Archive for March, 2016

NJ Audubon Supported Preservation of Highlands Forests, Not Logging – What Explains The U-Turn?

March 22nd, 2016 No comments

NJ Audubon Head Eric Stiles Has Some ‘Splainin’ To Do

Aggressive Defense of Controversial Sparta Mt. Logging Plan Shreds Group’s Credibility

Forest wildlife diversity depends on large contiguous forest patches, connections to other habitats, structurally complex vegetation, intact seasonal wetlands, and the presence of native vegetation. Disruption of any of these components can dramatically reduce wildlife diversity. ~~~ Eric Stiles, NJ Audubon (“State of the Forest” Symposium (2002))

Eric Stiles, current President of NJ Audubon, was once a long time and leading advocate of preservation of Highlands forests, not logging them.

Yet now, at a time when he heads the organization, NJ Audubon is advocating exactly the opposite Highlands forest management policy and conservation strategy.

What explains the radical 180 degree U-Turn?

Tom Gilmore speaks in Governor's Office, when  Corzine signed legislation establishing a moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs. (March 2008)

Tom Gilmore speaks in Governor’s Office, when Corzine signed legislation establishing a moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs. (March 2008)

In 2004, as a consultant to the NJ Highlands Coalition, just after passage of the Highlands Act, I worked closely with Eric Stiles in working with DEP in crafting the DEP regulations to implement the Highlands Act’s protections.

At that time, Stiles served as Vice President, Conservation and Stewardship, under the universally well respected and effective leadership of now retired President Tom Gilmore.

Stiles was responsible for forest metrics. He strongly advocated the position that the primary forest management objectives were to:

  • preserve the few remaining large blocks of intact contiguous forest
  • stop fragmentation and disturbance, especially on steep slopes
  • maximize canopy cover
  • preserve existing vegetation, especially riparian and wetlands
  • minimize creation of new forest edge
  • protect habitat of scores of species of threatened interior forest birds, and
  • prevent sunlight from the forest floor which fueled invasive species and deer browse

I recently was told by a leading professional ecologist that Stiles did his Masters thesis on these same forest metrics.

The US Forest Service, upon whose work the Highlands Act was based, shared very similar concerns:

  • 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)

But now, a decade later, NJ Audubon is advocating EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE forest management and conservation strategy.

They seek to create young “early successional forest” by logging large blocks of contiguous forest and “mimicking” utility line ROW clearcuts in the heart of the interior forest.

Their “forest stewardship” model will increase fragmentation by roads and logging operations, create huge disturbance of soils and vegetation, reduce canopy cover, increase sunlight and invasive species, and expand forest edge and damaging deer browse. It is targeted not at scores of rare and threatened interior bird species, but a single species, the Golden Wing Warbler that requires scrub/shrub habitat.

But you don’t have to take my word for it that Stiles advocated preservation of Highlands forests based on these specific metrics.

Even prior to my work with Stiles in 2004, back in 2002, Stiles delivered a paper at a “State of the Forest” symposium sponsored by, among others, NJ Audubon.

Stiles’ paper was titled: Impacts of Ecosystem Degradation on Forest Wildlife Diversity and here’s what he wrote:

Forest wildlife diversity depends on large contiguous forest patches, connections to other habitats, structurally complex vegetation, intact seasonal wetlands, and the presence of native vegetation. Disruption of any of these components can dramatically reduce wildlife diversity. Ecosystem degradation affects all of these factors.

A healthy ecosystem results from a complex mix of decomposition cycles, nutrient circulation, soil systems, hydrology, and energy flow. Each of these processes may be analyzed at the smallest (chemical) level or on a grander scale, encompassing physiographic areas. Regardless of scale, we can trace current ecological degradation to several long- and short-term human- induced mechanisms of change.

One of the most devastating causes of ecological degradation is fragmentation resulting from new developments and roads. The results of development are known to anyone with a backyard, but they should still be documented. Fragmented forest and wetland habitats have more predation, more parasitism, and less vertebrate diversity than intact habitats. Overall, the productivity and ecological stability of the land suffers significantly. Edge effects from development and roads are not restricted to areas immediately adjacent to the edge. Overhead pictures of roadways show that visible forest degradation extends for 600 meters from the borders of major roads.

Roadways and other impervious surfaces that go along with development produce dramatically increased water runoff. Increases in impervious surfaces ? now 10% of New Jersey land ? have resulted in erosion and flooding that eliminate vernal pools and species reliant on them. Less directly, flash floods remove food sources and nutrients from the water and correspond with decreasing groundwater recharge. Less water feeds streams, lakes, vernal pools and vegetation. Parched ground increases plant mortality, decreases plant diversity, and further impacts the ecological cycle.

Runoff from developed areas also carries contaminants into neighboring ecosystems. These substances, combined with larger-scale air and water pollution, heavily impact native plants and animals, leading to a further reduction in diversity.

Native plants and wildlife suffer additional damage from invasive species.

(hit the link above to read Stiles complete paper and the entire symposium)

Now Stiles is advocating exactly the opposite.

Maybe this U-urn has something to do with the need to generate funds to pay the  salaries of his 10 member forrest logging staffers? 

Rapid growth in Audubon’s staff and budget was touted as a major accomplishment when Stiles was named successor to Tom Gilmore: (Audubon press release)

Stiles came to New Jersey Audubon in January of 2002 to serve as Vice president for Conservation and Stewardship. Stiles grew his department from a staff of 1 and a budget of less than $100,000 to a staff of 8 and a budget in excess of $1,000,000.

The question is, what is Stiles willing to do to continue that growth in budget and staff? (and collect that $102,000+ salary)

From 2011 to the present, the NJ Audubon Society supported legislation to create a Forest Stewardship program on public lands exactly like the controversial logging program they are trying to accomplish on Sparta Mountain.

We must recall that Audubon’s “stewardship” model was opposed by most NJ environmental groups and many people contacted legislators to support preservation of NJ’s forested public lands.

At least 38 ecologists and scientists opposed NJ Audubon’s model – Audubon was virtually alone, supported essentially only by special interests groups that would economically benefit from logging forests.

Not surprisingly, NJ Audubon lost that legislative debate.

Now, after losing the debate, they are working behind the scenes with professional foresters and DEP to achieve unilaterally what they failed to get enacted into law.

They will be stopped again by public opposition of those who love and want to preserve NJ’s last remaining forested public lands, acquired with public funds.

In our next post, we will provide the letters and arguments of those 38 scientists who opposed NJ Audubon’s version of “Forest Stewardship”.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Warning: Climate Bomb Train Ahead

March 21st, 2016 No comments

West Trenton, crossing the Delaware River


RT. 29 North (3/20/16)

It’s not the train, or the bridge, or oil, or the pipeline – it’s the carbon.

From Wiki: I hope you feel safer now:

The West Trenton Railroad Bridge is a concrete arch bridge carrying the CSX and SEPTA West Trenton rail lines across the Delaware River between Lower Makefield Township in Bucks CountyPennsylvania and the West Trenton section of Ewing Township in Mercer CountyNew Jersey. It was originally designed by thePhiladelphia and Reading Railroad and was constructed from 1911 to 1913 by the F. W. Talbot Construction Company.

The bridge is 1,445.5 feet (440.6 m) long between abutments, and is made up of 14 arches, 11 of which have a clear span of 90.75 feet (27.66 m) and 3 with a clear span of 85.92 feet (26.19 m)[1]

The masonry piers alongside this bridge carried the original 1875 wrought-iron truss bridge (Yardleyville Centennial Bridge).

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Star Ledger Editorial Board Joins Kabuki Dance on Christie DEP Clean Water Rule Rollback

March 20th, 2016 No comments

Christie DEP Craps On The Lawn And The Business Lobbyists Call It Miracle Grow

In their understandable eagerness to rub Gov. Christie’s nose in the mess made by his DEP clean water and flood rule rollbacks, the Star Ledger Editorial Board has joined the Kabuki dance, just as I had predicted:

Tom Johnson is NJ’s most veteran environmental reporter. If Tom can’t get it right – and only injects “skepticism” at the very end of the story and sourced from Dave Pringle no less – then how can the typical State house or environmental reporter understand what’s going on?

Tom’s story now becomes the green light narrative for the deal. The Legislature can posture that they forced the Christie DEP to concede and yet the Christie DEP made no substantive concessions and never admitted any error. Kabuki at its worst.

SLEB wrote, in a badly misleading headline:

The lede is just as bad as the headline and it relies on and cites Tom’s story:

In the latest epic stare-down between Gov. Chris Christie‘s administration and the New Jersey Legislature, the administration finally blinked. …

Christie officials appear to be backing off their plan to loosen our state’s clean water rules after an outcry from critics, a warning from the feds and the threat of a Legislative veto. …

The state Department of Environmental Protection now agrees that it will revise its laxer rules, which would have allowed development to further encroach on our rivers and streams. This is good news not just for environmentalists, but for anyone who drinks the water in New Jersey, or doesn’t want to wear duck boots in the house.

But a careful reader will note the use of the words “appear” and “threat“, which flat out contradict the headline and lede, which make unconditional assertions.

As I wrote, in recent testimony to the Legislature, DEP most certainly did not “back down” or “agree” to revise its rules in a way to eliminate the rollbacks and strengthen protections, as the SLEB clearly implies.

The SLEB surely knows that there are two things required to rub someone’s nose in the mess they made: 1) a mess; and 2) a firm grasp on the back of the perpetrator’s neck.

In the case of the DEP clean water rules, we have neither.

First of all, the DEP does not admit that they took a huge crap on our lawn.

More politically significant, the business community and the builders lobby claim that the DEP rule is not a huge pile of shit on the lawn, but a needed application of Miracle Grow fertilizer.

Secondly, the Legislature does NOT have a firm grasp of the back of the Gov.’s fat 23 inch neck and the forearm strength to rub his nose in it.

Most of the Trenton Democrats do not understand the difference between a pile of shit and Miracle Grow, and many are taking money from or support the fertilizer industry.

(and the Democrats have to do this on their own because the Republicans – who also support and take money for the shit peddlers – are still loyal to and walking in lockstep with the Governor, with the exception of Senator Bateman and a very few others.)

If that is not clear enough, let me just say that Senate President Sweeney – and his puppeteer George Norcross – has been known to support the builders when the issue is framed as it has been here by the business community as: “DEP rules versus jobs and economic development“. Case closed.

The SLEB intuitively knows this and implicitly admits as much toward the end of the editorial, where they bring in the caveats from the environmentalists.

The SLEB’s environmental sources shed grave doubts on the entire premise of their Kabuki, which amounts to spiking the football, not in the end zone but on the 10 yard line (SLEB wrote):

Those familiar with the Christie administration’s power grabs and secrecy, though, aren’t ready to declare victory. Because the battle isn’t over yet. Just this week, at a meeting to gather proposed revisions to its 936-page rule proposal, the DEP refused to allow in representatives from the lead groups that protested the changes. How’s that for open government?

The Legislature cannot allow itself to be strung along or hoodwinked. How can we trust that the DEP truly plans to “address many of the concerns we heard from the public as well as from EPA,” after the tightly controlled nature of its last meeting?

As we wrote, the legislature is virtually certain to get “hoodwinked” because the “repair” of a complex rule like DEP proposed is opaque and can make it difficult to tell the difference between a pile of shit and Miracle Grow, and the timing of the regulatory process (June 1 deadline) coupled with multiple horse trading opportunities on the budget, make it very prone to political deals. We wrote:

The public and the Committee will be drowned in the weeds of a lengthy adoption – response to public comments document on the original proposal along with an entirely new and complex re-proposal document. This is a formula for political manipulation. It will take weeks to decipher the documents. Meanwhile, by the time the dust settles, the original proposal will be adopted into law and the Veto Resolution will have withered on the vine (faded into the budget debate) and the Legislature adjourned for the summer.

But despite all this, and after 7 years of observing the Christie Administration in action, the SLB concludes with “hope”:

This isn’t the first time the Christie administration has manufactured its own facts, or relied on secrecy to push its agenda. Let’s hope it’s the one time it actually learns its lesson.

Hope is not a policy and the Christie DEP has already testified to the Legislature that they have not “learned their lesson”.

DEP will crap on our lawn – mark my words.

[End note: As a good analogy to illustrate how murky and opaque things are, consider the recent Volkswagon emissions scandal.

In that case, VW programmers had written code to make the emissions systems appear to comply with EPA requirements, but it wasn’t until years after cars were on the road that the violations were detected by monitoring (and detection may have been random).

Only the VW code writers – and their corporate bosses – really knew what was up.

Writing DEP rules is a lot like writing code – the policy intent and impacts in the real world are difficult to discern by those not directly involved in the drafting, or who have code writing expertise.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Christie BPU Commissioners Literally Run and Hide From Protesters of Pinelands Pipeline

March 18th, 2016 No comments

Commissioners show contempt for democracy

BPU President Mroz is an unethical flat out liar

BPU President Mroz (Source: BlueJersey video)

BPU President Mroz (Source: BlueJersey video)

Protesters disrupted the BPU rubber stamp approval of the NJ Natural Gas Co.’s Orwellian named “Southern Reliability Link” pipeline through the Pinelands today.

Showing their utter disregard and contempt for democracy, BPU President Mroz immediately gaveled the meeting into adjournment and the BPU Commissioners abandoned their seats and left the room to avoid listening to the protesters.

The protest marks a new and escalating tactical engagement in pipeline opposition in NJ. I applaud the protesters and look forward to more and greater events. I had planned to participate, but last minute problems beyond my control kept me away this morning.

The BPU approval pre-empted local government powers to regulate the pipeline, extinguishing the democratic rights of residents of six towns the pipeline passes through.

I’ve written extensively about the many flaws and frauds in the pipeline project and NJ Spotlight ran a set up story, and BlueJersey has good video to watch of the protest event, so I won’t go into much detail with this post.

I must note a few things in response to the lengthy statement read into the record by BPU President Mroz at the end of the hearing.

1. As a former advocate and employee of some of the corporations involved in this project, by any reasonable application of ethical standards, BPU President Mroz has a glaring conflict of interest.

His continued participation in approvals of pipelines and other infrastructure financed by his former corporate cronies is obscene.

2. Mroz repeated what he knows to be two false and manufactured justifications of the pipeline: a) so called “resiliency” as a response to Superstorm Sandy; and b) need for gas at Joint Base MDL.

There is ample evidence in the record that documents these false justifications, and the Joint Base rationale is fraudulent and may constitute criminal activity.

The PPA’s BPU petition destroys the false argument about “resilience” – no transmission pipeline has ever been knocked out by a storm – and documents the real purposes of the pipeline, which are to serve future growth and expand profits at the subsidy and expense of ratepayers.

[Note: there is very plausible speculation that the real goal of this massive 30 inch 722 psi pipeline is to serve a new gas plant at the Oyser Creek nuclear site when it closes in 2019.]

3. Mroz stated that the pipeline was “approved by the Pinelands Commission” as consistent with the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP).

LET ME BE CLEAR: That is a LIE –


The so called approval and CMP consistently determination was issued unilaterally by Gov. Christie’s installed Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg – not the Commission – who was following Orders of the Governor’s Office, not the direction of the  Pinelands Commission or the requirements of the CMP.

Wittenberg also directly participated in the fabricated fraudulent military need justification to evade Pinelands regulations.

4. The BPU completely ignored climate change.

That is grossly irresponsible.

The debate now shifts to the Courts – let’s hope they uphold the law and reject this fraud and travesty.

Thanks to the Pinelands Preservation Alliance for filing the lawsuit. Maybe this can remain tied up in the courts long enough for the next Governor to kill it.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Newark Lead Story Hitting the Coverup Phase

March 18th, 2016 No comments

Will they ever get to the EJ policy and regulatory story?

My own lead in schools story is amazing, but probably typical

NJ Spotlight reports today that the Newark public schools lead problem goes back over a decade, yet State and local school officials failed to notify the public, see:

Remarkably, Newark Mayor Baraka, who initially stood with State overlord Cerf, still does not believe there was any intentional coverup of the problem.

“We don’t believe that the NPS deliberately hid the problem, but we think it was a poor decision not to inform the public,” his statement read

Compare NJ Spotlight coverage with that of Bob Braun.

[and read how Bergen Record relies on AP to downplay the story- “no crisis” Christie says]

Maybe Baraka also believes that Rahm Emanuel didn’t deliberately hide those police dash cam videos of the murder of Laquan McDonald.

So, let me tell my own lead in schools story, which is remarkable in some respects but probably fairly common in failure to disclose lead problems.

I was a school board member in North Hanover Township in the late 1980’s – early 1990’s. I worked at NJ DEP at the time in the Hazardous Waste Management program and knew just a little about toxicology and environmental regulation.

We were a K-6 district that educated military dependents on McGuire & Dix – at the time, there was 1 school in Jacobstown for the local kids and 3 schools on the base for the military kids.

One Board information packet included lab reports and a memo from the Administration notifying the Board of a lead problem in drinking water fountains on the base schools and a request to discuss the issue in Executive Session at the upcoming meeting.

Long story short, I refused to comply with Board/Administration policy and practice to keep Executive session discussion confidential and when the Board went back into public session I advised the public, teachers and parents about the lead problem, our plans to remediate it and the fact that the board tried to keep the whole thing secret.

We had a McGuire Air Force full Colonel that served Ex Officio on the Board. After the meeting, he was livid. I recall him getting in my face and poking his finger in my chest, face red as a beet and almost shouting “Who the hell do you think you are? The Air Force takes care of our own. We don’t need EPA and DEP bureaucrats to tell us what to do”.

The next morning I arrived at work in my DEP office at 9 am to find a memo on the seat of my chair from the DEP Ethics Officer (a lawyer) advising me that I had violated ethics policy by participating in the lead debate. I was told I had a conflict of interest and that I must recuse myself from all discussions about lead or any other matter involving the DEP (despite the fact that I did not work in Safe Drinking Water program).

The Ethics memo also directed me to read a specific recusal statement publicly at the next school board meeting.

Obviously, that Colonel or someone at the Air Force knew someone in the Gov.’s Office or the AG’s Office or the DEP Commissioner’s Office because I have never seen anything responded to so quickly (between 10 pm and 9 am).

They shut me down immediately. And this was in a tiny K-6 school district on the rural edge of the south Jersey Pinelands.

True story.

And Baraka thinks the State and Newark school officials did not deliberately keep this secret? He worked in the school system and must know better.

So who is he protecting and why?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: