They missed the forest for the trees.
New Jersey state officials tried to create a new wildlife habitat to help the American woodcock population thrive — and wound up clear-cutting thousands of trees, according to a report.
The project wiped out 21 acres of forest, destroyed two rare plant species and damaged wetlands in an effort to create an open, meadow-like space for the struggling bird near Glassboro, NJ Spotlight News said.
“It is not forestry; it’s land clearing,’’ Emil DeVito of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation said, according to the site.
“This is a pristine intact core forest. We are supposed to be protecting those places.’’
Four environmental groups are demanding that the Department of Environmental Protection halt the project immediately after it began last month with little public notice or input, according to the outlet.
Officials axed the forest — part of of the Glassboro Wildlife Management Area — in an attempt to protect the American woodcock, a species of concern in New Jersey.
The short-legged bird’s population is dwindling due to habitat loss and changing ecosystems.
But the DEP agency did more harm than good to mother nature in its effort to save the critter, environmentalists said.
“This is a failure on multiple levels,’’ said Tom Gilbert, co-executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
“There are likely many better options to create woodcock habitat.”
The clear-cut area had provided habitat for barred owl and red-shouldered hawk. It was also an essential breeding habitat for amphibians such as native frog populations.
The tree chop appears to have violated regulations protecting the state wetlands area, conservationists said.
“All natural resources — plants, animals, soils, and surface geology — have been altered, removed or exterminated,’’according to a protest letter addressed to the DEP.
The letter was signed by representatives of South Jersey Land and Water Trust, Citizens United to Protect Maurice River and its Tributaries, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
In a statement, the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife said this week it had suspended activities associated with the habitat enforcement project in order to review land use permits, according to the outlet.
The project had called for cutting trees and planting flowers to also encourage pollinators, such as honeybees, which are at risk.