Home > Uncategorized > Murphy DEP Halts Proposed Logging Of Public Forests – Policy Review Pending

Murphy DEP Halts Proposed Logging Of Public Forests – Policy Review Pending

DEP Must Update Current Policy & Impose Regulatory Restrictions On Logging Public Lands

We are not fooled by slogans like “stewardship” – we demand science and regulations

Climate change must be considered in management of forest resources

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I’ve been harsh in criticizing various mis-steps by Gov. Murphy’s (still) Acting DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe, so today we balance that with some good news and praise action she’s taken.

McCabe recently announced a “pause” on the controversial proposed logging in the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area, located in an environmentally sensitive water supply watershed, drained by exceptional quality C1 streams in the Highlands Preservation Area.

The Sparta Independent reported:

The state Department of Environmental Protection announced last week that the Sparta Mountain forest management plan has been halted pending a review from the new commissioner.

Forestry activities at two different sites on the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area were set to begin in February and end in April, but new Acting Commissioner Catherine McCabe wants to review the project before it proceeds any further.

“We’re going through a change of administrations,” said NJDEP Spokesperson Larry Hajna. “We have a new acting commissioner and so she is getting up to speed on various issues across the state and this is one that she wants to review. So we’ve decided just to hit the pause button and allow her to review the plan and then we’ll take it from there.”

Bravo.

McCabe’s pause will last until at least November, so there is plenty of time for DEP to conduct an in depth science based review of the policies and regulations that apply to logging of public lands.

The flaws and loopholes revealed by the Sparta Mountain WMA controversy are not unique but systemic and statewide, and therefore require a comprehensive Statewide DEP policy review, followed by reforms to laws and regulations.

We have a few suggestions to guide that policy review:

1. DEP should hold a series of regional workshops and public hearings to solicit public comments on forest management policies. These could be conducted jointly with regional planning agencies in the Highlands and Pinelands.

2. Some policy reforms will require legislative amendments, so the scope of the DEP review should include legislation (for flaws inthe statutory and regulatory framework, see: Environmental Damage Of DEP Sparta Mountain Logging Plan Largely Unregulated

3. The DEP Guidance document that applies to logging public lands is 22 years old, and is outdated scientifically and legally (see” Wetlands Best Management Practices Manual adopted by the Whitman DEP way back in 1995.)

It needs to be updated to reflect current science, particularly climate change mitigation and adaptation issues.

It also needs to be updated to reflect the DEP’s C1 stream buffer protection program and passage of the Highlands Act, whose primary purpose was to preserve the remaining large tracts of intact forests and canopy cover.

4. Local governments and communities must be involved in development of nearby forest management plans. Citizens who have paid to preserve public lands must have a voice in their management.

Early and meaningful involvement includes informal consultations and formal public hearings. Current laws that pre-empt local reviews must be rescinded.

5. DEP’s Wetlands Best Management Practices Manual and various regulations – including the Highlands Preservation Area and Category 1 stream buffer and water quality rules – either don’t apply to forestry, have loopholes, or are technically inadequate and do not protect critical natural resources and exceptional water quality.

DEP must revise current regulations so that they apply to and protect natural resources from logging. (see our framework post for some specific recommendations).

6. Any proposal to log public lands must include requirements to conduct baseline existing water quality, water quality anti degradation reviews,  and natural resource inventories.

Reviews must also include a carbon budget analysis, to determine impacts on carbon sequestration. This would include significant offsets and mitigation of any loss  carbon storage potential.

7. The Corzine DEP produced a report:  Valuing New Jersey’s Natural Capital: An Assessment of the Economic Value of the State’s Natural Resources. That report found that forests have far more economic value as forest than harvested as commercial logging. DEP needs to dust off that report and apply it to future management policies.

8. DEP’s report required by the Global Warning Response Act has data and recommendations on carbon sequestration and forest management.

That report needs to be updated and considered during the policy review, especially in light of re-entry into RGGI, which provides significant funding for carbon sequestration projects.

9. In terms of site specific suggestions for the NJ Audubon proposed Sparta Mountain WMA logging scheme, DEP should:

  • inventory blowdown and forest gaps created by Sandy and more recent storms. The primary rationale NJA presents for logging intact forests is to provide needed gaps in intact forest.” There is plenty of blowdown out there that provides precisely these “needed gaps”.
  • baseline existing water quality and predictive models to structure a science based antidegradation review required for C1 waters to demonstrate compliance with all water quality standards. NJ Audubon claims that their plan “protects water resources“, but they provide no data or baseline water quality analysis (physical, chemical and biological) or compliance field model to determine or predict any impacts.
  • carbon budget analysis. Climate crisis requires that we maximize carbon sequestration and have a policy of no loss of carbon storage.(see #8 above).

10. Conduct an aluminum toxicity analysis to avoid problems the USGS documented in the Catskills. Shockingly, USGS found that forest clear cuts caused 100% mortality of trout:

Clearcutting caused a large release of nitrate (NO 3-) from watershed soils and a concurrent release of inorganic monomeric aluminum (Alim), which is toxic to some aquatic biota. The increased soil NO 3- concentrations measured after the harvest could be completely accounted for by the decrease in nitrogen (N) uptake by watershed trees, rather than an increase in N mineralization and nitrification. The large increase in stream water NO3 – and Alim concentrations caused 100-percent mortality of caged brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) during the first year after the clearcut and adversely affected macroinvertebrate communities for 2 years after the harvest.

We look forward to DEP conducting this kind of rigorous science based review of their current policies, guidance and regulations that apply – or provide loopholes – to logging of public lands.

We are not fooled by slogans, like “stewardship” – we demand science and regulations.

[End Note: I just revised this into a letter to DEP Commissioner McCabe. She has blocked my email (I successfully sent an email previously, so I now its been blocked.

So now I will file it formally as a petition for rule-making and force them to respond.

We will also file a petition for rule-making based on this DEP Report, recommending that several streams be upgraded to Category One: An Evaluation of NJDEP’s Category One Antidegradation Designation Process.

Rule-making petitions are one of the best ways to hold DEP accountable to science and law. They area LOT better than a press release.

Here is an example that can serve as a template to help those individuals or environmental groups that would like to file a petition for rule-making.

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