Highlands Threats

Photo Courtesy Wilma E. Frey
Photo Courtesy Wilma E. Frey

Suburban sprawl, overdevelopment, and poor planning threaten the resources of the New Jersey Highlands.

Some 3,000 acres of the Highlands’ forests and farmlands were lost to development every year, having adverse effects on the Highlands’ valuable resources.

Water Supply

Our water supply — so critical to the life and health of the State’s residents, as well as its economy and ecosystems — is at risk. Development replaces water-retentive forests with impervious hard surfaces, like buildings, roads and parking lots. Water no longer finds its way underground to supply wells and replenish stream flows and reservoirs. In addition, impervious cover increases surface water pollution and flooding problems, and removal of native vegetation and forests leads to declines in water quality.

At the same time, growth both in and outside of the Highlands is increasing demand for Highlands water. Growing areas like Newark and Jersey City, across 16 counties, including Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset, Passaic, and Union counties, depend on the Highlands for water,as do New Jersey’s three largest industries — food processing, tourism, and pharmaceuticals. Yet, demand for water already exceeds availability in over half (54%) of Highlands watersheds!

The bottom line: if development continues without intervention, there won’t be clean water, or enough water, for everyone.


Forests, Biodiversity, and Wildlife

Development consumes forests, converting them to buildings, roads, parking lots, and lawns. From 1986 to 2002, over 15,000 acres of Highlands forests disappeared. Reduction in forest area means our water will suffer, as forests help maintain the water supply and protect water quality.

If sprawl continues and forests are replaced by subdivisions, townhouses and condos, wildlife lose their homes. In addition, when forests are fragmented into smaller and smaller tracts, it destroys critical habitat for interior forest-dwelling species, such as the bobcat, which is now endangered in New Jersey, and forest birds such as thrushes, ovenbirds, scarlet tanagers, and some warblers.


The Highlands lost farmland at an average of 1,700 acres per year before passage of the Highlands Act. Farmland is vital to the culture of the Highlands, providing economic benefits as well as scenic rural character. But it is vulnerable to development since it is easy and cheaper to develop flatter, treeless farmland than steep and rocky forested hills.

Open Space and Recreation

Development pressure threatens open space — more houses and malls means less potential area for public use and for recreation. And, as unbroken forests, pastoral vistas, and scenic viewsheds vanish, so does our enjoyment of the outdoor experience, along with potential trail and tourism opportunities for the region.

Historic and Cultural Resources

Historic barns and homes, picturesque villages and cultural sites face the risk of destruction if they are replaced by new shopping centers, schools and subdivisions. And, while the Highlands has many important historical and archaeological sites that have been documented, many others have not yet been inventoried. Construction activity may eliminate both known and undiscovered resources.