Home > Uncategorized > “Forest Harvest” Bill Is Clearcut – Substitute Bill To Be Drafted

“Forest Harvest” Bill Is Clearcut – Substitute Bill To Be Drafted

Will Forest and Public Lands Management Be Privatized?

[Update: 3/20/12 – Just as predicted,  the bill is now being sold as a positive compromise measure – see NJ Spotlight story: Compromise Solution Could Help Restore Health of NJ Woodlands

Senator Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) Chairman of Environment Committee

[Updates below]

Responding to tremendous public opposition, Senator Smith has scrapped his controversial “forest harvest” bill, and agreed to redraft a substitute bill to address some of the concerns raised.

Smith made that announcement at the outset of yesterday’s Senate Environment Committee marathon hearing, which was dedicated exclusively to the merits of the “forest stewardship” issue.

Smith indicated that the plan going forward would be: 1) to listen to the testimony today, 2) to consider DEP’s suggested amendments, 3) to hold an “Earth Week” “stakeholder meeting” on April 26 at 10 am, and then 4) use all that input to redraft a substitute bill for consideration in early May. The substitute bill would be available for public review sometime after April 26, after the OLS Committee aid got a chance to digest the material and redraft a bill.

In a parallel effort preceding yesterday’s hearing, DEP apparently held a recent “Stakeholder meeting” of their own – with a hand picked group of  foresters, hunters, and supportive “conservation” groups (the phrase is put in quotes, because some of those conservation groups actually are forestry and mitigation consultants, with economic stakes in the forestry bill).

That DEP “Stakeholder” meeting – coupled with a call for political Kumbaya by Mike Cataniawere used to create the false appearance of an emerging consensus in support of a public lands forestry program, if not the specifics of the “forest harvest” bill.

The DEP meeting resulted in recommended amendments, which were distributed to and available only to a small set of hand picked allies. I was not even aware of this meeting and had no access to the DEP amendments – I am trying to get them now.

Smith played right along with this game too.

I get tired of this manipulative bullshit by DEP and the acquiescence of certain conservation groups, which has hit an all-time low. [Update: Clarification: I am advised by legislative staff that the problem “was my fault … not bad behavior by DEP”.]

Smith and the Democrats need to be calling out DEP on this exclusionary and non-transparent “Stakeholder” process cover, not playing along with it.

Anyway, getting back to yesterday’s hearing.

Smith indicated the following broad outlines of what the new substitute bill would look like:

  • rename the bill “Forest Stewardship” and eliminate all references to “harvest”, which he repeatedly insisted was a poor choice of words and not the intent of his legislation;
  • base the program on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards and include the FSC’s third party private certification and audit process;
  • include the Pinelands and prescribed burns as a management tool (consolidate with S368);
  • enhance the public review process
  • include additional “wild area” restrictions

The hearing was a marathon (you can listen here).

Virtually all state conservation groups testified – the overall tone was one of seeking consensus, but there remained several important outstanding substantive disagreements that were downplayed in what I believe was a  misguided effort to follow Catania’s political strategy.

My testimony was brief, given that it came at the very end of an almost 3 hour hearing.

I raised concerns with the rejection of the US Forest Service regulatory model in favor of a private 3rd party FSC model, based only on the claims of some testimony that suggested they were “bureaucratic” and would paralyze effective action.

This model sounds a lot like the kind of privatization Senator Smith created with his “Licensed Site Remediation Professionals” (LSRP) bill (AKA “mercenaries”).

Last year, DEP proposed to expand this LSRP privatization model into land use permits, a move that was blocked by severe criticism and legislative oversight hearings.

Now, privatization seems to be creeping into forest and public lands management.

[Note: Gov. Christie issued a privatization policy by Executive Order 17 and already announced State Parks privatization plans in his Administration’s “Sustainable Funding Strategy for NJ State Parks“]

Instead of government regulators and enforceable regulations controlling forest management programs, the FSC approach would basically be controlled by certified foresters overseen by a privatized third party certification program.

I pledged to do some research on the US Forest Service’s stated rationale for preferring a regulatory model over the private FSC model.

A related troubling issue is the role of contract certified foresters in the program. DEP and forester testimony stressed the benefits of contracting out work to private consultants. What is not clear is exactly what work would be contracted oiut and how contractors would be held accountable.

Per DEP testimony, apparently the NY and Pennsylvania programs restrict contractors, while the Maryland program does not. DEP testified that they looked to the Maryland program for a model, so there is another potential privatization mechanisms under the contracting power as well.

There were several science and management issues discussed that are either too detailed or beyond my expertise to weigh in on effectively here.

My bottom line sense right now is that this legislative initiative still remains a threat.

The bill is being driven by self interested groups: certified foresters (seeking contracts and money), hunters (seeking more game that would result from creation of more early successional habitat), and “conservation” groups (seeking contract revenues and federal and state grants).

Senator Smith and conservation groups have invested a huge amount of political capital in the initiative, it is becoming bipartisan and is gaining momentum and is thus likely to pass in some form.

At this point, given this likelihood, perhaps the most effective damage control strategy is to try to limit the geographic scope of the bill, expand safeguards, limit the revenue generation and ability to cash cow and cross subsidize projects, and limit the program to a 5 year demonstration pilot program at 3 or so sites in different regions of the state.

And so I’ll close by paraphrasing the testimony of a former Readington Mayor:

How will cutting 100 year old oaks from Cushetunk Mountain make that recreation area a better place?

Right: just how will that work?

[Update: 3/14/12 – “Controlled burns” causing health problems]

Update: The bill will include so called “prescribed” or “controlled burns” – is this another example of an “out of control burn”?

Firefighters on the scene of Thursday's blaze in Cedarville. (Source: nj.com)

Firefighters on the scene of Thursday's blaze in Cedarville. (Source: nj.com)

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