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Forestry Task Force Kicks Off Deliberations

Approximately 250 people participate in 4 hour Zoom call

Opening DEP Presentation Sparks Sharp Rebuttals 

Participants Call For DEP Moratorium Pending Reforms

Source: NJ DEP, John Cecil (4/28/22)

Source: NJ DEP, John Cecil (4/28/22)

Today, almost 3 months after Senator Smith announced his plans to create a forestry task force, the Task Force conducted its first meeting on an almost 4 hour zoom call.

The 4 Co-Chairs did a good job in setting the tone. It sounds like the process will be well managed, participatory, transparent, and science based.

The call was well attended by about 250 people. I wasn’t counting, but many spoke and most had very positive things to say.

Senator Smith began the call with his charge to the Task Force, which emphasized the climate emergency. Smith urged participants to be civil and respectful.

The goodwill almost was destroyed a moment later when DEP Assistant Commission John Cecil (controversial former pro-logging “active management” forester at NJ Audubon) proceeded to not just make brief introductory remarks, but launch into a 25 minute power point!

Very bad idea to put him up like that.

I’m a Luddite when it comes to Zoom (my first!) but I was able to use the chat box to call Cecil out on a few of his false and misleading statements.

Specifically, Cecil presented a data chart of the age-class diversity of NJ’s forests. He even noted that it illustrated a classic bell curve distribution, by age class. (unfortunately, I didn’t screen shoot that slide – update – here it is).


Yet, in his very next slide, the first conclusion was that “northern forests lack age class diversity” (see above). That so called lack of diversity is a major justification DEP uses to log to create “young forests” and improve “forest health”.

So, I took to the chat box and asked: how could that perfect bell curve distribution support a conclusion that forests lack age class diversity?

Cecil was dumfounded and unable to even try to answer the question! hahahha!

The next slide in Cecil’s spin box claimed that DEP Forest Management Plans followed various environmental laws and regulations. This is a flat out lie, because DEP forestry work is exempt.

Myself and other participants called Cecil out on that lie, which warmed my heart!

(thank you Co-Chair Eileen Murphy for posing 2 questions I asked, but you failed to ask several more questions I submitted on Cecil’s presentation!:

  • What does “management of timber likely to remain low” mean, quantitatively?
  • Do DEP’s forest planning and management programs have formal public participation, i.e. public notice, public hearings, public comment and response to comments?
  • What methods does DEP use to quantify “carbon trade-offs”?
  • What are the methods and metrics for “forest restoration”?
  • National priorities do not include forest preservation. Where does preservation fit in?
  • What are DEP’s density findings? Are NJ’s forests too dense? What is the natural background “density” assumed?
  • Is storm blowdown quantified as “damage”? What do those data say?
  • One climate objective should be maximization of carbon sequestration. To “enhance” sequestration is not an adequate goal.

A while later, I was called up for comments. I had forgotten I registered to provide comments and was not prepared. So, I just made 2 quick remarks:

1) Cecil’s slide claims on regulations were in error and must be corrected; and

2) the Task Force schedule is very long (Report by end of year) and reform legislation will take at least another year or 2. Given that DEP continues to engage in forestry projects (logging) and to adopt various new damaging forestry policies, plans, and programs, the Task Force should immediately call for an administrative moratorium by DEP until reforms can be enacted (laws passed and regulations adopted).

I was pleased when my friend Mark Lohbauer later supported me (I think he called me a colleague) and the moratorium proposal, as did several following commenters.

Lohbauer also criticized Cecil for promoting forest “harvest” and not mentioning the most important policy reform: proforestation!

Also joining the call was former DEP Commissioner and BPU Commissioner Jeanne Fox. I like Jeanne and have worked with her. Because she is a trusted and loyal Democrat, she can be an important political liaison to the Murphy Administration.

Perhaps Jeanne can be the ambassador to current DEP Commissioner LaTourette and ask him to make a good faith pledge to impose a “pause” during the reform process (and not use Cecil as the public face of the Department).

Even former DEP Commissioner McCabe imposed a “pause” during her incoming policy review of the Sparta Mt. WMA logging program.

Several other commenters were scientifically credentialed, passionate, and well informed advocates and lovers of forest ecosystems.

Tom Gilbert, a man who I have long criticized, made an important recommendation I agree with. Tom suggested that “consensus” might include a 2/3 majority vote, thereby eliminating a major flaw I wrote about in the consensus based approach, which provides veto power to a single selfish interest.

One criticism: the Co-Chairs did not do a good job summarizing the issue poll/survey they took. Basically, they claimed that everything was important, and, despite noting huge overlaps, then tried to ram them into 2 working groups: 1) climate and 2) ecological health. They also appeared to not understand conflicts of interest/ethics/dislcosure and scientific bias issues. And there is a built in flaw in their approach regarding representation, because the voice of one south jersey mill owner will have the same “power” as the leader of a group with 25,000 members. Perhaps a weighted voting scheme might help.

At the outset, I was skeptical and highly critical of this Task Force, but, by listening to the thoughtful and caring people on the call, I’ll admit that I see a possibility for improvements in how DEP “manages” our forests.

The keys will be to 1) accelerate the schedule, 2) nail down a DEP moratorium, 3) keep the discussion going in the public arena and media, and 4) not get co-opted by the inside game or false notions of “political feasibility”.

We’ll keep you posted.

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