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NJ Senate Environment Chair To Form “Forestry Task Force” To Develop A “New Paradigm”

Last Chance To Protect What’s Left Of NJ’s Forests

Environmentalists Must Go Big And Be Bold

DEP Must Abandon The Current “Active Management” Approach

Preservation And Climate Emergency Is The “New Paradigm”

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.  ~~~ Antonio Gramsci

Testimony from “invited guests” on the climate emergency will not be the only important discussion before the Senate Environment Committee tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 10).

Chairman Bob Smith will announce the formation of a “Forestry Task Force”.

Formation of that task force was mentioned during the recent Forest Forum held by the NJ Highlands Coalition – suggest you watch the Policy issues video.

Prior to that Forum, I provided the recent context, see:

Given that Senator Smith was featured at the Forum, I posed the critical question, and provided a stern warning:

Has Senator Smith abandoned his flawed and controversial legislative logging package? […]

Smith may no longer have a reason to pass legislation.

One would think that failure to pass legislation to authorize a controversial “forest stewardship” program that threatens NJ’s publicly owned forests would mean that DEP could not implement that program unilaterally in the absence of enabling legislation.

One would be wrong.  

DEP is already implementing Smith’s forestry program in the absence of legation via a Forest Action Plan and Natural Lands Initiative. These DEP programs are managed by the key logging advocate who developed the “active forests management” scheme, imposed it on Sparta Mt. Wildlife Management Area in joint project with the Christie DEP (and he lied to the public about it), and worked with Smith in drafting his flawed legislation. 

John Cecil, formerly with NJ Audubon – is now the Murphy DEP’s Director of Parks and Forestry, where he can impose his flawed ideas on NJ’s forests unilaterally in the absence of legislation and with very little if any public oversight or regulatory restrictions.

This is a formula for disaster.

Finally, after decades of failure to protect forests, to regulate forestry, and pass pro-logging bills, it seems like public outrage over forestry abuses has convinced Senator Smith to abandon his efforts to “actively manage” NJ forests in a way that promotes logging.

At the Forest Forum, Senator Smith seemed to throw in the towel on his package of legislation.

Smith announced his intention to seek a “new paradigm” and his plan to form a “Forestry Task Force” to make recommendations on how to best manage NJ’s forests. The Task Force membership will be announced on February 10.

Invoking the Gramsci quote above, the “new paradigm” that is being born must be based on the over-riding imperative to preserve what little forests remain in light of the climate emergency.

The old that is dying is the current “active management” approach to “forest stewardship“.

And the “morbid symptoms” are logging projects justified by slogans like “young forests“, “thinning”, “habitat creation” and “wildfire prevention”.

The Smith Forestry task Force must aggressively confront these challenges and affirmatively abandon the old before even thinking about the “new paradigm”.

So let me suggest a preliminary outline of the framework for a “new paradigm” and the bright line demands that must be made at the outset of the Task Force deliberations, in order to frame the issues, establish expectations and hold Task Force members and Senator Smith accountable.

In essence, current basic assumptions about trees, common public trust natural resources, and private property rights must dramatically change.

Trees – and the carbon they store – must be viewed the same way that the air, rain, wildlife, wetlands, and surface and ground water flowing through a stream across private lands are.

Simply put, in a climate emergency and zero carbon world, carbon and the carbon cycle have become public resources.

The private property owner does NOT own the air, rain, wildlife, wetlands, or the water the happens to cross his land – these currently are all public resources held in trust, regulated, and managed by DEP.

Private property owners can no longer own the carbon stored for decades in trees. Trees must now become publicly owned and must become a protected “regulated feature” of the landscape, just like wetlands.

Once that fundamental reconceptualization is made, the “new paradigm” for forestry falls into place.

Forests on public lands must be preserved.

Forests on private land must be strictly regulated. Any logging or cutting of trees must trigger mitigation and compensation requirements. Current subsidies and property tax breaks for any form of logging must be eliminated.

Outline of the New Paradigm

1. Public Forests:

  • preserve what’s left
  • abandon active management model
  • abandon “young forest” myths on carbon and habitat
  • abandon myths of wildfire prevention

2. Private Forest:

  • Strict regulation (DEP land use, Highlands, plus)
  • mitigation – for biomass
  • compensation – for carbon, both stored and future sequestration
  • tax breaks only for preservation, no more sham “Stewardship” tax breaks

3. Climate

  • abandon thinning and young forest as sequestration
  • afforestation – reforestation – maximize
  • urban forestry – and funded – maximize
  • no RGGI or carbon credit and trading schemes
  • repeal regulatory incentives for solar and utility ROW & tree cutting program

4. Process

  • public participation in forest planning
  • repeal preemption of local reviews

End Note: In his discussion with Senator Smith, Elliott Ruga of the Highlands Coalition cited a controversial logging project, in a municipally owned forest in Roaring Rock Park, Washington Township, Warren County as an example of why forest protections are inadequate. Ruga focused on the fact that forest stewardship is exempt from DEP and Highlands regulations.

In his remarks – in which he surprisingly emphasized the need for strict regulation and focused on current regulatory loopholes – Elliott failed to mention the forestry exemption from STORMWATER regulations. That was no inadvertent oversight.

The local stormwater utility program that he and the Highlands Coalition spent a lot of time and money promoting – the 2019 law known as The Clean Stormwater and Flood Reduction Act – does not close these loopholes and INCLUDES those exemptions. That’s why Elliott conveniently failed to mention stormwater!

The reasons I bring that up now is to settle a score and warn people that there are serious competence and co-optation risks of relying on the Highlands Coalition to lead this battle.

The Category One waters stream buffer protections originated in the DEP stormwater rules as a BMP. I was involved in drafting those rules back in 2002.

I flagged the issues of lack of regulatory protections and exemptions for “forest stewardship” projects 6 years ago, and have been ignored, until Roaring Rock forced the issue

Years ago, I warned about the lack of regulation for forestry that would lead to the disaster discussed in Roaring Rock Park in Washington Township Warren County, see:

Those warnings went unheeded, even by groups like the Highlands Coalition.

Just thought I’d set the record straight on that history and warn about reliance on Highlands Coalition for leadership on these issues.

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