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Grip the Raven shares his bird’s eye view

Jim Wright

Special to The Record USA TODAY NETWORK - NEW JERSEY

Why do wild birds keep disrupting the best-laid plans of developers and other groups in North Jersey?

As The Record’s Scott Fallon reported last week, two species of at-risk sparrows are raising concerns about a proposed industrial center in the Meadowlands. It’s the latest in a long line of avian snags in our region in recent years — from forcing the cancellation of a summer concert series on Sandy Hook to compelling developers to adjust plans for $1 billion multi-use project in Ridgefield Park.

What’s going on here? For a novel perspective, I reached out to Grip the Raven, who nests on the cliffs of Laurel Hill in Secaucus. Grip has had a bird’seye view of the situation for decades, and he knows the changes wrought on the region’s landscape all too well.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation. (The interview was done on the fly, of course.) First of all, why wait until now to talk?

Nobody asked.

What do you think of plans to build as many as six buildings totaling 3 million square feet of industrial space in Lyndhurst?

I’m fine with it, so long as you humans make sure that it doesn’t jeopardize the birds you say you want to protect. These species — and plenty of others — have nested in the Meadowlands for centuries, and one of the reasons so many of them are threatened or endangered is because you humans literally trashed the place.

What are you talking about?

Where should I begin? Over the years, you humans filled more than half of the wetlands, using much of it to dump thousands of tons of rubbish, garbage and all sorts of toxic waste.

While you were at it, you poured your raw sewage and all sorts of chemicals into the Hackensack River, to the point where the river was so full of poisons that even the barnacles at the bottom of the food chain couldn’t survive.

But that was ages ago. You have to admit the region has made an amazing environmental comeback.

It has improved a lot, compared to those bad old days, but only because laws to protect wetlands and the rest of the environment were passed and enforced.

Why protect sparrows? Aren’t they a dime a dozen?

We aren’t talking about those ubiquitous house sparrows that clog your bird feeder or scavenge crumbs at outdoor cafes. The state has found that the birds in question — grasshopper sparrows and Savannah sparrows — are threatened species when nesting because their populations could decline if they lose too much habitat.

But the developers provided extensive environmental studies to the state that mentioned the endangered or threatened species on or near the site. What’s more, hundreds of acres of the project site won’t be developed — including habitat for these at-risk sparrows.

Don’t get me wrong. Birds don’t want to stand in the way of all progress. But please forgive our skepticism when the same humans who are proposing the project are also assessing its environmental impacts.

These developers may have the best of intentions, but we’ve seen how past projects in the Meadowlands have turned out for us local birds. An independent survey just makes sense.

Any final thoughts?

We wild birds have lived in the Meadowlands long before you humans sawed down your first Atlantic white cedar. Call us crazy, but we’d like to keep living in this amazing place.

The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Jim Wright is the author of 'The Nature of the Meadowlands.' Email Jim atceleryfarm@gmail.com.

Ravens have been known to speak their minds once in a while.

COURTESY OF JIM WRIGHT

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