost less than $2,000/year.

Many other examples of unfulfilled or outright failed programs exist. Residents endure the steady onslaught of these well-meaning conservation programs both public and private, knowing they won’t endure. They harbor little hope that the programs will alter the generally degraded condition of the land they know and love. Adding insult to injury, the programs rarely give substantive roles to locals, despite the fact that these are the people who arguably have the most to gain or lose. Usually they are advisers, or have no role at all. I saw this once in my hometown of Greenwich, New Jersey.

To be continued

Improving Conservation on Delaware Bay 4: Inadequate Conservation Impoverishes People and Wildlife Populations

The irresponsible exploitation of horseshoe crabs and their blood falls directly on the state and federal agencies that defend them. A lot of local people find this plutocratic big-government approach hard to swallow, considering this sloppy exploitation is only one of many examples of inadequate conservation that fails to address intractable problems: habitat loss from sprawl development, industrial over-exploitation of farmland and marine resources, underfunded and inadequate public lands management, unaddressed insidious impacts of climate change, and many more. Further, they resent that the cost of the failure to solve these pressing problems mostly falls on them. One can easily understand this view with a quick tour of the town of Fortescue, New Jersey.

Hurricane Sandy hit Fortescue ferociously, causing damage on a scale similar to much of New Jersey’s Atlantic coast. But inexplicably, it was left out of the federal largesse that benefits the primarily rich communities of Atlantic coast.

Hurricane Sandy hit Fortescue ferociously, causing damage on a scale similar to much of New Jersey’s Atlantic coast. But inexplicably, it was left out of the federal largesse that benefits the primarily rich communities of Atlantic coast.

The most obvious sign of decline is the failed tackle shops, which starkly contrast the forthright declaration on a sign at the docks: Fortescue, Weakfish Capital of the World. Robust weakfish populations have long deserted this and every other town on Delaware Bay, and agency biologists are perplexed as to why. The meager catch limits required of all sport fishers rule out any possibility of a cooler full of fish, once common in my youth. Combined with the price of gas, this stops most fishermen at the dock. The people here not unreasoningly look at the huge losses of young weakfish impinged on the Salem nuclear reactor water intakes. The nuclear plant was ordered to stop the destructive intake of huge amounts of Delaware Bay water and build a second cooling tower. But they avoided this with the aid of New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s program to mitigate the losses with marsh management. The program has been discredited by a number of groups, but these losses continue to this day.

It may have been accurate once, but this sign at the Fortescue docks is now merely a painful reminder of the recent collapse of the town's fisheries.

It may have been accurate once, but this sign at the Fortescue docks is now merely a painful reminder of the recent collapse of the town’s fisheries.

Continue to the eroded beachfront, where citizens cannot afford the costly circumventions of the rules that are common in the wealthy Atlantic Coast towns. Bulkheads remained unfixed, roads erode from thrashing seas, and protective dikes leak water or fail altogether. Local homeowners with damaged houses can hardly afford the costly repairs, let alone the equally high cost of consultants and lawyers to tackle complicated state and federal coastal regulations.

Unlike Atlantic coast beaches, where state and federal agencies shower money to fix infrastructure and replenish beaches, Fortescue receives virtually nothing. And not without good reason – conservation groups and agency staff still wonder whether the town should be abandoned. So bulkheads rot, beaches disappear, houses fall into the sea. Sandy destroyed a considerable portion of the town’s waterfront, but curiously it was left out of the largesse showered on the Atlantic coast after Sandy. Oddly enough, it included Cape May County’s Atlantic coast, a section that suffered little compared to northern New Jersey communities. True to form, however, Cape May County’s Delaware Bay shoreline, which suffered significant losses, received nothing.

The infrastructure on Fortescue has been in decline for decades, and Sandy finished the job. Here, derelict bulkheads and rubble feebly protect a road to a small community east of Fortescue.

The infrastructure on Fortescue has been in decline for decades, and Sandy finished the job. Here, derelict bulkheads and rubble feebly protect a road to a small community east of Fortescue.

Go to the bathroom in Higbee’s Restaurant, the town’s only breakfast and lunch restaurant, and you’ll find yourself staring into the infinite depths of a port-a-potty. You must, because the town has no sewer system, a result of insufficient state funding and agencies’ fear of the spread of development caused by a sewer line to Fortescue. Indeed, it’s a conundrum. Environmentalists reasonably fear the potentially destructive influences of sewers because the notoriously loose land-use planning rules in south Jersey might end in a new rash of sprawl development. Ironically, the same groups champion ecotourism, which depends on facilities that require sewerage. Before Maryland invested in museums, public restrooms, fishing piers, and parking areas in the towns along the eastern shore of the Chesapeake, these towns suffered in the same way as those on the Delaware Bay. A similar program on Delaware Bay could fulfill everyone’s interests. But alas, this is New Jersey, not Maryland.

The collapse of fish populations preceded a similar collapse in Fortescue’s fishing economy. Many businesses, from tackle shops to marinas and boats ramps, have fallen victim. Ironically, the cost of poor fishery management falls not on the perpetrators, the Atlantic coast fishing industry (their profits have exploded in the last 10 years). Instead, it falls on the communities that once relied on the fisheries decimated by the industry.

The collapse of fish populations preceded a similar collapse in Fortescue’s fishing economy. Many businesses, from tackle shops to marinas and boats ramps, have fallen victim. Ironically, the cost of poor fishery management falls not on the perpetrators, the Atlantic coast fishing industry (their profits have exploded in the last 10 years). Instead, it falls on the communities that once relied on the fisheries decimated by the industry.

If you live outside of the Bay region, you can easily dismiss the almost incomprehensible incongruities that exist between rural New Jersey and the rest of the state. But when suffering the consequences, it is hard to avoid the mendacity they represent. Why is the property tax burden so low on the rich residents in Stone Harbor or Avalon and so high in rural Cumberland County? The rich seaside communities thrive because the state underpins risky development with costly beach replenishment, superior and always threatened infrastructure and other amenities of modern life, mostly unavailable to the middle class communities along the Bay. Yet an owner of a million-dollar beach house pays half the property taxes of an average home in Cumberland County, thanks to a property tax rate of less than one-fifth of that in Cumberland.

Another of the many now-shuttered bait and tackle shops in Fortescue.

Another of the many now-shuttered bait and tackle shops in Fortescue.

Clearly no one person or agency meant all this to happen to Fortescue, and many projects have aimed to solve the problem. Why have they not worked?

Next: Good Intentions but Few Results