Home > Uncategorized > Conservation Groups Must Stiffen Their Spines And Raise The Bar PUBLICLY In Forestry Debate

Conservation Groups Must Stiffen Their Spines And Raise The Bar PUBLICLY In Forestry Debate

Reliance On The Inside Game And Trenton Politics Are A Sure Losing Strategy

Former DEP Commissioner McCabe’s “Pause” And “Policy Review” Is Precedent

DEP Commissioner LaTourette Is On Thin Ice After Being Called Out For Wildfire Spin

In yesterday’s post, I challenged leading NJ conservation groups – NJ Conservation Foundation, Sierra Club, NJ Audubon, and the Highlands Coalition – to ramp up public pressure to stop DEP from conducting more logging on public forests:

I am also publicly calling on Senator Smith and all 4 Co-Chairs of the Smith Forestry Task Force to join in this demand.

I even provided a letter to DEP Commissioner LaTourette and Senator Smith as a model for the winning arguments they should make.

I backed that up with private emails.

I did not expect NJ Audubon and Senator Smith to respond favorably, as NJ Audubon has been the architect for the DEP logging program and they worked closely with Senator Smith on his disastrous package of “forest stewardship” (pro logging bills). John Cecil, formerly the head of NJ Audubon’s logging team, is now at DEP as Director of Parks and Forestry. Eileen Murphy, former DEP Director of Science and Research is now at NJ Audubon as head of Government Affairs.

So that incestuous set of relationships is obviously not going to publicly advocate for a U-Turn in their disastrous logging policy.

I also did not expect a favorable response from DEP Commissioner LaTourette, because bureaucracies rarely admit error, because John Cecil is not going to admit error and honestly brief the Commissioner on the science and policy choices, because DEP is moving aggressively forward unilaterally on forestry policy despite public opposition, and – as I illustrated on the wildfire exaggeration issue – the Commissioner and his DEP staff are obviously working closely with Senator Smith in support of the joint DEP and Smith logging program.

That DEP logging program does not require passage of new legislation, so Senator Smith and DEP and Forestry Task Force Co-Chairs NJ Audubon and Forestry Assc. have absolutely no incentive to do anything. They are all fine with the status quo.

They would be fine if the Forestry Task Force deliberated indefinitely or if it failed to reach consensus. It’s called a strategy of “co-optation”. In fact, Smith, DEP, and Company actually would prefer to keep conservation groups busy in the room and diverted on Task Force negotiations, instead of mounting controversial and aggressive public campaigns to protect NJ’s last remaining forests and farms, as I’ve recommended, see: 

So, strategically, it is going to take significant pressure to get anything done on forestry issues.

Unfortunately, NJ conservation groups apparently fail to understand all this and fail to acknowledge how little leverage they have in playing the inside game (with the Forestry Task Force) and in private negotiations with Senator Smith or DEP Commissioner LaTourette.

They fail to realize that Senator Smith actually strongly resents them for blocking his forestry legislation for over a decade and for what he feels were false attacks on him for promoting logging. Smith takes this personally. He is thin skinned and doesn’t take criticism well at all. And, like all politicians, he can be vindictive and bear a grudge. Smith has zero interest in satisfying the requests of these conservation groups (other than his friends at NJ Audubon).

Despite all this, signals are that the conservation groups are planning to work privately behind the scenes with Senator Smith on this. That is a guaranteed failing strategy.

Their only leverage is to make strong public demands and mount maximum public pressure on DEP Commissioner LaTourette.

Imposing a moratorium on DEP approvals of logging on public forests in a climate emergency is a very light political lift.

There would be virtually no negative economic impact and there would be no political opposition from the NJ business or corporate community, donor groups the Murphy administration caters to.

This is NOT some major policy decision that LaTourette would need the Gov. to sign off on.

Plus, there is a precedent for doing so.

One of the first moves by incoming former Murphy DEP Commissioner McCabe was to impose an administrative “pause” on DEP’s logging program, in response to strong public opposition. As I wrote:

The local  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.”

I’m fairly sure that John Cecil has not briefed DEP Commissioner LaTourette about this action by his predecessor (LaTourette was not with DEP at the time, he was serving as a corporate lawyer for the Fortress Energy LNG export project. So he may not be aware of McCabe’s prior pause).

In addition to all this, Commissioner LaTourette is on very thin ice and vulnerable to public pressure of forestry issues after he was humiliated and exposed in the media for grossly exaggerating wildfire risks. He is looking to put that behind him and garner public support, not more public opposition. So he is ripe to leverage on this issue.

If NJ conservation groups are unwilling to publicly fight for forests and can’t stop really bad stuff from happening – like DEP (a State agency, not a corporate pillager) logging public forests – how can they even hope to get anything positive done?

If they fail this test, they should all resign. The whole state is watching.

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