Home > Uncategorized > NJ Forests And Climate Are Nothing Like California And Western Forests – Don’t Let Fake Wildfire Fear Justify Logging

NJ Forests And Climate Are Nothing Like California And Western Forests – Don’t Let Fake Wildfire Fear Justify Logging

Murphy DEP Seeking To Use Prescribed Burn And Forest Thinning As Cover For Forestry Program

Greenwood Lake, from the AT trail at NJ/NY State line

Greenwood Lake, from the AT trail at NJ/NY State line

This is the first in what will have to be a series of posts on various important issues related to protection of what remains of NJ’s forests. I’ll start by exposing the most recent effort to shape the upcoming forest debate by the Murphy DEP.

For over a decade, there have been a series of Orwellian slogans and sham justifications for legislation designed to increase logging of NJ forests. The legislation openly began as “Forest Harvest”, then it stealth shifted to Forest Health and then to the current noble brand: Forest Stewardship.

The scientific and policy justifications have been similarly shifting: the original bills openly promoted renewal of NJ’s logging industry. Then, when public opposition exploded, the rationales shifted to creating habitat for T&E species, then it was to diversify the age class structure of NJ’s allegedly “old” forests, then it was to promote forest health and “young forests”. Then to adapt to climate change. Now the rationale is to prevent wildfires by “thinning” and “prescribed burns”.

These shams have been provided political cover and a veneer of scientific legitimacy by conservation groups like NJ Audubon, who own and actively log forests, have self interested forestry pet projects (single species management), and use these forestry projects to secure federal and state grants and private contributions.

The most recent legislative effort was kicked off last week. The Murphy DEP is playing right along with this legislative initiative. Here’s the latest.

Exactly one day before Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith announced the formation of his Forestry Task Force, the Murphy DEP issued this revealing “pro-active” press releases:

The only thing “pro-active” about that DEP launch was an attempt to obfuscate the forest management debate about to begin the next day.

The DEP press release on “prescribed burn” used all the slogans and junk science justifications DEP has deployed to “actively manage” (code for log and burn) NJ forests.

DEP Commissioner LaTourette made that very obvious:

Proactive forest management, including prescribed burning, is vital to protecting public safety and helps to ensure that we protect the long-term health and success of our forests. By reducing forest fire fuels through strategic prescribed burning, our Forest Fire Service protects New Jersey communities and ecosystems and helps to avoid catastrophic releases of carbon during wildfires that would contribute to climate change.”

Just like the US military’s Vietnam metaphor on villages, you gotta burn a forest to save a forest.

DEP even had the chutzpa to quote John Cecil, now Director of DEP Parks and Forests, the former champion of the “active forest” management logging scheme when he was with NJ Audubon.

(In a future post, I’ll explain what DEP failed to mention about the 2018  Prescribed Burn Act that they rely on, a law that got little if any media coverage and so virtually no one knows anything about. I think people would be outraged to learn of the provisions of that law, specifically C.13:9-44.16 Prescribed burn deemed to be in public interest; immunity from liability).

People would also be outraged to learn about this, from the NJ ozone SIP. On 2/6/15, the Obama EPA:

eliminated the requirement for state and local agencies to report emissions from wildfire and prescribed fires (@ p. 10-3) https://nj.gov/dep/baqp/OA/Ozone%2075%20ppb%20AD-70%20RACT-2017%20PEI%20Final%2011-18-21.pdf

The next day, Senator Smith played right along with the wildfire threat myth.

In an outrageous exaggeration and falsehood, in explaining why he formed the Forestry Task Force, Senator Smith said this: (listen, starting at time 2:05):

Our forests are at risk. I’m sure you’ve seen the footage, two or three years ago, of half the country burning down. It wasn’t just California, it was really like from the center of the country – west. And we could be in that same situation. And you also need healthy, sustainable forests so that we can mitigate the impacts of global climate change.

Fact check:

1) half the country did not burn down.

2) We could not be in the same situation because NJ’s forests, NJ’s landscape, and NJ’s climate (rainfall, soil moisture, drought, heat, wind, humidity) are nothing like California’s forests and the conditions that drove massive wildfires. Even NJ’s most fire prone forests, in the Pinelands, are nothing like California and western forests and landscapes. Nothing.

But that was not just random off the cuff hyperbole by Senator Smith. He knew exactly what he was doing, just like the DEP’s “pro-active” press release on prescribed burns.

Senator Smith’s remarks, coupled with the DEP’s message coordination and prior remarks by Senator Smith, make it very clear that this was intentional political propaganda.

Weeks before, Smith tipped his hand on the wildfire justification, at the Highlands Coalition’s Forest Forum.

During Smith’s remarks at that Forum (time: 21 minutes), he closed by recommending that people read a recent NY Times magazine article on California wildfires to understand the problems NJ faced:

There was a terrific article in The NY Times magazine section about how various types of forests had been stewarded in different ways, held up to forest fires. I think that might be somewhat instructive.

This was the article Smith referred to:

That article was one long fear based screed and propaganda piece for “active forest management”: (emphases mine)

Living in California now meant accepting that fire was no longer an episodic hazard, like earthquakes. Wildfire was a constant, with us everywhere, every day, all year long, like tinnitus or regret. The dry spring was bad; the dry summer, worse; the dry fall, unbearable. Even a wet winter (if we caught a break from the drought) offered little reprieve. All thoughts, all phenomena, existed relative to fire. […

California, and the world, are in bad shape. But the situation is not as devoid of hope as we believe. “We have this idea that the world is either normal and in continuity with what we’ve expected, or it’s the apocalypse, it’s the end of everything — and neither are true,” he said. That orange sky in 2020? “We’re all like, Wow, the sky is apocalyptic! But it’s not apocalyptic. If you can wake up and go to work in the morning, you’re not in an apocalypse, right?”

The more accurate assessment, according to Steffen, is that we’re “trans-apocalyptic.” We’re in the middle of an ongoing crisis, or really a linked series of crises, and we need to learn to be “native to now.”

This NY Times news (not magazine) article also probably could be the one Smith referred to. It is more science based, but still an argument for burning and logging forests under the guise of wildfire prevention:

But for Ms. Sauerbrey and her colleagues with The Nature Conservancy, what she witnessed was most likely a real-life example of what they and others have been studying for years: how thinning of trees in overgrown forests, combined with prescribed, or controlled, burns of accumulated dead vegetation on the forest floor, can help achieve the goal of reducing the intensity of wildfires by removing much of the fuel that feeds them.

The western – California wildfire model is what Senator Smith has in mind. The DEP is happy to manipulate that.

So, be forewarned.

Trenton policymakers will try to use the fear of wildfire to justify continuing mismanagement of NJ’s forests.

I will go into additional detail in future posts. There is a lot of scientific disagreement that active management techniques are the solution to wildfire prevention or adaptation to climate change, see:

For today, I just wanted to put out the alert.

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