Home > Uncategorized > Christie DEP Demands $1 Million Insurance Policy And A “Special Use” Permit Before Local Group Can Hike To See Sparta Mountain Logging Damage

Christie DEP Demands $1 Million Insurance Policy And A “Special Use” Permit Before Local Group Can Hike To See Sparta Mountain Logging Damage

Move Comes After Sierra Club Accused DEP Of “Lying” To The Public About Forest Reclassification 


[Update – we shamed them into withdrawing this demand! Small Victory!]

The gloves surely are off now in the long simmering debate on the Christie DEP’s plans to expand commercial logging in Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

The Sierra Club just accused DEP and NJ Audubon of flat out “lying” to the public about the plan, an accusation the media ran with, see:

On top of that lie, Tittel forgot to mention an even bolder lie: NJ Audubon also lied to the public by stating – in writing – that Sierra Club supports their “stewardship” (logging) plan!

Here’s the latest round in this escalating battle.

DEP Provides “Customer Service” – Reaches Out and Demands “Special Use Permit”

DEP Commissioner Martin’s top priority is to provide “Customer Service”. It looks like DEP provided a unique style of customer service to opponents of DEP’s plan to log Sparta Mountain.

At the same time the press was making inquiries about that Sierra accusation, DEP appeared to retaliate by demanding that a local group, Friends of Sparta Mountain, obtain a $50 “Special Use Permit” – including a $1 million Liability Insurance Policy – before taking a hike on the mountain to show local residents the wonderful natural resources and damage from logging there. The hike is planned for September 24 and will be led by well renowned conservationist Dennis Miranda.

This is what DEP doesn’t want people to hike into the woods to see: Sparta Mountain: Take A Walk On The Wild Side – imagine that: Christie DEP now says it cost $50 to hike in public forests.

That DEP move irked members of the local group, particularly given how DEP – back on April 30, 2016 – joined a commercial logging group on a tour of Sparta Mountain.

The DEP demand was initiated by DEP via an email from a regional supervisor: (I’ve never heard of this before)

Friends of Sparta Mountain,

I just wanted to contact you regarding the upcoming hike you have planned at Sparta Mountain WMA.  NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife regulations require a Special Use Permit for organized groups of 10 or more on any state Wildlife Management Area. I attached a Special Use Permit application, if your group should exceed this limit. Please be sure to include a copy of your organizations Certificate of Liability Insurance with the application. The fee for a one-day Special Use Permit is $50.

Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.

Susan Predl

NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife

Whittingham WMA

150 Fredon-Springdale Rd.

Newton NJ 07860

office: 973-383-0918

cell: 609-422-6438


After FoSM folks raised objections, I called Ms. Predl to ask about how DEP even learned of  what she decribed as “the upcoming hike you have planned at Sparta Mountain WMA“. Was DEP monitoring local groups?

Predl expressed aggravation at my call – she apparently had already fielded several – and compounded my concerns about bureaucratic overkill by demanding that I provide her a list of people so her boss could call each one to explain the Special Use Permit requirement! Seriously, a DEP professional manager actually asked me to provide a list of DEP critics and their phone numbers.

Predl then revealed that she did not even know that a Special Use Permit required a $1 million Liability Insurance Policy – a significant and costly burden to an informal local friends group. The DEP “Special Use Permit” Application includes this:

 Permittee may be required to supply comprehensive general liability insurance as broad as the standard coverage form currently in use in the State of New Jersey which shall not be circumscribed by any endorsements limiting the breadth of coverage including coverage for product liability, protection and indemnity, Permittee owned or operated motor vehicles, broad form contractual liability and broad form liability damage endorsements against claims for bodily injury, death or property damage in any manner growing out of or connected with any activity on the Premises conducted by Permittee, its employees, volunteers, agents, contractors, subcontractors, consultants or any other person providing any service and performing any activity as part of Tenant’s operations on the Premises. Limits of liability shall not be less than One Million ($1,000,000.00) Dollars combined single limit per occurrence.The State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection shall be named as an “Additional Insured.” 

Ms. Predl of DEP was oblivious to any public perception that such a move was bureaucratic overkill that would throw gasoline on an already adversarial situation.

Predl had no sensitivity to the fact that DEP’s move would be perceived as a bad faith attempt by DEP to restrict or unduly burden expression of constitutionally protected 1st Amendment rights of using a hike as a means to raise public awareness and protest DEP’s logging plan.

Predl told me that a DEP biologist saw a poster for the FoSM event and brought it to her attention. DEP biologists don’t have better things to work on than  monitoring local residents?

NJ Audubon De-Designation of Sparta Mountain as “High Conservation Value Forest”

One of the many lies Sierra Club accused NJ Audubon and DEP of was failure to disclose NJ Audubon’s de-designation of Sparta Mountain as “High Conservation Value Forest”.

Back in February, we broke the story and alerted the public and conservationists about NJ Audubon’s de-designation of Sparta Mountain as a “High Conservation Value Forest” under their Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) program:

According to FSC standards, mapping HCVF should be based on a “precautionary approach”, particularly under uncertainty or lack of data, including issues like suitable habitat and presence or absence of species:

2.6.2 | Using the precautionary approach

The Precautionary Approach means that when there is a threat of severe or irreversible damage to the environment or a threat to human welfare, responsible parties need to take explicit and effective measures to prevent the damage and risks, even when the scientific information is incomplete or inconclusive, and when the vulnerability and sensitivity of values are uncertain14. In the context of HCV identification, this means that when there are reasonable indications that an HCV is present, the assessor should assume that it is present.

But, in contradiction of any “precautionary approach”, shockingly, in an FSC audit (2013) of NJ Audubon’s compliance with FSC standards, on page 4 we learn that:

NJA modified its High Conservation Value Forest (HCVF) assessment by removing most of the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area from HCVF status. The prior classification was based on landscape habitat suitability models and not on actual presence/absence data species and ecosystems that would contribute to HCVF classification.This decision was based on stakeholder input and field surveys by NJA confirming that the species predicted by the models did not occur or if present they were not likely to be there in sufficient numbers to indicate HCVF status. See Appendix I.

Got that? But why would NJ Audubon want to do that?

Because it looks really bad for a self described bird conservation group to support commercial logging of HCV forests with significant habitat and/or populations of rare, threatened or endangered species of plants, amphibians, reptiles and birds?

Because it might make the foresters uncomfortable and limit logging?

It is a form of private deregulation. The fox guarding and designing the hen house AND writing the standards for hen house construction!

And on On April 1, 2016 – April Fool’s Day –  we slamed NJ Audubon for that:

4. NJ Audubon has engaged in some really unprofessional and underhanded tactics – including the remarkable move to “de-designate” Sparta Mt. WMA as “High Conservation Value Forest” (even though NJA itself has designated SMWMA as “Important Bird and Birding Area”.

Even the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has chastised NJA in audits of their program – with a more critical audit now in the works, now that FSC auditors have been made aware of NJA’s misleading tactics.

The more recent FSC Audit, released on August 11, 2016, contained several negative findings regarding NJ Audubon and DEP’s failure to comply with minimal FSC public participation requirements (for “Stakeholders”) and validated public criticism of the scientific basis for that move.

I encourage everyone to read that Audit and will provide it to anyone upon request (I have it as a PDF, not a link). I will do a future post that excerpts the relevant audit findings on flaws in the Stakeholder process and technical basis for the de-designation.

For now, simply put, Mr. Cecil of NJ Audubon is lying – again.

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