Home > Uncategorized > Was Commercial Logging Bill a Stealth ALEC Effort?

Was Commercial Logging Bill a Stealth ALEC Effort?

private stumps - future for state owned forests?

private stumps – future for state owned forests?

As we know, the controversial lame duck bill to allow commercial logging on public State owned lands died (see Record editorial: Log off).

So, it’s time to take a step back and explore just what went on.

As I understand things, last year, the Legislature enacted a Forest Stewardship program for private lands, but DEP still has not yet adopted rules to implement that law.

Aside from a series of ad hoc discussions about the positive effects of fire on Pinelands forests, invasive species and beetle infestations, and huge problems with deer browsing, the overall issue of forest management on State lands (or “stewardship”) has not been been subject to much public debate.

Certainly, there was no [public] discussion or consensus regarding the need to establish a new commercial logging program on State lands.

With the private lands program yet to be defined, there was great uncertainty and a misguided and arrogant “just trust us” attitude guiding things.

So, just where did this issue come from and why did such controversial legislation move so quickly?

Among conservation groups, the commercial logging bill was supported only by NJ Audubon. Some have argued that NJ Audubon is really more like a consulting firm on this issue, with conflicts of interest due to revenues generated by forest management and various revenue generating DEP and commercial partnerships that would be expanded by the legislation.

Suggesting a failure to develop public awareness and adequate support for the program, Audubon’s support was not marketed publicly until AFTER the controversy emerged, as opponents tried to block the bill as it began to move quickly during the lame duck session.

That is also when other supporters came out of the woodwork and started aggressively lobbying in support of the bill.

Supporters included the hunter dominated NJ Outdoor Alliance, a group that has engaged in McCarthyite attacks on certain major NJ environmental groups as “ecoterrorists” (See NJ OA press release: DHS reveals that NJ based groups provide cover for ecoterrorists).

It is obvious why a hunting group would support a commercial logging program, as forest cuts create more forest edge deer habitat (this basically confirms NJCF’s concerns that the effect of the bill would be to increase deer populations and worsen browsing adverse impacts on forests health).

So, now that the dust has settled, it is time to explore some of the main ideas behind that bill.

The commercial logging program had 3 main so called forestry justifications:

I don’t have expertise or generally get involved in forestry issues, but opposed the bill because it would invite abuse.

Basically, the lack of regulatory standards and effective DEP oversight, coupled with economic incentives to commercial logging and the fee revenues to DEP, would result in rubber stamped economically driven “stewardship” plans.

So, politically, where did this bill come from?

Do the Democratic sponsors Smith and McKeon share Governor Christie’s views that State owned natural resources are economic assets whose values must be monetized and privatized?

[Or did commercial logging, DEP and conservation supporters just see an opportunity to generate revenues to fund themselves?]

Or were other right wing forces involved?

But who have thunk it – the same objectives of the NJ bill are promoted by the right wing billionaire Koch Brothers funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model forestry legislation!

The ALEC bill provides:

The purpose of this act is to create healthier forests and reduce the risk of catastrophic forest fires for communities by: creating a state urban-wildland fire safety committees; authorizing municipalities and counties to using zoning based on wildfire risks; create an office of the state forester to improve forest management; and create healthy forest pilot projects.

Section 4: {Healthy Forest Pilot Program}

(A) The state forester shall:

(1) Identify potential pilot programs to promote forest health, including large land areas for treatment operations and fuel hazard reduction efforts. The identified land areas must include substantial areas of deep forest as well as the urban interface. The programs must harvest and use the forest products in a manner that is science based and environmentally sensitive and include measures to restore healthy water cycles to forest lands.

(2) Identify specific public-private partnerships that may be useful in promoting forest health and maximizing local efforts, which may include joint projects with other governments, including Indian tribes.

(3) Work in partnership with federal agencies to set a pilot program in place.

(4) Identify necessary steps, including specific regulatory relief, that may be needed in conjunction with the provisions of the federal Healthy Forests Restoration Act (P.L. 108-148).

(5) Take necessary steps to maximize state fire assistance grants, including the establishment of timelines for the use of grant monies and the reallocation of lapsed grant monies to other projects

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  1. zimmerman
    January 14th, 2012 at 17:45 | #1

    while they are dwarfed by NJ Audubon, the Pequannock River Coalition was “not opposed” to the logging bill…


  2. January 14th, 2012 at 18:09 | #2

    Yes, I had a series of email discussions with PRC on this bill.

    Some told me that PRC is motivated by the same potential revenues that Audubon is.

  3. January 14th, 2012 at 20:02 | #3


    I really don’t want to ridicule Ross, but that BS about native American first destruction and seeking too resort some mythological ancient primeval forest in NJ is a sick sort of straw man, no?

    NJ is the most developed state in the country.

    All forests here were clearcut by EUROPEANS!

  4. January 14th, 2012 at 20:03 | #4

    @Bill Wolfe

    Typo – that’s supposed to be “Native American forest destruction” not “first”

  5. Eric Stiles
    January 16th, 2012 at 13:39 | #5

    To infer groups like NJ Audubon were motivated by money is wreckless and unfounded. This legislation is a case where reasonable people can and do disagree. NJ Audubon supported the bill for ecological purposes solely. To really why understand why groups are supporting the measure, I would encourage folks to visit two other blogs http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionConservation/StewardshipProgam/StewardshipBlog.aspx and excellent-opinion-article-about-new-forest-stewardship-bill. Happy reading.

  6. January 16th, 2012 at 14:12 | #6

    @Eric Stiles

    Thanks for your comment Eric.

    First of all, If you hit my links above, you will note that I provide a link top NJ Audubon’s blog and explanation of support for the logging bill. I always encourage readers to understand the issues at play and spend a ,to of time on the links.

    you will also note I linked to John Wagar, who also supports the bill.

    It is NOT in any way recess to question the motivations of any interest group – including financial shakes in the outcome.

    Why should Audubon testimony and lobbying in support be treated any differently than Barbara McConnel?

    As I understand it, Nj Audubon has a direct financial stark in the outcome – I don’t believe that those economic interests were disclosed.

    It is not reckless to raise legitimate and fact based concerns.


  7. January 16th, 2012 at 14:13 | #7

    @Bill Wolfe

    please excuse all the typos in the above reply – I was in a hurry!

  8. January 16th, 2012 at 14:15 | #8

    correction to the above reply:

    the link I included in the post was to Dodge blog, not Audubon.

    But it was written by NJ Audubon’s Troy Ettel about the forest stewardship programs.

  9. January 16th, 2012 at 14:17 | #9

    @Bill Wolfe

    correcting a correction:

    I DID link to NJ Audubon’s blog and specifically to their piece in support for the logging bill

  10. January 16th, 2012 at 14:18 | #10

    Hol Moly – just hit ERic’s link

    I linked to the SAME piece!

    Hit the above link under “Audubon’s support”

  11. January 16th, 2012 at 14:23 | #11

    @Eric Stiles

    Eric – see reply comments,

    I specifically linked to NJ Audubon blog piece that you provide link to in your comment – and John Wagar’s support for the bill precisely to provided different points of view.

    I had a similar exchange on the merits with Ross K.

    But, the fact of the matter is NJ Audubon does have financial interests, similar to other special interests.

    I can understand how that might piss you off, but I don’t see how raising that issue is either reckless or unfounded.

    BTW< it’s reckless, not reckless Wolfe

  12. January 16th, 2012 at 14:43 | #12

    Eric – one other point.

    I’m getting old, so refresh or correct my recollection here.

    As I recall, during negotiations on the DEP Hihglands rules, you were lead on the forestry aspects. I recall that you researched forest management metrics to be incorporated in criteria in the rules.

    However, I don’t recall any of the current concerns in the commercial logging bill being made back at that time, e.g open canopy for bird habitat, age class structure and habitat relations et al.

    If those issues now are so important, why weren’t they important back in 2004 for Highlands dress?.

  13. Jon Wagar
    January 16th, 2012 at 15:57 | #13

    First I want to say that I am a reader of your posts and in the past have appreciated you insights into policy issues that are far from my area of expertise. However, on this issue I think you have misinterpreted why many individuals and conservation organizations supported this bill.

    The bill provided additional protections than exist now. As I am sure you are aware, the State already has the authority to manage their lands, and even conduct sivicultural treatments (logging). This bill, for the first time, would have put state forest management under the umbrella of a Forest Stewardship Plan. There was a lot of back and forth in the comments on my blog post about this and many other details about why I supported the bill, which it sounds like you read.

    At this point, I believe that this issue comes down to one of trust…do you trust the DEP staff and partners to advocate for good Forest Stewardship Planning rules that would encourage better land management and ecological forestry? The answer to that question among many in the environmental community is clearly “no” that they don’t trust DEP and other conservation non-profits to create good Forest Stewardship rules.

    I am not sure how we are going to effectively manage our state-owned open space given this mistrust. I, like most of my colleagues who manage land, am convinced that we face some of the most severe conservation threats that have existed. In order to effectively address these threats it will take creativity, collaboration, and active, science-based stewardship.

    Unfortunately, your post perpetuates mistrust by insinuating that NJ Audubon was only supporting the bill because they had something to financially gain from its passing. If you explore some of NJ Audubon’s projects on their stewardship blog, you will see that support of this bill was well within a successful strategic framework they have been developing to better manage our living natural resources; perhaps more than any other conservation group in the state, NJ Audubon has been taking an active science-based approach to addressing conservation threats on preserved lands. One of the main reasons that they have had such success is that they have build trust amongst an extremely diverse groups of farmers, sportsmen, land management agencies, non-profit environmental groups, and foresters and have begun to raise the bar for land stewardship in New Jersey.

  14. January 16th, 2012 at 16:26 | #14

    @Jon Wagar
    Jon – thanks for a very thoughtful and fair comment.

    I’ve worked with Eric Stiles, Tom Gimore, Bill Neil and others at Audubon, and recognize their expertise and conservation orientation. I do not question their personal motivations or integrity.

    But unfortunately, this is more than what you characterize as a “trust” issue.

    I looked at this issue – as many others – from institutional, regulatory, and implementation perspectives.

    I do not have the expertise in forest ecology or management, and I’ve said that openly. I provided links to you and NJ Audubon blogs for those interested in the conservation arguments on the issue.

    It is more than a trust issue, because good individuals get dominated by the institutions they work in. In this case, the main institution I considered was DEP (see my original post). I trust people, but not institutions.

    In this case, the bill provided institutional incentives that would work again forest stewardship objectives – commercial loggers would need to earn a profit and would have economic incentives to cut far more than a stewardship cut. Similarly, I’ve personally witnessed what fee based incentives do to DEP oversight, and it is not pretty. (see my initial post).

    And then there is the current pro-economic development context and the anti-DEP and anti-regulatory oversight that exists.

    The institutional and political dynamics and context have a huge impact on how the bill would actually be implemented, and it is irresponsibly naive not to understand all that.

    I guess my question to you would be this:

    If the stewardship you recommend is so vital (and I am not questioning your analysis of this), then why can’t it be publicly funded via the General Fund, and not be driven by commercial revenues and fees?

    We are talking about public lands here, with multiple management objectives.

  1. April 29th, 2015 at 04:09 | #1
  2. April 30th, 2015 at 22:13 | #2
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