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Conservation & Climate Contradictions

Land Trusts Undermine Science Based Regional Planning and Regulation

Rutgers Study Used To Support Forest Preservation

Same Rutgers Study Advocated Massive Commercial Logging

NJ Spotlight’s story today is a study in contradictions (beginning with the headline!), see:

I want to focus on climate, but I must first mention the deeply troubling pattern of how elite land preservation trusts constantly promote development with the slogan “smart growth” and undermine the role of State and regional planning and regulation.

I)  Conservation Contradictions

The Land Trust model depends on the kindness of rich strangers: wealthy landowners and willing sellers. As a result, their opportunistic and money driven preservation projects result in a scattershot patchwork that is the antithesis of science based planning. Often, Land Trust deals are just that – a parcel of land is preserved in exchange for development – deals that undermine the efforts of local activists, local governments, and state and regional planners and regulators to restrict development.

(Importantly, the Land Trust model is private and secret and thus anti-democratic by definition. In contrast, the landscape, water, and plant and wildlife are public trust resources and must be protected via open, transparent, and democratic governmental – not private – means.)

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is an egregious practitioner of that:

“You also need economic development, so, to me, smart growth planning is the sweet spot,” said Eric Olsen, director of lands and rivers for The Nature Conservancy. “What we’re trying to do is protect 40, 100, 200 acres at a time to build a pattern of protected lands.”

The Highlands Act is not based on “smart growth”, so thankfully TNC was AWOL during passage of the Highlands Act. Olsen can take his “sweet spot” and shove it.

Where has TNC been for the last 16 years of implementation of Highlands regional planning and DEP regulation? The Act mapped a core “preservation area” of some 400,000 acres (over 400,00 acres more in the Planning Area are eligible for more aggressive protections). That protected NJ land is 8 TIMES larger than the TNC goal for the entire Appalachian region:

The initiative, called the Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund, aims to raise up to $18 million to conserve 50,000 acres of forest throughout the Appalachian range.

The Highlands Act regulates development in the Preservation area at perhaps the lowest density in the country – 1 unit per 88 acres – prohibits disturbance of 300 foot wide buffers along streams and lakes, and a whopping 1,000 feet buffer for vernal pools: (Highlands Plan)

Vernal pools are certified by the NJDEP, and to protect and promote the biodiversity of vernal pools, the Highlands Council has determined that a terrestrial habitat protection buffer of 1,000 feet around vernal pools will generally address the habitat requirements of vernal pool-breeding wildlife.

The Highlands Act prohibited the extension of infrastructure to support new development. That’s an incredibly important tool and timely in light of calls to impose a moratorium on new fossil infrastructure.

Contradicting these incredibly powerful national models of planning and regulatory tools – which the Spotlight story ignores –  TNC or Ruga spun this misleading crap to the Spotlight reporter and once again the Highlands Act’s aggressive planning and regulation get short shrift:

The Highlands Act, passed in 2004, has helped to rein in unchecked development and community planning, though New Jersey’s complex system of home rule often cuts against strategic land conservation efforts.

There are three lies there:

1. The Highlands Act “helped”? Are you kidding me? The Highlands Act has protected far more land, water, and habitat than TNC and the Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund.

2. “Complex system”? The Highlands Act over-rides local home rule in the Preservation Area. How could that fact be ignored?

3. “ strategic land conservation efforts”? Again, are you kidding me? TNC relies on voluntary willing sellers. That means that the location, extent, and timing of their acquisitions is opportunistic and transactional. THERE IS NO SCIENCE BASED PLAN. THAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF STRATEGIC.

Now getting back to our climate contradictions.

II)  Climate Contradictions

I particularly latched on to this important paragraph in the Spotlight story:

A 2011 study by Rutgers University and the state Department of Environmental Protection, which looked at the carbon density of New Jersey’s forests, found that the Highlands are between 50 and 75 years away from peak growth (as of the study’s publication date), meaning they will continue to build carbon capacity for much of the remainder of this century. Soils and organic matter will sequester carbon at increasing rates for even longer.

That’s a critically important point for 2 reasons:

1) it directly contradicts the primary rationale that the Murphy DEP and NJ Audubon use to justify logging in Highlands forests. DEP and NJA argue that Highlands forests are old and need to be made more diverse by logging to create “young forests”.

2) It also exposes a major flaw in DEP and NJA logging because those logging initiatives completely ignore carbon sequestration.

Yet neither Elliott Ruga, TNC, or the Spotlight reporter seem to be aware of all that and fail to mention it. Just like they fail to mention the protections afforded by the Highlands Act.

I can’t figure out if this is a result of incompetence or corruption – probably both.

But the contradictions continue.

That same Rutgers study that estimated carbon sequestration in NJ forests and provided a strong rationale for preserving all remaining forests, also provided a justification for massive commercial logging of those same forests!

I recall warning about this biomass bullshit threat to NJ forests years ago, see:

So, the Rutgers study is not all sweetness and light. Check out these findings from Rutgers:

In order to determine the amount of wood-based biomass that could be sustainably produced in NJ and the resultant renewable energy production potential, an assessment of the major sources of wood was conducted. These included Class 1 type materials including; Forestry Residues, Primary and Secondary Forestry Products Industry Residues, Urban Forestry and Landscaping Residues, and Bioenergy Crops and Class 2 material which was from Construction and Demolition Waste sources. Once the maximum potential quantities of wood-based biomass was determined, the renewable energy production potential was determined based on the current efficiencies of the various appropriate conversion technologies. […]

New Jersey has many business development opportunities for wood-based bioenergy production. The information provided can be used as a resource for project developers looking to locate their business in New Jersey. In addition to the economic benefits of using NJ’s woody biomass for energy production, there are many environmental benefits that could be realized from utilizing woody biomass as well.

“Wood-based bioenergy production” means logging our forests, not using them for carbon sequestration.

The people of NJ do not want to promote “business development opportunities” or provide incentives to locate a commercial logging industry in New Jersey.

Again, all these outrageous contradictions are just ignored by Ruga,  Olson and NJ Spotlight.

(and will someone please tell Elliott Ruga to stop the economic metaphors and reinforcing economic interests that are killing us?)

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