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Sparta Mountain Is Public Land, Purchased with Green Acres Funds

Forest Preservation Values Far Outweigh Logging and Hunting

Christie DEP Would Allow Special Interests To Dictate Public Lands Policy

(this is part four of our look at the DEP’s proposed Sparta Mountain “Forest Stewardship Plan” which would significantly expand logging on the mountain. Here are links to read part one and part two and part three.)

When the people of NJ and their Legislators vote overwhelmingly in favor of Green Acres bonds to pay to preserve open space – particularly to protect Highlands forests – they certainly don’t have logging in mind.

Sparta Mountain is a “Wildlife Management Area” (WMA) but the 3,461 acres of land was acquired with Green Acres funds (see DEP data). The public who approved those funds voted for open space preservation and recreation, not logging and hunting.

According to DEP, there are 353,442 acres of land in NJ designated as “Wildlife Management Areas” (WMA) under the administration  of DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).

But 70% of WMA lands were purchased with Green Acres bond funds. Only 27 % were acquired by DFW (but the funding source is not specified) and just 3% were acreage acquired with Waterfowl Stamp Program funds. So these lands are not “owned” by or intended to serve the interests of hunting, logging or wildlife management interests.

The DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) is merely the administrative entity that owns those lands – they are held in trust by DFW for the benefit of all the people and environmental values of the state.

The management of the public land on Sparta Mountain is governed by the laws and policies of Green Acres, not DFW’s program goals which are dominated by exploitive and extractive special interests like hunting and logging.

Yet the DEP’s proposed Sparta Mountain “Forest Stewardship Plan” completely fails to mention that the forest was acquired by Green Acres funds.

Worse, the proposed plan has the relationship between Green Acres and DFW mission and the balance of multiple uses of public lands exactly backwards.

Here is the Green Acres mission – note the emphasis on public use and enjoyment, the multiple uses served by Green Acres, and the lack of any mention of logging and hunting:

Green Acres Mission
To achieve, in partnership with others, a system of interconnected open spaces, whose protection will preserve and enhance New Jersey’s natural environment and its historic, scenic, and recreational resources for public use and enjoyment. The Green Acres Program was created in 1961 to meet New Jersey’s growing recreation and conservation needs. Together with public and private partners, Green Acres has protected over half a million acres of open space and provided hundreds of outdoor recreational facilities in communities around the State.

But here is how the DEP plan expresses these issues – in particular note the “primary emphasis” on wildlife management: (see page 29)


The SMWMA offers many opportunities for public recreation including; hunting, hiking, mountain biking, running, fishing, cross country skiing, and wildlife viewing. Although wildlife management should be the primary emphasis for any Wildlife Management Area, it is paramount to balance habitat treatments at SMWMA with the recreational needs that users have grown to expect from this property. This balance will be achieved by treating small acreages at a time (where public use might be restricted for safety concerns), leaving most of the property undisturbed and completely open to the public. Management activities proposed throughout this FSP will improve recreational experiences by enhancing ecosystem services. However, silvicultural treatments may be temporarily unattractive to many. This can be mitigated to some degree through the use of leave- tree buffers around treatment areas known to receive more use, like well-known trails and vistas. Educating the public to the idea that an open park-like understory is less ecologically valuable than dense forest with downed trees and slash, may help to redefine the public’s view of forest aesthetics. This could be accomplished through strategic interpretive station placement.

Note how the premise of the plan is that the public’s aesthetic values are somehow wrong and need to be “mitigated”  and “redefined” through “education”.  At best that is public relations and propaganda – and it is totally inappropriate for a government agency to be doing that via an “interpretive station” in the forest.

This is bureaucratic and techno-hubris on steroids. The tyranny of the so called experts.

I don’t know about you, but I am horrified – absolutely horrified – when I see something like this, which the plan describes in Orwellian euphemism as a “seed tree treatment”, not a clearcut:

DEP calls this a "seed tree treatment" - Orwell's term for a clearcut

DEP calls this a “seed tree treatment” – Orwell’s term for a clearcut

Fatal Flaws abound

The birders I talk to express regret but frankly tell me that the Golden Wing Warbler (GWW) is gone from NJ – or hybridized with blue wing. They say the GWW objectives of the DEP plan are absurd.

The forest ecologists I talk to tell me that the plan would bring sunlight to the forest floor, stimulate a proliferation of invasive species and that forests will not regenerate due to deer browse. They also note destruction of habitat for other species, like interior forest birds and rare plants. They question the failure to consider and quantify natural blowdown and related habitat change resulting from recent major storms.

I haven’t spoken to the trout fishermen yet, but I imagine that Trout Unlimited will strongly oppose logging in the headwaters of Russia Brook, a trout production stream. Ditto the 40-50 foot buffers and the flawed  scientific claims about no significant increase in stream temperatures or sedimentation that would devastate trout sensitive trout populations.

The Highlands advocates I talk to strongly oppose the plan as the antithesis of the conservation and land preservation strategy of the Highlands Act and RMP.

Hikers, birders, and nature photographers/observers, like NJ Sierra Club, oppose the plan as incompatible with public use and enjoyment of the forest.

Public health advocates I talk to tell me that herbicide treatments poison public water supplies and ecosystems, not something anyone should promote in a public water supply watershed.

Watershed protection groups tell me that logging will destroy wetlands and sensitive headwaters and impair water quality, and increase erosion and downstream flooding.

Conservation and open space advocates tell me that logging public lands undermines public support for open space funding and contradicts the purposes of Green Acres.

I haven’t had a chance to talk to historic preservationists, but I am aware of significant historical and cultural resources on the mountain, including Edison Village, that would be negatively impacted.

From a climate change perspective, the plan would reduce the capacity for carbon sequestration in forests – exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. If DEP wants to cultivate early successional forests, why not engage in afforestation of barren or agricultural lands? That would INCREASE carbon sequestration, not reduce it. Better yet, professional foresters and DEP could invest in a massive urban forestry program and address carbon sequestration and urban heat island effects.

And I’m sure the mountain biking and tourist communities are not attracted to logged forests and will go elsewhere to enjoy themselves and spend their money – Has the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce considered these kind of negative economic impacts?

The DEP plan would benefit a tiny handful of hunters, professional foresters, and commercial loggers.

It must be abandoned.

In part five, we look as some of the specific blocks of forest and critique the analysis used to justify heavy logging i.e. “seed tree treatments” on 9 of the 33 blocks.

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