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Senate Environment Committee Chairman Smith Urged To Seek An Audit Of DEP Forestry Contract Program

DEP Engaged In Financial and Environmental Mismanagement of State Forests

This letter is a followup to my recent post on DEP logging on Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area (SMWMA), where we disclosed that DEP was giving away valuable hardwood timber for free and not considering the impacts of logging on climate change and the ability of the forest to sequester carbon.

Since that post, local residents have advised that there are additional problems (see letter below):

Dear Chairman Smith and Senators Greenstein and Bateman:

I am writing to request that you formally request an OLS audit of DEP’s forestry contract program.

In addition to traditional legislative oversight and fiduciary duties to look out for the taxpayers’ interests, as a supporter of DEP’s “forest stewardship” program, you should be particularly concerned when DEP acts in ways that undermine the public’s trust and confidence in that program.

Specifically, on February 25, 2019, DEP quietly signed a “stumpage contract” for logging with Warren County Trucking, LLC.

That contract provides for logging (essentially a clearcut euphemistically called a “seed tree treatment”) of about 12.2 acres of SMWMA.

The contract gives away 31,200 board feet of valuable greater than 13 inch diameter red oak hardwood timber and 120 cords of firewood for free!

That’s right – the contractor is given that timber “in consideration of the payment of $0″. (contract provided upon request).

The contract does not mandate compliance with DEP regulations and instead defers to the voluntary “NJ Forestry and Wetlands Best Management Practices Manual” – we previously documented huge loopholes and egregious flaws in that BMP.

The contractor was only required to post a $2,500 performance bond and the DEP set fines (“liquidated damages”) of only $200 per tree for illegally cutting down trees in violation of the contract outside the designated logging zone.

Finally, there is no specified minimum amount of liability insurance, an egregious flaw in an inherently dangerous activity like logging (during bow hunting season, no less!). If someone were injured or killed, the State taxpayers would be on the hook (this truck driver is high risk)

Local residents have informed me of recent questionable environmental practices and potential regulatory violations by the DEP contractor, including road construction, excessive land disturbance for equipment storage areas,  and destruction of sensitive vegetation, soil erosion, and adverse impacts on regulated wetlands and vernal ponds.

Given these blatant examples of mismanagement – environmental and fiscal – of NJ’s magnificent public lands and forests, I  request that you request an audit of the DEP’s logging policies by the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) State agency audit program.

As you know, OLS has conducted two prior audits of related aspects of the current DEP forestry program and found problems that required corrective action.

This 2004 OLS audit found deficiencies at DEP Wildlife Management Areas, see page 8. The deficiencies also include failure to have adequate liability insurance.

This 2009 followup OLS audit is not specific to WMA’s, but issues regarding deficiencies in liability insurance, state as co-insured, and other contract stuff still is relevant, especially the serious failure of DEP to collect “fair market value”.

Finally, it is important to note that 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.

Particularly as we approach climate tipping points, we need to increase the capacity of our forests to sequester carbon and promote afforestation, not log them.

I urge your attention to this matter and look forward to your prompt and favorable response.Respectfully,

Bill Wolfe

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