Sunday, May 2, 2021

Legislation threatens New Jersey public forests

Brass Castle Creek, Roaring Rock Park, Washington Twsp,
          Warren County
Brass Castle Creek, Roaring Rock Park,
Washington Township, Warren County, New Jersey

There are four bills proposed in the New Jersey Legislature (A-4843/S-3549 A-4844/S-3550 A-4845/S-3548 A-4846/S-3547) that would require all publicly owned forested land to be managed under the context of a "Forest Stewardship Plan", likely by a professional forestry logging contractor, in accordance with practices laid out in these four bills. My opinion is that these four bills are ill conceived, but for northern New Jersey there are two that are particularly onerous.

The two that directly apply to northern New Jersey, A-4843/S-3549 and A-4844/S-3550, pertain to logging plans similar to the one created for Roaring Rock Park in Washington Township, Warren County. One of these bills mandates that all public property purchased with Green Acres funding and having a forested area of 25 acres or more must be subject to a forest stewardship plan. Green Acres open space is managed by state, county and municipal government as well as non-profits, which would all be required to hire foresters to create and carry out logging plans in forested areas.

The second clause in the second bill (A-4844/S-3550) would prohibit county and municipal governments from passing any ordinances or other rules that would in some way prevent logging of public lands within their jurisdiction, and it would preclude county or municipal approval of forestry plans.   It essentially shuts out local oversight and influence on logging activities on public lands.

The other two bills (A-4845/S-3548 and A-4846/S-3547) mainly affect the Pinelands in southern New Jersey. A-4845/S-3548 requires a certain amount of acreage in the Pinelands and elsewhere be burned every year and the other, A-4846/S-3547, requires a new government panel to facilitate these logging and burning plans.

These bills will create these issues:

  1. These bills are primary commercial logging plans, written with the focus and intent to allow widescale tree harvesting with little to no accommodation to the preservation of the natural resources within the public forest land - trees, plants, wildlife and water resources.
  2. These bills make no clear accommodation to remediation of the forest if and when logging activities will cease. The forests will likely be left to recover on their own, since local and county governments will not be afforded funds to provide proactive recovery i.e. widescale tree planting.
  3. A-4843/S-3549 will not require post management restoration requirements to be established. Without these, non-native plant species will have new footholds for invasions. Ruts and overturned soils created by the new access roads and the dragging of heavy mechanized logging equipment across the forest floor, expose forest soils to wind-, animal-, and vehicle-born opportunistic invasive seeds. 
  4. One bill (A-4844/S-3550) will remove local oversight by county and municipal governments, by preventing them from passing local ordinances that would prevent the logging of public lands within their jurisdiction. 
  5. Furthermore, the removal of local oversight will prevent local municipalities, to the extent that they can, from influencing logging activities performed on private held land and under the guide of "forest management plans."   This will complicate the operations of municipal boards such as  Shade Tree Commissions and the ordinances under which they operate.
  6. These current bills amount to unfunded mandates to local and county governments, as it is unclear whether this legislation will provide funding to pay for the logging contractor costs, restoration of the forests after logging ceases, and remediation of environmental issues or damage caused by logging activities to the park itself or adjacent properties that will be left to the local governments to sort out.
  7. It is unclear who will bear the cost burden of remediation of environmental damage that will result from widescale logging, for example, polluted water resources (lakes, rivers).
  8. It is unclear what legal rights adjacent landowners will have to bring lawsuits against the logging contractors, local and state government if their property is damaged by this logging activity.

If the Forest Management Plan being considered in Roaring Rock Park will be used as a template for all of the public forests within the State of New Jersey, then it is clear the New Jersey Legislature is facilitating the commercial, for profit harvesting of up to 1 million acres of publicly owned forested land. The focus of this plan is treating the public forests more as an expansive tree farm rather than its intended purpose - providing safe recreation experiences for residents and safe habitats for wildlife and native plant species to thrive.

These bills, if enacted into law, will spell disaster for the continued health and vibrancy of New Jersey's forests. Citizens who use and value these forests - hikers, mountain bikers, fisherman, hunters, Boy and Girl Scouts, bird watchers (to name a few) should be alarmed that the public lands that they pay for maintenance with their tax dollars, will now be exploited by industry with unclear benefits back to the taxpayers (other than decimated public parkland).

A common rebuttal point you will hear: "these are forests, with living trees, and living trees will grow back." This broad statement glosses over the challenges that will present themselves to forests. Once trees are cleared, more sunlight will enter the park. This will create a situation for the invasive plants to grow more aggressively, and stymie the new tree growth. A cleared forest will make it easier for deer to browse, and tree saplings make for easy food for hungry deer. Taken together, these two points will be significant impediments for a forest to recover.

Concerned citizens should write their New Jersey Assembly and Senators (in Warren and Hunterdon counties:  Doherty, DiMaio, and Peterson) and ask them to oppose this legislation, for the good of our forests, and to retain them as enjoyable recreational resources for ourselves and for future generations.

1 comment:

  1. Sure, there isn't enough regulation for us to suffer. Keep open lands open and unregulated, foresting destroys trees and areas


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