Home > Uncategorized > Christie DEP Proposes Vast Expansion of Logging On Sparta Mountain (Part One)

Christie DEP Proposes Vast Expansion of Logging On Sparta Mountain (Part One)

“Stewardship” Is Guise for Logging, Hunting & Corporate Interests

Sparta Mountain WMA - just off Edison Road

Sparta Mountain WMA – Collins Pond, just off Edison Road

The DEP just released a draft “Forest Stewardship Plan – Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area“.

The NJ Herald has an overview story today, see:

The proposal reignites a nasty debate over the role of logging in NJ public lands management under the guise of “stewardship”.

Back in 2013, proposed legislation to create a statewide “Forest Stewardship” program on State lands, based on private 3rd party certification by the private Forest Stewardship Council, was opposed by some environmental and public interests groups and failed to pass.

DEP proceeded with the “Forest Stewardship” initiative, despite the lack of legislative authorization and policy guidance. Apparently, DEP revised its own internal forest management policies and practices, including public “stakeholder” involvement, in response to this controversial legislative debate. But the proposed draft plan preceded those changes:

Recently, the NJ State Forest Service (SFS) proposed a 14-step process in the creation of forest stewardship plans on state lands with guidance from stakeholders throughout the planning process. This plan was initiated years prior to this process; therefore it has not observed all 14 steps. However, measures have been taken to consult stakeholders during the early phases of this plan, and in recognition of this new process, measures will continue to be taken to solicit stakeholder comments prior to implementation of management activities. (@ page 5)

Public comments can be submitted until January 24, 2016. A form to submit comments to DEP can be found here.

The Players

Before summarizing some of the issues raised by the draft plan – which we will do in part two –  let me first outline the institutions that are involved and their interests.

A look into the players and their motivations reveals that special interests in forestry consulting, commercial logging, hunting, DEP bureaucracy, and narrow “conservation” views have teamed up to undermine the broader public interest and competing public lands management and forest uses.

First, the plan was prepared by a private forestry consultant for the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).

The professional arrogance and naked economic motivation behind the draft plan are not merely to generate additional consulting forestry business.

But, as the plan itself makes clear, the strategic objective is to discredit and dismiss the public’s so called “passive” forest “preservation” approach and instead rebuild an economically viable forestry industry in NJ:

While resources were concentrated on preservation efforts, little attention was afforded to the impacts of converting this much land to public ownership in such a short time. The public’s attitude towards “preserving” public land became ingrained on passive ownership, and local industries associated with the harvesting and processing of forest products from these properties declined steadily. The industry decline was compounded by the increased availability of lucrative land clearing work associated with the large scale development clearing. While development has slowed some, the industry dynamics remain, and very much affect stewardship possibilities. The absence of a viable market for forest products eliminates any income potential from wood products to offset the costs associated with stewardship work. It creates a financial burden that prevents landowners from enacting practices to enhance forest heath and resiliency. Because of this, it is important for leaders in conservation to find environmentally sustainable and socially responsible ways to utilize New Jersey’s renewable forest resource as a way to offset costs associated with stewardship on a meaningful level. With public land occupying a significant proportion of New Jersey’s forests, it is imperative that public officials consider the socioeconomic impacts of their actions, as well as how this impacts surrounding private forest lands. (@ page 18).

I exposed this economic motivation to restore an in state commercial logging industry during the controversial debate on proposed “Forest Stewardship” legislation, by quoting the testimony of the NJ Farm Bureau:

“In the early 1980’s, the state stopped participating in timber sales. So the state lands that were managed in timber, up to that point in time, were an important part of attracting the timber industry to the State. The State owns half or more of the wooded lands, so its been on the back of smaller producers to attract competition to the state. And what they’ve ended up with is the one guy who wants to come and cut in NJ, kind of setting the market price. And so we’ve had a depressed value of our wood products.

We see, by the State re-entering into a managed timbering process, that more vendors will be attracted  to come into the state and then they’ll pick up those smaller [private] parcels … and we’ll see an economic benefit to our state, for the private forest lands as well as the public lands, because landowners will have more options in how they do those managed cuts. […]

And then its the ability of the State to recoup those costs through the sale of the timber. … 

With the increased participation by the state we will see increased competition amongst those that harvest these products and better prices  which them improves the overall wood and timber industry in the state.

So, the context for this plan must be a “camel’s nose under the tent” threat to begin expansion of a commercial logging industry on state lands for timber from northern hardwood forests.

Shifting gears from forestry to DEP DFW.

While non-game species and habitat goals are mentioned, experience has shown that the priority goal of the DFW is funded by and heavily influenced by recreational hunters:

To maximize the recreational and commercial use of New Jersey’s fish and wildlife for both present and future generations.

The draft plan builds on a prior pilot “stewardship” plan by NJ Audubon Society, a self described “conservation” group that has significant economic interests in “stewardship” and “mitigation” and related consulting and land management practices.

[* Note: The draft plan would increase logging about six-fold (i.e. thus headline claim of a “vast expansion”), compared with NJA pilot annual logging rate. More to follow on details.]

NJA’s “stewardship” approach – particularly with respect to creation of early successional forest habitat –  just so happens to coincide with the interests of and is funded by major corporations, like PSEG. More power line and pipeline ROW = More early successional habitat! Yay!

A good example of those conflicts of interests that lead to abuses can been seen in the controversial Susquehanna-Roseland power line through Delaware Watergap – the power companies effectively corrupted federal regulators with a $60 million mitigation deal, which conservation groups like NJA benefitted from via either mitigation work or land acquisition (in addition to ROW work with PSEG).

At best, NJA has a conflict of interest with respect to the draft plan. In fact, some have described NJA’s work as more like that of a private consultant than a conservation group.

Flawed Conservation Rationale

We are left scratching our head, because the DEP proposal is at odds with the fundamental conservation strategy that led to the passage of the Highlands Act.

The prime conservation imperative in passage on the Highlands Act was preservation of the existing large tracts of contiguous forest, maximization of forest canopy cover, and prevention of fragmentation.

Those regional management objectives were initially espoused by the US Forest Service:

  • The Highlands serve as a major migratory flyway for many neotropical bird species, many of which populations are in decline. Of particular concern to ornithologists are the 70 to 75 species of interior nesting neotropical migrants such as the red-eyed vireo, American redstart, Kentucky warbler, and eastern pewee. These species require large undisturbed forest patches.
  • Fragmentation and alteration of habitat continue to pose the greatest threat to the biological communities in the Highlands. The rapid expansion of urbanization encroaches on and fragments habitat, destroys individuals as well as populations, and potentially threatens the continued existence of many biological communities. Degradation of habitat by direct destruction or indirectly through pollution, erosion, introduction of invasive species, or fragmentation threatens the existence of species, diminishes natural communities, and reduces genetic variability.  ~~~ NJ/NJ Highlands Regional Study (US Forest Service, 2002)

The over-riding value of Highlands forests – as intact forests – in protecting water quality and quantity and providing habitat and recreational values was the foundation of the Highlands Act. (See Section 32. B.:

b. The Highlands Preservation Area approval shall also require:

(1) a prohibition on major Highlands development within 300 feet of any Highlands open waters, and a 300-foot buffer adjacent to all Highlands open waters;

[(2) – (6)]

(7) a prohibition on development …. on steep slopes with a grade of 20% or greater; and

(8) a prohibition on development that disturbs upland forested areas, in order to prevent soil erosion and sedimentation, protect water quality, prevent stormwater runoff, and protect threatened and endangered animal and plant species sites and designated habitats.

Those legislative goals and prohibitions were recognized in the Highlands Regional Plan, which correctly places the economic and commodity values of forests not in terms of timber production, but in competing water, ecological and recreational values:

Water and other ecological resources are arguably the most important and valuable forest product produced in the Highlands Region. Raw water has a real value to society for human use and consumption and ecological services. Persons who own “vacant land” are producing water for the benefit of society.  ~~~ Highlands Regional Plan

A fundamental assumption in the Highlands conservation strategy was that fragmenting forests and opening the canopy were to be avoided because they created a host of negative effects and dynamics, perhaps most important was because disturbance increased edge effects, destroyed interior forest habitat, created erosion, and increased sunlight on the forest floor fueled a proliferation of invasive species.

In Part Two, we will examine the draft plan and show how it conflicts with the the objectives of the Highlands Act and public lands management. We also will question the narrow conservation objective to promote habitat for golden wing warbler.

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