Home > Uncategorized > After Murphy DEP Scales Back Logging, NJ Audubon Expands Dirty Dealings To Promote Sparta Mountain Logging – Opens New Front In Logging War

After Murphy DEP Scales Back Logging, NJ Audubon Expands Dirty Dealings To Promote Sparta Mountain Logging – Opens New Front In Logging War

Audubon Conducts Legislative Lobby Tour

Former DEP Official, Now With Audubon, Leads Lobbying Effort

DEP Political Involvement Raises Concerns About Objectivity And Independence

[Update below]

I just learned that last week NJ Audubon conducted a “tour” of the Sparta Mountain logging project with powerful legislators and somehow involved DEP in this political exercise.

But before I get to that, I need to establish the context for this tour, which raises serious concerns.

Part I explains why Audubon conducted this tour. Part II explains the tour.

I)  DEP Scaled Back Audubon Logging On Sparta Mountain – Closed Loopholes And Inserted New Regulatory Protections

I had been planning to write about how DEP recently narrowed the scope of logging allowed under the 2017 Sparta Mountain logging plan, but got diverted.

We will note just briefly here today that DEP validated our criticism of regulatory loopholes and confirmed the fact that NJ Audubon misled the public about the type, rate, and acreage of logging.

Specifically, back in April 2021, DEP issued an “Addendum” to the NJ Audubon drafted logging plan DEP approved in 2017.

In that “Addendum”, DEP quietly scaled back the allowable acreage logged, reduced the intensity of former clear cuts, and imposed new restrictions to protect C1 stream buffers, wetlands, and vernal ponds. These new requirements respond specifically to criticism we made about loopholes in DEP regulations

The Addendum established new restrictions as follows: (DEP wrote):

The selection and boundaries of stands for additional intensive forest management activities will be planned in accordance with the following criteria (to the extent practical):

  •  At least 150 feet from known rare plant occurrences, unless modified by the Office of Natural Lands Management.
  • At least 400 feet from mapped potential and certified vernal pools per the vernal pool layer in Landscape Project V3.3 or later version, or at least 100 feet for shelterwood cuts. Boundaries may be moved if, upon evaluation, the potential vernal pool location does not meet the hydrologic and biologic criteria of a vernal pool and/or modified by the Endangered and Nongame Species Program.
  • At least 300 feet from mapped C1 streams.
  • Steep slopes will be avoided.

Why would NJ Audubon oppose these protections?

We know why the NJ Builders Association hates them, but NJ Audubon too?

Of course, NJ Audubon vehemently complained about that. In the course of filing complaints with DEP, NJ Audubon attacked DEP and logging critics, and also confirmed the fact that they wrote the Sparta Mountain logging plan.

In a scathing May 21, 2021 letter to DEP (provided upon request), NJ Audubon wrote to misleading portray their 2017 DEP approved logging plan, while questioning DEP’s credibility in scaling it back. NJA wrote:

The 2017 plan recommendations include silvicultural options like single tree selection and group selection on several hundred acres to enhance older growth character and heterogeneity across the property, and these recommendations were endorsed by the respective department heads just four years ago, so it begs the question; what condition or scientific understanding has changed to reverse the original planning direction and exclude management for ecosystem diversity?

What changed was that DEP regulatory loopholes and NJA lies were exposed by scientific experts and strong public criticism and sustained local activism.

NJ Audubon went further to attack DEP, attack critics, and align themselves with hunters (just as critics have maintained).  NJA wrote:

Aside from selective implementation of the approved 2017 plan being counter to the Division’s own stated goals, the addendum does not present any scientific rational (sic) for abandoning management for other seral conditions and wildlife resources. Without a scientific justification, we must assume that this is being proposed to appease a stakeholder group that is philosophically opposed to land management, and if so, this is an abdication of the Division’s responsibility to protect and steward the state’s wildlife resources. Failure to appropriately manage the state’s wildlife also presents a conflict for fulfilling the goals outlined in the State Wildlife Action Plan. We have spoken about this with other important stakeholders like those in the sportsman’s community, who feel similarly that there is no scientific explanation being provided for why the addendum is needed, and equally important, that they too have been excluded from the decision-making process to formulate this addendum.

Accusing DEP of “appeasement” and “abdication”, while mentioning support the “sportsman’s community”, is clearly a political threat. The bait and bullet crowd is politically powerful.

NJ Audubon blasted DEP for reducing the amount and rate of logging allowed – and in the course of doing so they validate our criticism of their misleading spin to the public. John Cecil of NJ Audubon spun by claiming the plan would allow just “5 – 10″ acres for the first 2 years” with a pause in years 3 -4. We calculated that far more logging could occur, up to 715 acres over the first 10 years alone. Cecil also disputed the need for stream buffers.

But, now, NJ Audubon’s own letter to DEP proves – just like I said – that Cecil was misleading the public. NJA wrote:

the proposed addendum appears to be scaling back efforts from what was approved within the 2017 plan without providing any scientific rational (sic) for doing so. According to the 2017 plan, upwards of 208 acres would be managed within the 10 – year planning window for young forest habitat using a modified seed tree approach, and another 100 acres would be managed using a shelterwood system approach, for a total of 308 acres that equals roughly 9% of the WMA.  …
[the] addendum seems to suggest – without any justification provided – that the new young forest management goal over 10 years will be 88 acres, or roughly 2.5% of the WMA.

It is a good thing that DEP reduced the allowable acreage of Highlands forest to be logged. It is incredible that a conservation group would oppose that.

NJ Audubon also opposed DEP’s efforts to reduce clear cut logging. NJA wrote:

The addendum indicates that beginning in 2021, 2/3 of each 15 – acre site/stand will be managed at any given time to provide a “seed bank”, however, there is no scientific justification that a seed bank is not already present,

NJ Audubon even opposed DEP’s efforts to protect crucially important and ecologically sensitive features, like stream buffers, wetlands and vernal ponds. NJA wrote:

The addendum proposes adoption of universal buffers around these resources without consideration of the actual resources that are encountered at each location, or without providing scientific merit for each buffer based on that specific resource.

Audubon closes their letter to DEP by lamenting the loss of access and exclusive control over DEP logging approvals: NJA

Based on the content of the addendum and lack of scientific justification, it is unclear to us why this addendum is even being proposed. New Jersey Audubon greatly values the prior collaboration that we shared with the Division while developing the 2017 management plan, and we look forward to having an equal opportunity along with other stakeholders to help guide how the property is managed in the future. Please let us know how we can best provide our assistance.

Amazingly, both DEP and NJ Audubon either ignore or downplay the role of forests in the climate emergency and fail to note that logging contradicts DEP’s own science and carbon assumptions and Gov. Murphy’s climate commitments. See:

So the mask is off and NJA’s credibility is now totally shot.  And they are dragging DEP down with them.

(and just think how bad it must be that The Forest Stewardship Council revoked NJ Audubon’s certification?)

Which takes us to part II – NJA’s expansion of the logging war.

II)  NJ Audubon Conducts Legislative Lobby Tour – Exploiting The Revolving Door – To Undermine DEP and Discredit Critics

NJ Audubon is aggressively lobbying to defeat DEP’s protections and support passage of terrible forest “stewardship” legislation. (A bill that was so bad, even Gov. Christie vetoed it.)

As I noted:

tomorrow (Earth Day) the NJ Senate Environment Committee will hear a package of bills to promote logging. Even the bill descriptions are Orwellian:

  • S2001 – Forest stewardship program-establishes for State-owned lands
  • S3547 – Forest stewardship, pinelands,
  • S3548 – Prescribed burns-set min. acreage goal & schedule in pinelands area & Statewide
  • S3549 – Forest stewardship plan-required for lands acquired
  • S3550 – Forest stewardship plans-provide that municipal approval is not required

Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith has been pushing this ill advised legislation for over a decade. He is responding to the sham and misleading self interested lobbying of the NJ Audubon Society, the NJ Farm Bureau, the forest products industry, and professional forestry consultants. 

Before the new DEP restrictions on logging are even implemented, today I learned that NJ Audubon is working behind the scenes – with no transparency, public involvement, or public accountability – to politically undo those DEP restrictions and vastly expand logging throughout the entire state of NJ.

According to a July 20, 2021 email from Eileen Murphy, head of NJA’s Trenton Government Affairs Office, the following legislators and OLS staff were invited to attend the hike (a lobby session) at Sparta Mountain: (I contacted Senator Smith’s Office for comment. They confirmed that Smith attended the event but would not otherwise comment).

  • Senator Bob Smith – Chair of Sen Environment Committee
  • Assemblyman James Kennedy – Chair of Assembly Environment Commitee (sic)
  • Assemblywoman Lisa Swain – Member of Assembly Ag Committee
  • Matt Bonasia – Chief of Staff for Asw Swain
  • Matt Peterson – Senate Dem Aid for Environment Committee
  • Jen Taylor – Deputy Director of Assembly Majority Office
  • Judy Horowitz – Environment Division Office of Legislative Services
  • Adaline Kaser – Environment Division Office of Legislative Services
  • Carolina Guzman – Environment Division Office of Legislative Services

Ms. Murphy wrote to confirm the attendance of DEP officials, who had agreed to participate. It is unclear whether DEP staffers actually attended this political lobbying event (if they did, that was clearly improper. I worked in DEP’s Office of Legislative Affairs and can attest to the impropriety of that).

Eileen Murphy wrote:

Thank you so much for agreeing to participate in Thursday’s tour of the Sparta Mountain Stewardship project. Below is information about the tour including a google maps link to the location and some general suggestions for the tour.

  • Craig Dorsett, [DEP] Craig.Dorsett@dep.nj.gov;
  • DeVeaux, Bryana [DEP] Bryana.DeVeaux@dep.nj.gov
  • Ray Bukowski  [DEP] Ray.Bukowski@dep.nj.gov
  • Jane Rosenblatt  [DEP] Jane.Rosenblatt@dep.nj.gov

Stewardship my ass. And I wonder if NJ Audubon disclosed this lobbying to ELEC?

Why do Democrats want to destroy NJ forests and log public lands – and during a climate crisis, when forests are one of the best ways to store carbon?

Perhaps the media, NJ environmental groups, and the people of NJ might ask them why?

It’s very curious why – despite all the talk about “stakeholder processes”, relying on the best available science, and involving the public – NJ Audubon did not invite local activists, or scientific experts, and neither DEP or Chairman Smith insisted that they do so. Instead, they all act like any other corrupt corporate lobbyist and pursued self serving things in secret – no science, no democracy.

Ironically, Ms. Murphy is another former NJ DEP official who is abusing the revolving door.

Murphy previously served as the DEP Director of the Division of Science and Research. In that capacity, she did absolutely no work on legislative affairs, forest stewardship, or public policy.

I wrote Ms. Murphy to ask for her comments, and I’ve not heard back. But I’m pretty sure NJ Audubon did not hire her for her expertise and scientific background in conservation, biology, forests, stewardship, or land use (which she doesn’t have, as far as I know).  Or her experience on legislation, government affairs, or public policy (which she also lacks).

Clearly, Murphy was hired to provide DEP access and to exploit DEP personal relationship and contacts. More revolving door abuse.

And that abuse of access is obvious when you look at who Murphy copied at DEP on the legislative lobby tour invitation.

It’s revealing that Murphy’s email copied, among others Jane Rosenblatt.

Despite Ms Rosenblatt’s lack of experience and credentials, she was installed at DEP as by Gov. Murphy’s Office, initially as a high level official (Deputy Chief of Staff) and she now serves as DEP Chief of Staff and reports directly to Commissioner LaTourette.

The DEP Chief of Staff position has historically been filled by a longtime DEP veteran manager who understands how DEP operates. Jane Rosenblatt has very, very, very little DEP (none actually) or comparable management experience and just happens to be the daughter of two longtime DEP managers, so clearly her appointment is not merit based and borders on nepotism.

By copying Rosenblattt, Murphy insulates Commissioner LaTourette while at the same time assuring that he gets the word from Jane.

Yes, Ms. Murphy sure knows how the DEP game is played.

(* post revised – I changed the claim that Cecil’s lied to spin and misleading the public. I think he did it knowingly and to deceive. Whether that’s a lie or not, I don’t know.)

[End Note – Ironically, Eileen Murphy, while at DEP Science and Research, learned first hand how politics trumps science at DEP. Her work was targeted by this DEP management gag order, that we blew the whistle on – see this Star Ledger story:

Environmentalists rip DEP proposal as a ‘gag order’

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Star-Ledger Staff

The state Department of Environmental Protection proposed restrictions yesterday on the public release of its scientific studies and reports, which environmental groups lambasted as a sweeping “gag order” spurred by a controversy over chromium pollution in Hudson County.

The commotion surrounds written guidelines from Jeanne Herb, the DEP’s director of policy, planning and science, against employees disclosing technical and scientific reports — even if they are the subject of an Open Public Records Act request — until they are approved by upper management and the press office. The directive follows the April release of a report by DEP scientists concluding a new, stricter soil cleanup standard is needed for hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, because the cancer-causing substance is riskier than previously believed.

I wrote about it in great detail here.

[Update: I reluctantly engage the personal issues, but as they say: personnel is policy. A knowledgeable reader scolds me correctly on two inter-related counts:

First, I failed to mention that Jane Rosenblatt worked on Murphy’s campaign and then in Murphy’s Gov.’s Office and was installed by Murphy as a spy, a counter to Senate President Sweeney’s DEP hack Eric Wachter. So the reality is actually worse than I portrayed.

Wachter is now gone, but as I wrote:

Sweeney has already had his way with Murphy DEP Commissioner McCabe, so he knows her number (besides, he also had his own Senate staffer, Eric Wachter installed as McCabe DEP’s first Chief of Staff. But The latest DEP org chart indicates that Wachter has departed. He’s now in private sector.)

In terms of Jane’s parents’ DEP career connections, I implicitly treated both her parents equally, when I know that Liz Rosenblatt (Semple), my friend, was a force for good, while her father Dave was and is a scumbag. I apologize for that. I was not aware that Liz was demoted and ignored by the Murphy people and recently retired. That’s more damning evidence.

Worse, while Liz is gone, Dave the scumbag tool lives on to serve more political BS. I’ve written about Dave and his corrupt role with Christie’s Sandy Czar Mark Ferzan. As I wrote:

DEP “resilience” head Dave Rosenblatt worked closely with Christie’s “Sandy Czar and played a role in Christie’s Bridge-gate scandal

Second, and perhaps worse, I failed to note that John Cecil, formerly of NJ Audubon who I target in this and prior posts for misleading the public, was hired by the Murphy DEP as Director Of Parks and Forestry to oversee the very destructive logging he promoted at NJ Audubon! That is disgusting. ~~~ end update]

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