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Christie DEP Managing NJ State Parks, Public Lands & Forests As Cash Cows

Christie’s Monetization Schemes Flow From Liberty State Park to Sparta Mountain

Legislators must step up and stop this madness, just like they did at Liberty State Park

Revenue generation should be maximized through the use of concessions, camping and park rentals and forest management. ~~~ Christie DEP Transition Report

[With important end note]

(this is part nine 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 and part four and five and six and seven and eight).

Which is the more insane proposal: commercial development in iconic Liberty State Park or commercial logging of Green Acres acquired forests in the Highlands Preservation Area?

Bear with me as I rehash the Christie DEP’s Liberty State Park fiasco and then explain how it is very similar to what is now going on with the highly controversial DEP’s Sparta Mountain logging plan.

Comparison of the two disasters will show that they share the same roots:

1) a Christie policy to monetize, commercialize, and privatize State lands and natural resources to promote economic development and generate revenues to run State government operations;

2) outsourcing and secret planning by private groups to provide political cover for deeply unpopular plans;

3) public outrage.

The Liberty State Park Disaster – a bad idea, developed in secret

Friends of Liberty State Park – and supporters of NJ’s State Parks across the State – recently were outraged upon learning that the DEP planned to commercialize and privatize Liberty State Park.

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin and his politically installed parks management hacks knew that such a move would be controversial and would never gain public support.

So, to evade that controversy and public accountability,  they provided a $120,000 grant to the private planning group NJ Future to secretly develop the LSP plan and provide a veneer of legitimacy and political cover for it.

That secrecy and betrayal by NJ Future further outraged the public and Democratic legislators:

Public outrage over NJ Future’s secret planning forced NJ Future to try to do damage control and walk it back. Check out this NJF planning methodology:

DEP provided a grant to New Jersey Future (NJF) to identify and contract with an urban park consultant to test the viability of Liberty State Park as a world class destination. NJF engaged Biederman Redevelopment Ventures (BRV) to conduct this analysis. BRV is the creator of the largest number of private urban redevelopment projects in the United States.

BVR interviewed and conducted tours of Liberty State Park with 30 leaders and innovators in the fields of real estate development, event production, hospitality, retail, recreation, and urban planning. Over the course of this process, a picture of the practical uses for Liberty State Park has emerged, and BVR was presented with more than 20 “big ideas” from these accomplished experts. BRV’s report is included in the Appendix.

Then, NJ Future ducked a legislative oversight hearing and had to make excuses for it.

But none of that worked, and as the controversy continued to rage, ultimately NJ Future was forced to publicly apologize and promise to never do it again: (NJ.Com Op-Ed)

While the content of the report may or may not create controversy, the secrecy which shrouds its issuance is very controversial and suggests there is a hidden agenda.  Clearly what has occurred is not what NJF expected.  According to an interview with Peter Kasabach, they had hoped that the report would get a “full vetting” and “based on being placed in this situation, they [NJF] would not do something like this again.”  

Since then, Legislators have been joined by leading candidates for the next Governor and have pledged to block Christie’s plan, see:

How and why did this happen? 

As I’ve written many times (see this and this), the news media finally reported that the source of the problem is Gov. Christie’s “Sustainable Funding Strategy” for State Parks, which seeks to generate revenues from State parks via commercialization and privatization (NJ.com story reported):

The park currently has two restaurants and a marina, but as part of Gov. Chris Christie’s “sustainable parks” initiative, the state is exploring ways to make Liberty State Park profitable. Reports have said the park operates with an annual loss of $500,000.

OK – now that we understand the dynamics and Christie policy that led to the Liberty State Park disaster, lets now turn to the Sparta Mountain logging scheme.

Original Sin Led To Logging: Christie DEP Transition Report written by special interests

We start at the beginning, which – similar to how the LSP disaster originated in a flawed policy –  was Gov. Christie’s DEP Transition Report.

That Report made a series of radical recommendations, among other things regarding economic development of natural resources and management of State lands.

The key player was a Transition team member Anthony Mauro, who represents a group of economic interests and right wing ideologues that range from farmers, fishermen, hunters and “mudders” (ORV) to commercial logging, professional foresters, gun manufactures, recreational vehicle industry, and the National Rifle Association. They call themselves the “NJ Outdoor Alliance”.

Accordingly, the special interests wrote recommendations designed to promote their economic interests in public lands and rollback DEP regulatory protections of natural resources, and provide revenue, all under the guise of “Stewardship”. Here it is, in their own words: (*lengthy excerpt, because DEP is sure to kill the link now that I posted it)

5) Natural Resource Stewardship: Establish a comprehensive and strategic approach toward public lands management, forest stewardship and management of Threatened and Endangered species habitat.

5. Natural Resource Stewardship:

Issue: The State’s efforts toward proper management and conservation of natural resources have been lacking. As mentioned earlier, the DEP has increased its own responsibilities in other areas, and the Legislature has placed new, unfunded mandates that do not pertain to the management of natural resources, which has ultimately forced the Department to neglect this area. Furthermore, shortsighted policies have limited the effectiveness of the DEP to protect species habitat, actively manage forests and efficiently preserve land.

Recommendation: The DEP needs a renewed focus on natural resource management and conservation. The DEP must research the feasibility of a self-sustaining Department of Natural Resources or other solutions that raise this issue area to the same level of importance as other areas overseen by the Department. Furthermore, the DEP must practice stewardship of forests and threatened and endangered species habitat. Finally, the DEP must take steps to more efficiently preserve land and be a better partner with agriculture.

The Department should:

  • Create a task force of biologists, legislators, foresters, environmentalists, DEP personnel, Department of Agriculture personnel, business persons and representatives from the United States Fish and Wildlife Management Assistance Team to perform a feasibility study for creating a revenue oriented, self sustaining Department of Natural Resource Conservation or other potential solutions to better focus the State’s efforts on natural resource conservation.
  • Transfer all real estate closures (Green Acres, DOT Rights of Way, farmland preservation, etc.) to the Treasury Department’s Division of Property Management and Construction to streamline the closing process, create consistency and eliminate costly and unnecessary delays.
  • Establish a comprehensive public lands management strategy that includes forest stewardship and management of species habitat.
  • There needs to be a recognition that agriculture, like every other business in New Jersey, has been overregulated and burdened by DEP rules. Farmers should be recognized as stewards to the land and treated as partners in land preservation not potential polluters.
  • Revenue generation should be maximized through the use of concessions, camping and park rentals and forest management.

These economic oriented recommendations included an attack on DEP’s “Landscape Project”

The Landscape Project is a pro-active, ecosystem-level approach for the long-term protection of imperiled species and their important habitats in New Jersey. The N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) began the project in 1994. Its goal: to protect New Jersey’s biological diversity by maintaining and enhancing imperiled wildlife populations within healthy, functioning ecosystems. (more)

The objective of Mr. Mauro and his corporate bosses, hunters, loggers and right wing gun nut/NRA and developer friends was to assure that the Landscape Project was NOT used a a basis for regulatory protections of habitat.

That attack is not disguised – again, in their own words: (see page 12-13)

  • Other Immediate Regulatory Changes

Immediately suspend the inappropriate use of the Landscape Project mapping of purported Threatened and Endangered species habitat. Pending rulemaking or other action, apply regulatory protections for species habitat based upon scientifically valid data and documented habitat as defined in DEP rules and statutes. The Landscape Maps were initially designed to provide a map of the habitat that an identified threatened or endangered species needs to survive. DEP is now using Landscape Maps as a regulatory device to restrict all development in mapped areas where threatened or endangered species could theoretically exist.

These policy recommendations have all been implemented in the Sparta Mountain logging plan.

The attack on the Landscape Project and the sham issue about “mapped areas where threatened or endangered species could theoretically exist” perfectly explains why NJ Audubon de-designated Sparta Mountain as High Conservation Value Forest – explicitly on an allegation that RT&E species habitats were mapped but the species were not present.

These are the economic special interests NJ Audubon is working for.

NJ Audubon is serving the same role as NJ Future did at Liberty State Park. They kept the logging plan quietly under cover and below the radar and out of public sight. They flat out lied about involving the public, conservation groups, and local governments in the plan’s development. And they are providing the same political cover and legitimation that NJ Future attempted (but failed to do).

I don’t know if I am more shocked and disgusted by DEP’s plan to log Highlands Preservation Area forests, or the lies of NJ Audubon and their faux “conservation” friends.

Truly disgraceful on both counts.

Let’s hope that Legislators step up and stop this madness, just like they did at Liberty State Park.

[End note: for those who think they know the economic value of everything.

The business friendly Gov. Christie issued Executive Order #2 that requires, among other things, that State agencies conduct cost-benefit analysis as part of the policy and regulatory process.

Furthermore, DEP Commissioner Martin is a former corporate consultant, with an academic background in economics.

So, here’s a simple back of the envelope cost benefit analysis for them:

A prior 2004 DEP study estimated the economic value of NJ’s State Parks and Forests (not including WMA’s), and concluded:

Summary and Conclusions

New Jersey’s State parks and forests provide total annual gross benefits estimated at between $953 million and $1.4 billion, with a central estimate of $1.2 billion (all figures in 2004 dollars). These annual benefit flows translate into present value amounts of between $31.8 billion and $45.4 billion of natural capital (central estimate $38.5 billion) based on discounting at a societal discount rate of 3%/year over an unrestricted time horizon. Since some benefits could not be quantified, these estimates are believed to be conservative.

The value of the goods and services provided by the State parks and forests may change in the future as a result of climate change, nearby land use conversion, and other natural and “anthropogenic” causes. The State parks and forests represent economically productive “assets” which are in many cases irreplaceable. Their preservation and enhancement therefore makes good economic sense and good public policy.

In contrast, commercial timber values were a tiny fraction of the preserved value of State Parks and forests:

Consumption Goods

Assuming a sustainable management regime, the State parks and forests could in principle generate about $6 million annually in sales of commercial-grade timber. The U.S. Forest Service information on which these estimates are based dates from 1999, and there is therefore a significant degree of uncertainty in these estimates, especially since there are no comprehensive ecological models of New Jersey’s forests. Development of such models could be a worthwhile future research task. The amount of commercial firewood harvested from the State parks and forests is minimal. This report did not attempt to quantify the value of fish and game animals taken in the State parks and forests.

Do the math: $6 million from logging versus $1.2 BILLION from preservation.

Update – and while the Christie DEP is willing to squeeze money out of park users, campers and boaters, they charge big oil and gas companies just pennies on the dollar to destroy public lands with pipeline and electric transmission ROW.

And they promote and subsidize damaging Hot Dog concessions.

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