ONLY 26 miles west of the hurly-burly of New York's Times Square,
suburbia's shopping malls and parking lots give way to nearly 7,000
acres of swamp woodland, cattail marsh, and grassland.
Nestled in a shallow basin ringed by flat-topped ridges, the
Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for 300 species of
wildlife, including mink, foxes, great blue herons, and American
black ducks. Each year, it also attracts 300,000 visitors, who find
the Great Swamp an oasis of open space in the nation's most densely
The Great Swamp was declared a National Wildlife Refuge in 1960,
after a year-long battle that pitted a grass-roots coalition of
Morris County citizens against the New York and New Jersey Port
Authority's proposal to pave the wetlands into the metropolitan
area's fourth jetport.
Now the Great Swamp Refuge faces a far more insidious foe -
Recently the Wilderness Society listed the Great Swamp Refuge
among the 10 "most endangered" refuges in the national system. In
its report, the national conservation group declared that the
wildlife refuge system was badly neglected by the Reagan
administration, and "is now at the low point of its 85-year
The most serious problems facing many of the 445 national
wildlife refuges include chemical runoff from farming, timber
cutting and oil drilling on refuge land, and commercial development
on refuge boundaries, according to the society. "These actions are
robbing the nation's beleaguered wildlife of habitat," the report
said. "More and more wildlife is becoming homeless every day."
In placing the Great Swamp Refuge on its 10-most-endangered list,
the society said waste water containing highly toxic PCBs has been
found in effluent flowing directly into the refuge from two sewage
treatment plants. Fertilizer and pesticides in water runoff from
lawns also pollute the Great Swamp.
The wetland area is further scarred by a five-acre asbestos dump
"which is serious enough to be a Superfund candidate, and two
landfills that may contain hazardous substances," the Wilderness
"We can't keep abusing the Great Swamp and expect to see it
survive as we've known it," says Bill Reffalt, the Wilderness
Society's program director for national wildlife refuges. "If action
isn't taken to save it, [the Great Swamp] will be doomed within 20
ON a gray, late winter day at the Great Swamp Refuge, the sun
struggles to highlight the naked branches of large old oak trees and
the tips of last year's cattails. Bill Koch, manager of the refuge,
sights a red-shouldered hawk heading for a patch of moist woodland.
The wildlands belie the great maw of urban sprawl lying just beyond
the refuge's boundaries.
Mr. Koch agrees with the Wilderness Society's contention that
many of the refuge's most serious problems are tied to growing
residential and commercial development within the Great Swamp
"Home rule," whereby each of the watershed's 11 municipalities
makes land use decisions independently, fosters uncoordinated
sprawl, according to Koch. …