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Sparta Mountain Logging Debate Pits Ecologists Against Commercial Logging and Hunting Interests

Breaking the code on the “Young Forest” Scam

[Update below]

Mark DiIonno of the Star Ledger (now NJ.Com) wrote his column on the Sparta Mountain debate, see:

But things are not really that obscure – here’s my note to Mark on his story:

Mark – good story, but this is not a “he said, she said”.

John Cecil is trained in logging, Emile DeVito is a PhD ecologist. So are the academic and consulting biologists that oppose this. Very big difference.

Cecil has 8 staffers – several are loggers – he needs to generate funding for.

NJ Audubon has strategic interests and substantial organizational revenues and political interests in this “Young forests” initiative.

Significant revenues include a $140,000 grant from a NJ billionaire. NJ Audubon has significant federal grant and State partnership funding opportunities involved in this work. Some of the science and regulation is relevant to lucrative industry “mitigation consulting” and land preservation deals and consulting project revenues involved with mitigation or restoration requirements of DEP permits. It literally pays to have good relationships with DEP. For the billionaire documentation, see:


Politically, NJ Audubon forms a coalition with sportsmen – hunters -and the outdoor recreation industry (from ORV’s to guns). It’s old fashioned political log rolling (pun intended – ecologically it’s a mutualistic relationship that is parasitic).

NJ Audubon CEO Eric Stiles runs NJA like a consulting firm – he and Mike Catania (of Duke Farms demolition repute) are known as NJ’s “entrepreneurial conservationists”

NJ Audubon even partners with Donald Trump:


DEP DFW has very similar strategic, economic and political interests – hunters are a major source of revenue and the staff’s training tends to be biased toward management of game species.

Nationally, this “Young Forests” initiative is the exact opposite of what environmentalists did to the forestry industry back in the 1970-80’s, blocking logging projects to protect endangered birds, like spotted owl.

The logging industry learned that lesson and very cynically now have teamed up with hunters and money hungry entrepreneurial conservation groups and underfunded State wildlife and forestry agencies. They obscure the logging by justifying the cuts to protect endangered birds, and spread money around to buy support for that.

The code is broken.


[end note – the same process – whereby politically reactionary and corporate economic forces seize progressive victories and twist them for private gain – is illustrated by corporations seizing the 14th amendment’s due process protection in the late 19th century, the recent U Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” case that found protected free speech in corporate political contributions, and the Tea Party seeking affirmative action for white men.]

[Update: I want to print this excellent comment on the Star Ledger story, as I have made many of the exact same points in a series of rambling posts, but this comment puts those issues on the table with far more technical finesse than I have managed:


This is not a slam dunk. Not just a few environmental professionals are very concerned. Watch Emile DeVito here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ck_XcNqitig

I’m a  a birder and an environmentalist and I’m VERY concerned. I’m not alone. I’ve been to Sparta WMA and read the circa 78 page proposal. It is very open-ended about scale of clearing, while much of it technically “Seed Tree” cutting, that still removes vast majority of a section of stand. A reasonable person could easily conclude it could be up to 700+ acres as written, though its likely half that if not less. The many scientists, like Dr. Emile DeVito (who is both a bird, plant, and ecology expert) who helped with the Highlands Coalition letter, or commented publicly, are justifiably worried.

Golden-winged Warblers are in trouble and something needs to be done. But is Sparta the best place? Will it work? Biggest threat to Golden-winged Warblers in NJ is hybridization with Blue-winged Warblers who already moved into Sparta and are increasing. Probably dominate. The hybridization ‘front’ is now well north and west into the Poconos. Converting part of Sparta into early successional forest isn’t going to stop it, it might encourage it by creating more entries from ROW cuts. NJAS hasn’t discussed this at length.

More forest edge openings could facilitate cowbirds penetrating the forest jeopardizing Golden-wingeds and interior forest birds nesting success. While edge species are declining in the Appalachians, by and large Towhees, Field Sparrows, etc are fairly common and not hurting here in NJ.

THE SPARTA FOREST IS NOT “UNHEALTHY.” It will not “let it go burn and die” if there’s no timbering. The trees we saw in several places were healthy, diverse in size, height, age and species. The rugged terrain brings in plenty of sunlight and allows windfall so wasn’t all fall uniform canopy by any means. We saw many very uncommon, vigorous wildflowers in excellent blooming shape, some right along trail edges, others protected by the laurel and rhododendron thickets NJAS suggests removing. These  support Black-throated Blue Warblers in PA.

Sparta already has some of the state’s highest biodiversity. There are 40 state-listed plant species of which at circa at least 6-8 are state endangered. NJ Audubon admitted they a thorough survey was too costly. Logging (access, skidders [yes, they were described in the plan] and trampling) will cause a lot of collateral damage. If it doesn’t kill rare, sometimes undocumented populations, then sudden habitat changes from shade to sun could, even in open, sunlit locations.

A C1 trout Stream runs through Sparta that normally requires a 300′ riparian buffer to filter run-off, keep trout waters shaded and cool protecting water quality. The proposed buffer is sometimes only 40’!  The Forestry BMPs they’re using date to 1995 and recommend planting with worst invasive. Not likely to do that but they don’t protect flora and fauna, they guide how to timber.

NJAS says they’ll enhance habitat for Bog Turtle also, but is it even there? The two objectives are mutually exclusive—Upland clearing for Golden-winged Warblers could harm federally endangered species downslope.

Should other existing rare bird and endangered plant species be sacrificed for a long shot?Should a plan that has good chance of failing with high stakes for other species go forward? NJ Audubon hasn’t published last 15 years worth of bird surveys that I’ve seen, nor provided an accounting of the odds.

Timbering and activities opens up pathways for invasive species, huge problem for NJ forests. Deer browse, while not a major issue at Sparta, could increase with enhanced access. Deer eat the natives and avoid unpalatable invasives causing them to proliferate and necessitating herbicides.

The plan’s preamble reads:“logging activities were unsustainable, and eventually the industries crawled to a standstill when trees were no longer available for harvest……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… it is imperative that public officials consider the socioeconomic impacts of their actions… public land management that does not consider the monetary value of natural resources within the long term stewardship framework is not only irresponsible, but should be considered a violation of the public trust. 

If I thought Golden-winged Warbler success had really good prospects, NJAS agreed to scale this project back, forego revenues from timber sales (say they’re just rolling them back in), produced real scientific proof this wouldn’t damage soils, went slow and lightly, and showed keen interest in shrubs and rare plants, I’d feel better about this


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