Home > Uncategorized > Murphy DEP Seeking to Log Over 1,300 Acres And Construct 13 MILES Of “Firebreak” Through Precious Pinelands Forests

Murphy DEP Seeking to Log Over 1,300 Acres And Construct 13 MILES Of “Firebreak” Through Precious Pinelands Forests

Exaggerated Wildfire Risk Used As Pretext To Log Forest

Pinelands Commission To Waive Compliance For Huge Forest Destruction

DEP And Pinelands Commission Rejected Land Use Restrictions To Reduce Wildfire Risks

Pinelands Commission Denied OPRA Public Records Request For DEP Meeting Documents

[Update below]

Here we go again with some extremely disturbing decisions on logging, climate, and wildfire.

The Pinelands Commission will meet on October 14. The meeting Agenda includes an insane proposal to waive strict compliance with Pinelands regulations for a massive DEP logging project:

  • Public Development Projects and Waivers of Strict Compliance: 
  • Resolution Approving With Conditions (1) Application for Public Development:
  • Application No. 2007-0318.001 – NJDEP, NJ Forest Service Amended application for approximately 1,304 acres of forestry and approximately 13 miles of forest firebreak

This DEP logging proposal caught my eye 2 months ago upon reading the Pinelands Commission’s July Monthly Management Report, which very vaguely mentioned a meeting with DEP to revise their prior logging plans that the Commission previously considered but refused to approve:

On July 13, 2022, the Commission staff met with representatives of NJDEP Forest Service and the Forest Fire Service to discuss these two applications. App. No 2007-0318.001 proposes1,304 acres of forestry and the creation of approximately 13 miles of forest firebreak in Bass River and Little Egg Harbor Townships. App. No 1990-0868.033. App. No 1990-0868.033 proposes the spot treatment of herbicide to control invasive plant species within 16.4 acres previously cleared to restore the visibility from the Bass River State Forest fire observation tower. These are the two applications that were considered by the Commission in 2021. Neither application received eight votes to be either approved or denied by the Pinelands Commission. Concern was expressed by NJDEP representatives regarding the Commission’s position on herbiciding and forestry considering the Commission’s regulations. Concern was also expressed by NJDEP regarding forest fire safety in the area of the proposed 13-mile forest firebreak. Other topics discussed at the meeting included NJDEP pursuing an New Jersey Office of Administrative Law (NJ OAL) hearing for the two applications. Alternatively, NJDEP may choose to amend and submit two new applications to the Commission for the proposed activities.

It is pretty obvious that the DEP is twisting the Pinelands Commission’s arm and pressuring them for approval.

I immediately filed an OPRA public records request to the Commission to get the documents and find out what is going on (August 9, 2022):

I request a copy of the: a) July 13, 2022 meeting attendance list, b) meeting agenda, c) meeting notes, d) any written materials prepared for, distributed, or discussed at the meeting; and e) correspondence between the DEP and Commission staff regarding subject matter briefings and/or preparations for the meeting.

Just as quickly, the Pinelands Commission denied that request and claimed that they had “no responsive records”. Let’s call it the “immaculate meeting”.

I found that hard to believe and requested a clarification. The Pinelands Commission staff reiterated that they had no records related to that DEP meeting. So on August 25, I blasted them (with a copy to Commissioner Lohbauer and Acting ED Grogan):

Mr. Carter:

Thank you for the clarification.

I find it astonishing that the Commission staff can hold a meeting with DEP on important and controversial science and public policy matters without written invitations, email communications, meeting agenda’s, meeting attendance sheets, meeting notes, any written meeting subject matter, or any meeting followup communications.

I am copying Acting Director Grogan to express my serious concerns about such lack of basic management controls. The Commission staff are not CIA case officers, they are public servants.

This is not good government and it makes transparency, public participation, Commission oversight, and accountability impossible.


[Note: Keep in mind that current DEP Assistant Commissioner John Cecil, who oversees public forests, is a champion of logging. 

Last spring (March 2021), just before he left NJ Audubon to join DEP, Cecil, made an important forestry presentation to the NJ Pinelands Commission’s Climate Committee.

Cecil’s NJ Audubon presentation was titled: Forest Conservation – NJ Pinelands, see:


That Cecil presentation advocated “active management” and “young forest” policies, while criticizing public perceptions.

I wonder if Cecil was at the meeting and if he was involved in the DEP’s development and approval of this logging project? If so, it would be another egregious ethics violation.]

So, in the absence of DEP’s application, let me speculate about what it entails.

But first, met me highlight relevant context:

1) Two Years after being pressured by the public and finally agreeing to consider the issue, the Pinelands Commission still has no plan to study, monitor, and protect Pinelands forests from the impact of climate change, see

2) The Commission has no regulatory requirements or standards in the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) to consider the climate impacts of regulated activities they review under the CMP, including forest management (logging) or to consider, prevent, reduce or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions or to promote renewable energy. (nor does DEP, see:

3) The DEP and the Pinelands Commission recently rejected a petition for rulemaking to restrict development and improve the management of at risk property in designated extraordinarily high risk wildfire zones, see:

4) The Commission was denounced by the public, environmental groups, and media for lax regulation under the CMP “waiver” provisions during the huge debate on the SJ Gas pipeline, and, in response, acknowledged the problem and they pledged to reform such lax oversight, see:

5) The DEP Commissioner – and the NJ Forest Fire Service – have held several press events in the Pinelands on wildfire risks. The DEP Commissioner was called out for exaggerating those risks and DEP walked them back in a recent “Addendum” to their Climate Science Report.

The DEP Climate Report explicitly walked back DEP Commissioner LaTourette’s prior public statements that exaggerated NJ wildfire risks. The DEP now says:

While the scale of wildfires in NJ does not compare to regions in the western United States, a significant portion of its homes are adjacent to forested areas, making even the small fires a concern for human health & property.

We called DEP Commissioner LaTourette out on those exaggerations, specifically the exaggerated and false comparison with western fires:

6) Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith has formed a “Forestry Task Force” and directed them to develop legislative and policy reform recommendations. That task force is currently deliberating and is very likely to recommend reduced (or a moratorium) on logging on public lands and will address the science of climate change and wildfire risk.

Why would the Commission rush through a waiver on DEP logging before those recommendations are considered by the legislature?

7) The NJ Legislature recently passed a law that provides legal liability relief (immunity) for damages caused by wildfires that result from “prescribed burns”  gone wrong (*like the recent US Forest Service debacle in New Mexico). Virtually no one is aware of that reckless legislation. See these posts on prescribed burns and the repeal of immunity for harms.

So, with that context in mind, how could the Commission possibly consider a “waiver of strict compliance” for logging Pinelands forests?

I) DEP Forestry Is Likely Logging, Masked As “Forest Thinning” And Justified To Prevent Wildfire

Based on several DEP press events in the Pinelands on wildfire, it is obvious that this is the DEP’s agenda and sham justification.

II) DEP “Firebreaks” Would Create a 13 Mile Scar Through Pinelands Forests

The DEP proposal is for 13 miles of “firebreak”. Despite the DEP’s claims about the need to protect public safety from wildfires, they refused to consider far less destructive and far more effective land use and property management (fireproofing structures).

DEP rules define firebreak:

Firebreak: A natural or constructed barrier used to stop or check fires that occur, or to provide a control line from which to work. A firebreak shall consist of non-flammable type materials such as gravel, sand, or paved roads, irrigated lawns, gardens and orchards, or ponds, lakes, and other watercourses that meet a specified width. This width is to be measured outward 1-1/2 times the height of fuels available to burn directly adjacent to the object. When used in conjunction with a fuelbreak, the size of the firebreak may be reduced.

The forest varies by composition and height, but here is the dominant forest:

Black oak, chestnut oak, scarlet oak and white oak cover 40 percent or more of the ground and contribute 50 percent or more of the tree stems in oak-pine forests [….]

The oak- pine forest canopy ranges from 35 to 50 feet high but in stands left unburned for a century or more, the trees may be 75 to 100 feet tall.

So – worst case – the width of a DEP firebreak could be (75-100) X (1.5) =  112 – 150 feet wide!

The forest acreage clearcut for 13 miles of firebreak – not including adjacent corridor, wildlife, water and quality impacts and the carbon emission, lost carbon storage, and lost carbon sequestration impacts from this massive linear development forest destruction – would be:

13 miles (5,280 ft/mile) X (150 feet width)/(43,640 sq. ft/acre) = 236 acres.

Which leads to big questions, like:

How is it possible for the Pinelands Commission to issue a waiver for this magnitude of destruction?

What the hell is the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and NJ Conservation Foundation and the Sierra Club, NJ Chapter – the main conservation groups that defend the Pinelands – doing? (and Sierra is a Co-Chair of Sen. Smith’s Forestry Task Force).

More to follow.

[Update: 10/10/22 – EMile DeVito of NJCF tells me to relax, no big deal, bigger fish to fry: (my emphasis)

Hi Bill. This is not a terrible as it sounds. The logging is nearly all “thinning from the ground up” to remove lower levels of fuel load, and leaving all the mulch in the forest to decompose, very little wood removal,  and the firebreak is 30 feet of clearing  for meadow on each side of the narrow sand road. Pinelands Commission got some improvements regarding herbicides and also vernal pond and rare snake considerations. Way bigger things to fight about In the Pines,  for example the unresolved Wetlands violation at Whitesbog and the proposal by JJ White company to create more modernized cranberry bags in the historic district.

So now the “not as terrible as it sounds” standard drives conservation group advocacy priorities!

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