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Senate Forestry Task Force Work Already Being Spun

Disturbing Signals In Naming of Co-Chairs And Policy Charge

No local or activist representatives

Reliance on “consensus” gives a veto to those who benefit from status quo forestry practices

Not 24 hours after Senate Environment Committee Chairman Smith announced its formation yesterday, the Forestry Task Force work is already being spun.

I tried to provide context and a warning in these recent posts:

Already, my email in box was flooded today by press releases, a self congratulatory pre-packaged Task Force announcement (which smells a lot like Foundation grant proposal), and celebrations by well meaning but inexperienced and naive local forest activists.

We need to be realistic about what’s going on here.

First, I’m concerned that Smith has given up on his legislative package only because DEP is implementing his “forest stewardship” program under the direction of John Cecil (Director of Parks & Forestry) and he therefore doesn’t need legislation and this is his way of saving face, diverting focus of forest activists, and shifting the burden to conservation groups.

Second, the composition of the Task Force is troubling. The 4 Co- chairs are biased towards the DEP and NJ Audubon and Forestry consultant “active management” model that Smith and DEP have championed. There is no local grassroots representative.

(a reader just shot me an email noting that “3 of the 4 groups conduct prescribed burns or logging“. Exactly.)

I’m disgusted, but not surprised, that NJ Audubon was named as one of the 4 co-chairs. That is a very bad sign, because NJ Audubon is the architect of the failed and horrible “forest stewardship” legislation Smith sponsored. NJA also promotes and implements logging projects under the guise of “forest stewardship”. NJA  also has deep linkages to the DEP. John Cecil, former NJA head of Stewardship is now DEP Director of Parks And Forestry with science and policy control over NJ forests. The Task Force Co-Chair, Eileen Murphy, is former DEP head of Science and Research. Both will be able to assert undue influence on DEP and benefit from inside DEP information.

I’m also very concerned to see Tom Gilbert of NJCF as a Co-Chair, instead of Emile DeVito. Gilbert lacks expertise and he is politically compromised in his role and promoting solar power. For example, Gilbert has supported the BPU ‘Dual use” solar policy. Just yesterday, BPU President Fiordaliso’s climate testimony highlighted the “agricultural dual use solar program” – while DEP ran away from any regulatory program response. NJCF has close relationships with DEP, owns and acquires a lot of forested lands, and conducts stewardship on those lands, and thus has conflicts of interest. (Those conflicts were highlighted in the recent “prescribed burn” legislation).

Third, there was no clear mission or policy charge established by Senator Smith, nor were there any bright lines or demands made by forest preservation advocates before the Task Force as formed or in response to the formation of the Task Force.

All I’ve gotten from groups like the Highlands Coalition are self congratulatory celebrations.

This is a dangerous “wait and see” passive approach. Such a vacuum will be filled by those with a clear agenda, like NJ Audubon and forestry consultants and the forestry industry.

Fourth, Senator Smith has not admitted any defeat of his forestry ideas and is seeking a “consensus”, which, as I warned, provides veto power to those who want to log NJ’s forests(Smith press release)

“For decades, we have been debating what proper management of the State’s forests should look like, and what the State’s policies for forest stewardship should be,” said Senator Smith. “We’ve assembled this task force in order to identify and debate the major issues and ultimately develop consensus solutions which could form the basis for future legislation.”

Finally, there is no specific focus on land use or development threats to forests – or any mention. of currently ongoing parallel forestry policies and plans at DEP.

So, this is not a land use preservation driven initiative and it certainly will accelerate the solar development threats and do nothing to respond to the warehouse development threats.

Here is my note to the Task Force: (you can sign up at NJForestTaskforce@gmail.com)

Dear Task Force: Please put me on email lists for all Task Force workgroups, stakeholder groups, technical advisory groups, policy groups, or any other issue groups you organize.

I would like to monitor the work of the Task Force and contribute information and analyses.

At the outset, I strong urge that your work specifically include consideration and review of the parallel forestry work now ongoing at DEP, including but not limited to:

1) The Forest Action Plan;

2) Natural Lands Initiative;

3) REAL – PACT climate land use rules;

4) the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) carbon sequestration and allowance trading scheme; and

5) ongoing DEP projects, including: a) prescribed burn, b) forest stewardship, c) “young forest”, d) “wildfire prevention”, e) “habitat creation for T&E species, f) deer management, g) “high hazard” tree removal, h) utility ROW maintenance, i) urban forestry, j) carbon sequestration, k) “forest thinning”, and l) various other site specific forestry projects on State and/or private lands.

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