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Calling Bullshit On NJ Audubon’s “Forest Stewardship”

Foundation & Government Grant & Consulting Contract Revenue Driven Conservation

Private, closed, insular, & self interested model of management

Absurd & inappropriate for public lands management

(this is part six in our series on DEP’s proposed Sparta Mountain WMA logging plan – see parts 1-5 here.)

[Update #2 – 2/24/16:  “Sparta Mountain Backlash”

Former NJDEP Policy Analyst and Planner, and former Policy Director for the Sierra Club’s NJ Chapter, Bill Wolfe, feels that the different groups involved with this plan have other economic motives, rather than real conservation.

“Seeing the players and their games behind the scenes, I find it sinister,” Wolfe said. “They range from the agricultural interests in the farm bureau that look at landowners who own forest blocks of land that want to reap some revenue from that, to other folks that actually want to see a reemergence of the forest products industry in New Jersey — that want to harvest New Jersey hardwood forests in the northern Highlands for timber.“

As far as the Audubon Society’s involvement, Wolfe said that the Audubon is either being selfish in trying to promote the interests of the Golden-winged warbler, or they’re being beyond selfish, into greedy and misleading. According to Wolfe, the Audubon has economic interests as an organization with doing this kind of work. ~~~ end update]

[Update: 2/19/16 – 11:00 pm – I just got an email from a resident who told me that they received direct mail from NJ Audubon to promote this logging plan.  I find that reprehensible. More to flow.]

Yesterday, NJ Audubon sent out an “Action Alert” (red font in original) to their members, urging them to support the Sparta Mountain WMA logging plan.

An “Action Alert” from NJ Audubon on a DEP issue is a rare event indeed, about as likely as that left turn Hurricane Sandy took to hit the NJ coast at a right angle.

So, they must be feeling the heat and are desperate.

In contrast with their aggressive and frantic “Action Alert” advocacy, NJ Audubon is aware of many places – including places they’ve designated “Important Bird Area” (IBA) and/or “High Conservation Value Forest” (HCVF) – that are threatened by destruction from pipelines (e.g. PennEast, Baldpate Mountain) yet they remain SILENT, never mind sending out an “Alert” to their members.

NJ Audubon staff feel the need to “Action Alert” their members to support a logging plan, but they don’t say anything when HCVF forest and bird habitat is threatened with destruction by pipelines? Are you kidding me?

NJ Audubon has told the private Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) that they engaged in a Stakeholder process to consult the public about their logging plan – which includes de-designation of Sparta Mountain WMA as “High Conservation Value Forest”.

That is at best, misleading.

I’ve seen the “Stakeholder” list – which amounts to a like minded group of similarly financially self-interested friends – and read the emails and they are extremely misleading (e.g. Audubon requested Stakeholder review of plant inventory data sets and methods as a basis for designation of HCVF, yet used that consultation as evidence of Stakeholder input to de-designate HCVF!).

In politics, these kind of corrupt practices are known as “log-rolling” – pun intended!

The whole process reeks of insider self dealing – there is no transparency, no accountability, and no public involvement.

And I haven’t even gotten to the FSC audit issues yet – that travesty will be a future post. For now, lets just mention that after reading very questionable claims and findings in prior audits, I tried to participate in FSC’s audit (conducted yesterday) of NJA Sparta Mt. project as an official “Observer” and was blocked. If I had not been blocked (NJ Audubon approval is required), I would have been required to sign a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement and the underlying information that forms the basis of the audit is confidential and under exclusive control of NJ Audubon. I am now about to engage in the FSC dispute resolution process.

This is an absurd, private, and self interested model of management – it is totally inappropriate to bring to public lands management issues.

NJ Audubon designated Sparta Mountain WMA as an “Important Bird & Birding Area” (IBBA).

IBBA designation – alone – should quality Sparta Mountain as HCVF.

Yet now they claim those same conservation values have somehow disappeared – to justify logging the forest.

Let’s be perfectly clear: NJ Audubon is chasing foundation and government grant funding, management contracts, and consulting revenues – they have become dominated by professional foresters, not bird conservationists.

The Sparta Mt. forest plan is based on claims of a single age class forest and lack of forest diversity, which allegedly leads to suboptimal habitat and a decline in ecological health.

But we read from NJ Audubon “Important Bird & Birding Area” (IBA) report on Sparta Mountain the following contradictory assessment (IBA alone should be grounds for “High conservation value forest” designation):

Birds: The different habitats of Sparta Mountain WMA support an exceptional diversity of birds from migrating and breeding hawks and warblers to waterfowl and wading birds. Breeding raptors include state-endangered Northern Goshawks and Red-shouldered Hawks, state-threatened Barred Owls and state-special concern Cooper’s andBroad-winged HawksA variety of forest interior and scrub-shrub species also thrive at the Sparta Mountain WMA. Breeding Golden-winged Warblers are especially abundant within the scrub-shrub habitats of right of ways.

Curiously, the link to the NJA field report supporting the IBA designation is not working – that field data is relevant to the NJA decision to de-designate Sparta WMA as HCVF.

The “single age class – lack of habitat diversity” claim by NJA and professional foresters also flat out contradicts “forest mosaic” findings of the USFS Report on the Highlands, which I am so glad Mr. Kallesser (Allegheny foresters) notes here in the Weldon Brook logging plan:

“Most of the forests of New Jersey date back to the turn of the 20th century through the 1920’s. At that point, the chestnut and oak forests were growing back after the heavy and widespread cutting for charcoal. However, an exotic fungus known as the chestnut blight would sweep through the region, eliminating the dominant chestnut overstory, leaving the oak-dominated forest present in much of northern New Jersey today. Other forest age classes were created from later abandonment of agricultural lands, and from forest regeneration harvests, as well as from natural events such as severe wind events, fire, and severe insect infestation. That mosaic of different age classes and cover types supports the high species biodiversity of the region, according to the 2002 USDA Forest Service report on the NJ Highlands.”

That excerpt is by professional forester Steve Kallesser’s firm, for NJ DEP DFW –  on Weldon Brook logging. Kallesser is leading the charge on defending the Sparta Mt. plan (more on that set of relationships and financial conflicts to follow).

Further evidence of the flawed data and conservation approach underlying NJA “stewardship” logging plans can be found in the Highland Coalition’s critique and comments on the Mahlor Dickerson plan.

The real NJA motives are made obvious in this excerpt:

Natural resources 2/24/14 – MORRIS COUNTY PARKS COMMISSION

Hearing a presentation and proposal from NJ Audubon (NJA) representatives Jeremy Caggiano, Don Donnelly and John Cecil to establish a management and use agreement to develop a forest stewardship plan for Mahlon Dickerson Reservation and subsequently implement forest management activities on the property after review and approval by the Park Commission. Stewardship needs would be developed using a regional approach that looks at Mahlon Dickerson as part of a large network of open space that includes Sparta Mountain NJDEP Fish & Wildlife, Wildlife Management Area(WMA), the NJA’s Sparta Preserve, Weldon Brook WMA, Hudson Farm(privately owned) and the Berkshire Valley WMA. A management agreement with the NJA would enable the Park Commission to apply for USDA NRCS funding for plan development and implementation through the EQIP Program. Adoption of a stewardship plan could make the MCPC eligible for other grants and cost‐sharing funds for long term habitat and sustainable forest management.

Beware folks, NJA and their professional forestry friends are coming to a forest near you!

Has NJ Audubon pitched to your County or local government or DEP, like they did to Morris County Parks?

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