Assemblywoman Joan Voss and Edgewater resident Alison Evans-Fragale pleaded with lawmakers Thursday on behalf of a flighty group of constituents who never vote but are hard to ignore.
In Edgewater, they tend to congregate in treetops in Memorial Park, at the intersection of River Road and Route 5. Their forebears, immigrants from South America, have been accused of destroying acres upon acres of crops, although today some wonder whether those tales might simply be legend.
Members of the flock are periodically rendered homeless by Public Service Electric and Gas Co., although without fail they have managed to regroup and rebuild after each incident.
"They," of course, are the lime-green monk parakeets, also known as Quaker parrots, that have lived in Edgewater since at least the 1970s. The birds have won over many fans despite their ear-piercing screeches and messy personal habits.
Friday, March 10, 2006
By ADRIENNE LU, STAFF WRITER, TRENTON
Voss, a Democrat from Fort Lee, is sponsoring a bill to remove the monk parakeet from the state's list of potentially dangerous species, where they landed decades ago because officials feared the birds would crowd out indigenous species and ruin crops.
The fears appear unfounded, and monk parakeet fans hope that by removing the birds from the list, they will be able to help protect them when PSE&G tears down their nests from utility poles.
PSE&G says the nests pose fire hazards, but the utility has said it would try to work with supporters of the birds.
Co-sponsored by Assemblyman Bob Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, the bill won unanimous support Thursday from the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee after testimony by Evans-Fragale and several supporters.
"They are dearly loved by the people of Edgewater, and they are not an agricultural hazard," Voss said.
Evans-Fragale, who has been working for more than a year to raise awareness about the birds, wept in victory.
"I'm shaking like a leaf because I'm so excited," she said after the vote. "I'm crying really happy tears."
Others who testified included monk parakeet expert Michael Gochfeld, a professor in the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, a joint venture of Rutgers University and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; Donna Dwyer, a Connecticut activist who spoke about a utility company recently exterminating monk parakeets in the dead of night in that state, and Steve Baldwin, who leads tours to see the monk parakeets in Brooklyn.
Committee members jokingly asked to be taken off the e-mail lists for the birds, saying they had received many messages in support of the monks.
A nurse-practitioner by day, Evans-Fragale said she has collected 2,500 signatures from New Jersey residents alone on an online petition in support of the birds.
Her efforts have gained support from around the country. Fans can buy Edgewater parrot T-shirts, mouse pads, bumper stickers and calendars from her Web site, edgewaterparrots.com.
Monk parakeets, which also are found in California, New York, Illinois, Texas, Connecticut and Florida, were first imported into the country as pets. In New Jersey, while a few individual birds and nests have been found outside Edgewater, the town seems to have the only remaining breeding population, according to bird experts.
The tropical-looking creatures survive the cold winters in part because of their twiggy nests, in which they reside year-round, unlike most birds.
The bill now goes to a vote of the entire Assembly. After that, Voss and Gordon must find a Senate sponsor for the measure and gain approval in that chamber, after which the bill would go to the governor.
Gordon, who was unable to attend the Thursday's hearing because of a conflicting hearing, doesn't anticipate any major roadblocks.
"I haven't encountered any anti-monk parakeet lobby," he said. "It is not one of the major interest groups that I'm aware of."