Home > Uncategorized > Are Conservationists About To Sell Out On Protecting What’s Left Of NJ’s Forests And Farms While Addressing Climate Change?

Are Conservationists About To Sell Out On Protecting What’s Left Of NJ’s Forests And Farms While Addressing Climate Change?

NJCF “Warehouse Sprawl” Essay Proposes No Solutions, While Ignoring Real Solutions That Have Worked

Sounds like a pitch to Big Corporate Foundations to fund a weak and ineffective campaign


Several longtime grassroots conservation activists in northwestern NJ have been discussing how to mount a public campaign that could pressure State legislators and the Governor to protect the few last remaining forests and farms in NJ from the devastating destruction of climate change and the most current development threats, warehouse sprawl, industrial scale solar arrays, and DEP/NJ Audubon logging.

The warehouse sprawl issue has gotten a lot of media attention, some compromised solutions by conservationists, and weak and ineffective legislative efforts that won’t work (for a discussion of them, see this and this and this). Solar arrays on farmland have gotten some attention, and conservationists have supported horrible compromises. I’ve written extensively about the DEP/Audubon logging projects, but that issue has gained little media attention or opposition by the big conservation groups.

But none of this has been linked to climate change or the need to preserve what little is left of NJ’s undeveloped landscape

In response, I’ve recommended that activists and conservation groups push for a strong regulatory model, based on strong legal and regulatory protections that former Governor’s and Legislators have supported to preserve portions of the Pinelands, Highlands, freshwater wetlands, and steam buffers, which I outlined in this post:

Instead of compromising away what little is left of NJ’s forests and farmlands, it’s time for the conservation, environmental, justice, and climate communities to work together and fight the final battle to preserve what’s left.

That “Final Frontier” proposal has gotten some support among local activists, but the large conservation groups – like NJ Conservation Foundation and the Highlands Coalition who explicitly have been asked to support it – have declined to do so.

Those groups are now getting pressure from their own members to support something strong along the lines I’ve recommended. Specifically, NJCF and HiCO have been asked to support an approach with teeth that would broaden the focus from merely improving the siting of warehouses – a business friendly approach that actually promotes more warehouses and solar array developments – to actually protecting forests and farms and addressing the climate emergency (forests and soils “sequester” a lot of carbon, while warehouses and trucks emit a LOT of carbon).

Into that behind the scenes debate, Michelle Byers of NJ Conservation Foundation (NJCF) recently wrote about the warehouse sprawl issue in her column “The State We’re in” (“Seeking Solutions For Warehouse Sprawl”).

Curiously, Byers’ essay quotes Julia Somers, who heads the NJ Highlands Coalition, a coalition whose mission was enabled by passage of the Highlands Act and works on implementing it. [Note: corrected. Original wrote “created”, which was poor writing on my part]

But Byers and Somers say nothing about solutions that they know have worked to preserve forests and farms in the Highlands!

Byers’ essay was the typical puff piece by NJCF.

It proposed no solutions.

She praised Gov. Murphy, State legislators, and the State Planning Commission.

She ignored solar arrays and the entire issue of climate change.

She didn’t talk about preserving forest and farmlands or mention the planning and regulatory solutions she knows have worked in the Pinelands and the Highlands.

She undermined the efforts of local activists who are seeking to build public support for real solutions.

And she did so at a critical time, when the Murphy DEP is about to propose “Climate PACT” regulations and the Governor could be contemplating his legacy and be persuaded to back climate, forest, and farmland preservation as his legacy.

I’ve seen this sellout multiple times over the years.

Byers’ essay reminded me of the debates with had in the 1990’s.

At that time, some of us – the leaders were Jeff Tittel (not yet with NJ Sierra), Bill Neil Director of Conservation at NJ Audubon, and Curtis Fisher, head of NJPIRG and then McGreevey’s environmental policy aide, myself included as Sierra Club and then at McGreevey DEP and many local activists throughout the Highlands who had spent years in local land use battles – proposed an aggressive Pinelands in the Highlands campaign. Politically, this was pitched as a legacy for Gov. McGreevey. It was based on a scientific report by US Forest Service.

But NJ Conservation Foundation and the then multi-State Highlands Coalition that focused on the broader Appalachian Highlands Region, strongly opposed a NJ Pinelands regulatory model.

They claimed that it was not remotely politically feasible due to high property values, incredible development pressure, and the the political power of the development lobby.

They had no stomach for that kind of fight.

Instead, NJCF supported and had received Foundation funding for a small bore and ineffective campaign to designate the Highlands as a “region of significance” under the toothless voluntary State Plan.

Tim Dillingham had recently left NJ Sierra Club to head that NJCF Highlands State Plan campaign. When Tim left, I became Acting Director until Tittel was hired about 9 months later. (BTW, NJCF recently did the same thing to sell out the Sourlands Region, where a voluntary and ineffective local scheme was adopted).

Obviously we rejected that failed approach and pitched the Highlands Act to Gov. McGreevey. The rest is history.

I sense the same Foundation funded ineffective voluntary, toothless, local NJCF sellout is in the works for what’s left.

I sense that Byers’ piece was really a set up for pitching a proposal to the  Big Corporate Foundations (Wm. Penn, Dodge, etc) for another totally lame, voluntary, small bore, local “warehouse sprawl” campaign.

I urged my local activists friends to not let that happen and instead get out in front of the debate to frame a real proposal.

Here’s my note, which I no share with all NJ readers – don’t let NJCF sell out the last best chance to protect what’s left!

Friends – NJCF and the Highlands Coalition need to pretend they’re doing something.

This is very likely the pitch to the foundations for funding a campaign.

Time is right to get out in front of them so they don’t propose a very weak and ineffective solution

When we debated whether to seek a Highlands Act, NJCF and others OPPOSED that because they had already begun a lame Foundation funded campaign to get the Highlands designated a “region of significance” under the toothless State plan.

If you’re ever going to move, the time is now to ask Michele and Julia to support something strong, along the lines I’ve outlined.

Be bold! Do it widely within the conservation community so they will feel some pressure before wiggling out and selling you out.


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  1. February 6th, 2022 at 06:31 | #1
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