Home > Uncategorized > Despite Gov. Murphy’s Climate Commitments, The Murphy DEP Continues To Log NJ Highlands Forests

Despite Gov. Murphy’s Climate Commitments, The Murphy DEP Continues To Log NJ Highlands Forests

Forests Store Carbon – So Why Is The Murphy DEP Logging Them?

What Ever Became Of The DEP “Policy Review” On Forest Management?

Source: NJ DEP GHG Emissions Inventory (2018)

Source: NJ DEP GHG Emissions Inventory (2018)

In disgust, I recently pledged to no longer write about NJ environmental issues, see:

But it’s the so called leaders who are co-opted, collaborators, and compromised, not their members and local activists.

Proving that point, my friends from Sparta Mountain just reached out, sent me some photos, and urged that I write about the outrageous DEP logging now underway on Sparta Mountain, a core Highlands Preservation Area and designated “High Conservation Value” forest. Look:

Large ruts in DEP Sparta Mountain forest logging roads (Source: Friends of Sparta Mt. - Stop The Chop - NJ Forest Watch)

Large ruts in DEP Sparta Mountain forest logging roads (Source: Friends of Sparta Mt. – Stop The Chop – NJ Forest Watch)

Perhaps you might recall that, upon assuming office and pending Senate confirmation, Murphy DEP Acting Commissioner McCabe publicly announced a “pause” in Christie DEP logging projects in Highlands forests. see:

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.”

This “pause” concession by McCabe was made in response to huge criticism by local residents, regional conservation groups, scientists, and State environmental groups of DEP’s logging on Sparta Mountain.

Before Murphy was elected, that DEP logging even prompted legislative oversight and legislation by former longtime Senate leader Senator Lesniak (D) to stop DEP logging of all public lands, see:

So, what ever became of DEP Commissioner McCabe’s “policy review” of DEP’s logging and forest management practices? Were public hearings ever held? Was a Technical Report ever issued? Were policy reforms publicly announced? Were rules ever proposed? What ever became of the Lesniak bill? Has some other brave Senator sponsored it? Is there no NJ legislator willing to conduct oversight and hold DEP accountable for how they mismanage public lands?

How can DEP resume logging after McCabe’s “pause” without having listened to the public, fully considered current science, especially climate science, provided a public justification for logging, and adopted new rules to close current loopholes and govern logging practices?

McCabe has repeatedly pledged to make policy decisions based on science and law, and DEP’s logging projects are an example of bad public policy that contradicts science, ignores climate change, and exploits egregious legal and regulatory loopholes.

In addition to all those flaws, DEP’s logging partner, NJ Audubon, is notoriously corrupted.

NJ Audubon was paid over $140,000 by Wall Street billionaire Peter Kellogg to develop the Sparta Mountain logging plan. Worse, NJA entered into a partnership with another billionaire – Donald Trump! – on a sham “corporate stewardship” golf course project. I guess NJA CEO Eric Stiles needs to raise a lot of money to pay his 6 figure salary!

NJ Audubon has misrepresented basic data, DEP regulations, and science. Under the guise of “stewardship”, NJ Audubon has mis-stated the science and ignored negative environmental impacts of logging, including on interior forest birds, water quality and climate! Their mismanagement was so bad that they were rebuked and humiliated by losing certification by the Forest Stewardship Council. (Note: and even from a very narrow single bird species conservation perspective (i.e. Golden Wing Warbler, the original main justification for the logging), the NJ Audubon logging scheme is fatally flawed. Check this out: DEP’s Sparta Mountain Logging Scheme Conflicts With Golden Wing Warbler Recovery Plan It Allegedly Is Based On

Recently, the local press outlet – The NJ Herald – has been writing a series of stories that amount to DEP propaganda. I’ve commented on them about their flaws and biases and even written to the reporter, Bruce Scruton, but to no avail. Local residents share similar frustrations.

Hi Bruce – I read your story today on Sparta Mt. WMA logging and was disappointed by how one sided it was. It read like a DEP promotion. DEP continues to ignore the forestry and related objectives of the Highlands Act, which are scientifically and policy-wise directly relevant to the logging scheme.

The Highlands Act was based on a 2002 US Forest Service Report, which highlighted the threats to and loss of intact forest and canopy. DEP is also ignoring the issue of climate change, both in terms of sequestration of carbon and climate changes that impact forest health and habitat (e.g. golden wing warbler habitat is migrating  north and will no longer be present on Sparta Mt. in the near future. As creation go GWW habitat was NJ Audubon and DEP’s primary objective of the “young forest” habitat creation, the fact that DEP is ignoring climate undermines the entire rational for the logging there.) 

Did DEP ever produce a report or analysis about the policy review that they suggested was going to happen as part of the “halt” last year? I had hope that that could be the forum for all these forestry issues to be discussed publicly based on real science.

[PS Bruce -Here is the relevant US Forest Service Highlands Report “Stewardship Goal”:

Conserve contiguous forests using management practices that are consistent with private property rights and regional resources;

Here is the US Forest Service key finding that contradicts NJ Audubon & DEP claims about a lack of diversity and habitat due to “single age class forests” and the need to log to create “young forest habitat” – all while ignoring the needs of interior forest species (see p.78):

  • The Highlands support a diverse ecological system that is still largely intact and is home to a number of endangered and threatened animal and plant species. Large tracts of contiguous forests and accompanying wetland systems support a number of forest interior dependent species.

So, without rehashing all the details of all that is so wrong with DEP’s forest management and climate policies and Sparta Mountain logging operations – something I’ve written about many, many times (e.g. see part 8 of a series, which includes links to pars 1-7)) – let me put those critiques in context in the Cours of making two larger political points.

In contrast to the constant drumbeat of favorable press about Gov. Murphy’s various climate  commitments, his Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is not only making very little progress on the regulatory front to actually implement the Gov.’s Executive Order, and is, as I wrote, “Already Running Away From Climate Regulations“.

Recently, they’ve taken two huge steps backwards that actually make the current situation even worse.

Incredibly, this backtracking comes at a time when DEP is holding meetings – mandated by Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order #100 – to seek public input on specifically how DEP should strengthen their current regulations to produce deep and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

So, in the first example of climate backtracking, why is the Murphy DEP logging forests and actually reducing the ability of NJ forest to store carbon?

The second example I offer as evidence that demonstrates this backtracking was the recent DEP adoption of a regulatory proposal on stormwater that not only ignored climate change and missed huge opportunities to strengthen current rules, it actually weakened and rolled back existing standards.

This rule proposal was so bad, it was not only condemned by virtually all environmental groups – a difficult task in these days of the co-opted and compromised Green Mafia – but it prompted public opposition by the Trump Federal Emergency Management Agency, see:

So, particularly in light of Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order #100, why in hell did DEP adopt this fatally flawed proposal, instead of simply letting it expire?

The adoption of that proposal by McCabe exposes the fraud of the Murphy climate commitments – lots of nice rhetoric and no follow through.

Since I’m out west, let me close by saying: The Gov. is all hat and not cattle.

[End Note: In case folks want to press the Gov. and DEP, here’s an email I sent to the Gov.’s Office of Constituent Relations back on March 4, with a copy to sponsors of the Highlands Act, including Senators Smith, Senator Greenstein, Senator Bateman, and Assemblyman McKeon:

Dear Gov. Murphy: Your DEP is abusing public lands by logging them. You must stop this destruction, which is happening right now on Sparta Mountain and involves other State owned public lands in the Highlands (that DEP classifies as “Wildlife management Areas”).

DEP’s logging contradicts your commitments to a serious climate change program, because it’s rationale ignores climate science (e.g. the “young forest”habitat DEP claims to be creating is for a single bird species that will no longer be there due to climate change), because it ignores the carbon sequestration forests provide, and because it will increase carbon emissions.

DEP’s logging contradicts the fundamental objectives of the Highlands Act, which were to preserve large blocks of intact forest, maximize canopy cover, minimize disturbance of forest soils and vegetation, and protect water quality.

This logging is exempt from DEP regulations, so natural resources, water quality and flood protects are absent from the DEP’s logging scheme.

These abuses must stop!

Bill Wolfe

A 13 year career DEP policy analyst, which included drafting the introduced version of the Highlands Act (i.e. Senate bill #1, sponsored by Senator Smith)

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