Home > Uncategorized > Forestry Task Force Ignores Proposal To Demand A DEP Logging Moratorium And To Put A Priority On The Climate Emergency And Forest Preservation

Forestry Task Force Ignores Proposal To Demand A DEP Logging Moratorium And To Put A Priority On The Climate Emergency And Forest Preservation

Co-Chairs Issue Gag Order

Deliberations Are Deemed Confidential

No Press And No Blogging Allowed

“I’m not afraid to listen to Bill Wolfe when he has a good idea,” [Senate Environment  Committee Chairman] Smith said. Wolfe says he would like the Legislature to take a stronger stance with a bill to require action by the DEP. ~~~  Kirk Moore of thAsbury Park Press story on 9/27/10

“Kudos to Bill Wolfe. We heard all kinds of testimony over these three meetings. But the one that stuck in my mind is [Bill’s testimony] that there’s no guarantee that they’ll be no deterioration in the State’s water quality standards if there’s development in the first 150 feet of buffer of C1 streams. That’s the critical missing legislative intent item for me.   ~~~ Bob Smith, Senate Environmental Committee Chairman (6/16/16 – vote to pass SCR 66 

It didn’t go so well at Monday’s first working meeting of the climate workgroup of the Senator Smith Forestry Task Force. In fact, it was a disaster.

The Co-Chairs completely ignored my proposal:

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Look, I’ve staffed several serious and successful legislative and regulatory policy reform efforts as a DEP professional. Specifically: Governor Florio did the Solid Waste Task Force in 120 days. Governor McGreevey did Highlands Task Force in a similar timeframe and Senator Smith did Highlands Act is less than that. Ditto DEP Highlands regulatory “stakeholder” meetings. Senator McNamara did Brownfields legislative Task Force in a few months. (Brownfields was a huge mistake, and I made that as a Sierra Club rep. But these examples alone – and there’s several more I could mention – are far more high level policy experience than all 4 Forestry Co-chairs, combined.)

In contrast, this Task Force has no written mandate, no real political power, and a vague extended deadline with no commitments – by Smith, Governor Murphy or DEP Commissioner LaTourette – to even consider, never mind implement the recommendations. Simply put: It’s not a serious initiative.

Not a single Task Force member openly supported the proposal, although a few privately emailed me indicating their support of it (including a former high level State official) and two members previously had supported a moratorium and proforestation policy during the prior Zoom meeting (including a current high level State official).

The proposal got no support, despite the fact some members were involved in strategy discussions in originating the whole idea for the proposal and asked that I draft it.

Profiles in courage, eh?

DEP then was provided another 30 minute platform to present DEP’s condescending, vague, equivocal, evasive, and at times flat out absurd perspectives on carbon sequestration. The only good thing was that they apparently followed my prior advice about not using John Cecil as the DEP representative. I will do a separate post on the DEP presentation in the near future.

Then the Co-Chairs spent an hour indirectly chastising me for even proposing it and instead created a bureaucratic scheme to format, authenticate, and review proposals from members. They adopted a very rigid approach.

One Co-Chair (Sierra Club, no less) even said that “opinions” were not allowed, that proposals had to be based on published peer reviewed science. Ironically, DEP “experts” had just spent 30 minutes spewing all kinds of flawed opinions without citing or relying on peer reviewed published science.

In response to a question about a requirement that meeting participation was required to qualify to vote on recommendations,  the other Co-Chair actually said that they wouldn’t be taking attendance! No attendance sheets! Woohoo!

Another Co-Chair (Tom Gilbert) casually “clarified” that the scope of the Task Force’s work was limited to public lands, thereby eliminating about half of NJ’s forests – and carbon sequestration capacity – from the reform effort (and thereby allowing private landowners to continue the status quo logging program). 

When I asked a question for the factual basis for this limitation – recall that DEP’s first presentation by John Cecil included public and private lands – Gilbert replied that the Co-Chairs had met with Senator Smith privately and that he limited the scope to public lands.

Not one work group member objected to any of this. I submitted several comments that were ignored.

During the Q&A, I asked 2 questions, with responses as follows:

1) Is the press allowed to attend and/or be briefed on Task Force meetings?

Answer: NO. The deliberations are confidential. Media coverage would chill the conversation.

2) May I blog about the meetings?

Answer: NO. Members deserve privacy and the conversation is essentially confidential.

My response to this was to resign immediately, unless Senator Smith revoked what amounts to a gag order on Task Force deliberations. We’re done. (timestamp PST)

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A gag is just flat out wrong as a matter of principle.

Here are my two email notes to Smith:

Forestry Task Force – Are You OK With A Gag Order?

Dear Senator Smith – I write to bring troubling issues to your attention and hopefully resolution.

1.Prior to today’s initial Forest Task Force climate workgroup meeting, I distributed a motion for consideration and approval, in accordance with the rules in effect at the time. Instead of entertaining that motion, I was chastised for submitting it and then the Co-Chairs spent an hour erecting barriers to similar proposals from the members

As a former DEP regulator, I’m bound by the principle that a proposal is entertained pursuant to the rules in effect at time of submission – as a matter of principle, it’s just wrong to move the goalposts after the fact.

2. DEP was again provided over 30 minutes to brief the workgroup on DEP’s various forestry policies. I thought you sought a “new paradigm” (time: 17:39), which obviously means a shift away from the current paradigm, which is variously described by the slogans “forest stewardship” and “active management”. Instead, this is becoming a DEP show to retain the status quo or limit real “paradigm shifting” reforms in light of the climate emergency.

3. I asked if the press could attend or be briefed on the work of the Task Force.

The answer I got was “NO”.

I followed that up with a question about whether I could blog about the Task Force deliberations.

Again, I was told “NO”, that the workgroups’ deliberations are essentially confidential.

This is totally inappropriate for a legislatively established body that is deliberating on public policy for managing public lands.

Do you support a media gag and confidential deliberations?

I conditionally resigned on that basis, unless you reversed that gag order.

Please advise – or perhaps reach out to the co-chairs and they can reconsider.


I followed that up with this to Smith and Co-Chairs about ELEC lobbying issues:

Dear Senator Smith and Forest Taskforce Co-Chairs:

In response to 2 questions I posed today (i.e.: 1) is press allowed to attend or be briefed on Task Force deliberations; and 2) Am I allowed to blog about deliberations) Co-Chair Murphy replied that the answers were no, and that the deliberations were essentially confidential….

Please be advised that if the Co-Chairs and Senator stand by that policy (no press, no blogging, confidential deliberations), then the Taskforce is legally engaged in “lobbying” and the members are engaged in “attempts to influence government processes” that is regulated by ELEC and require registration as a lobbyist at ELEC.

According, should you stand by this policy, I will have to refer the matter to ELEC and the State Ethics Commission for review and enforcement.

I look forward to your reversal of that policy and timely and favorable reply.

Bill Wolfe

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