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Conservationists Walk Back The Lies They Told To Defend Their Support of DEP’s Pinelands Logging Plan

Lies Exposed On Reduction Of Canopy Cover, Wildfires, And Removal Of Trees

Conservationists Fabricate New Rationales To Support DEP Forestry Plan

Conservationists have shut down media coverage and public opposition to the DEP’s plan

Is This The “Thin” Pinelands Forest You Support? This Is What DEP Is Trying To Create

Source: John Cecil, NJ Audubon presentation to Pinelands Commission (March 2021). Cecil is now Assistant Commissioner at DEP overseeing forestry.

“Thinned Pinelands forest”. Source: John Cecil, NJ Audubon presentation to Pinelands Commission (March 2021). Cecil is now Assistant Commissioner at DEP overseeing forestry.

Rather than manipulate the forests, [managers] should stand back and let natural processes determine the density of trees, which species are best suited to the new realities, and watch the results.

Ultimately, we cannot manipulate (by logging or burning) our way out of the current climate warming scenario. Our best alternative is to preserve natural processes, not museum pieces. ~~~ George Wuerthner, 11/2/22)

This is a followup on my prior posts – all of which I stand by:

I clarified and corrected the honest error I made – which was based on the limited information I had at the time as a result of the Pinelands Commission’s denial of my OPRA public records request I filed in August before they voted to approve the DEP plan – about DEP’ failure to consider carbon. But, as I noted, the Pinelands Commission failed to consider carbon, see:

(Note: After the Commission approved the DEP plan, I submitted the exact same OPRA request to DEP, which they responded to but heavily redacted:

Screen Shot 2022-10-24 at 12.10.07 PM

I guess I wrote the kind of analysis that Sierra Club’s ED denounces as “inflammatory and disrespectful messaging“.

Things have only gotten worse since I wrote all that and its looks like the conservationists have shut down any media coverage and silenced public or environmental group opposition to the DEP’s plan.

I apologize for the length of this post, and some repetition of prior posts, but these issues must be properly documented.

After I exposed their falsehoods (based on the text of DEP’s plan and the Pinelands Commission’s approval documents), conservationists have walked back and even directly reversed their prior claims in support of the DEP plan, while fabricating new rationales and moving the goalposts to continue to support DEP’s plan.

Their U-Turn in the Pinelands reminds me of former NJ Audubon CEO Eric Stiles, who once advocated for protection of large blocks of intact Highlands forests and maximization of canopy cover. Stiles reversed that position and supported fragmentation and logging of those same forests, see:

It’s good for conservationists to openly disagree about interpretations of science and policy objectives and to debate strategies and tactics in dealing with government agencies and politicians. I welcome those healthy and necessary debates.

But it is not OK for conservationists to fabricate; lie; mislead; shift arguments; manipulate, exclude and fail to warn the public; and even personally attack critics of a harmful DEP “forest management plan” that conservation groups signed off on after years of behind closed doors meetings with DEP and with little to no public awareness or involvement.

Using their own words, let me expose just a handful of the most egregious falsehoods that conservation leaders used to support the DEP forestry plan, that they have been forced to walk back.

In addition, my NJ sources tell me that NJ media are being told a falsehood that herbicide use was eliminated, when it was only slightly reduced (see below).

1) Claim: There will be “no reduction in canopy cover” – to “reduction in canopy cover is necessary and good”

Longtime investigative reporter and columnist Bob Hennelly first broke this story in NJ media, see:

DEP flat out lied about impacts on canopy cover, making this factually false claim:

Tree removal will focus on the smallest snow-bent pitch pine trees first, and an intact canopy will be maintained across the site.”

Emile DeVito of NJCF made a similarly misleading and false statement in an email to me. Emile wrote:

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.

Carleton Montgomery of PPA made multiple and similarly false and misleading statements. Carleton wrote:

We worked on this one for years and believe our concerns were met by DEP in the end, so the project is reasonable and will have no harmful ecological impacts if carried out according to the final application (attached).  We dug into this one and stayed with it over a long period of time and think that what’s being said to attack it is inaccurate and misleading.

We think key points in summary are:  (a) This is thinning, not clearcutting, and the vegetation being removed consists of shrubs and very small, crowded trees, so the resulting forest structure will be a healthy pine barrens forest (you can see this in the proposal by the fact that the tree basal area and canopy area both change little despite the removal of many individual plants) [Note: test this claim agains the photo above of a “thinned” Pinelands forest]; (b) DEP agreed to changes to prevent this work from opening up these areas to ORV use, a big issue for any forestry; (c) the roadside work will result in meadows, not wider roads, that are good (and rarer) native habitat in their own right; (d) DEP agreed to vastly reduce the potential herbicide use, and we understand why they want to be able to use herbicide in the limited ways proposed; and (e) the wildfire issue is very real, and it is reasonable for DEP to take steps like this to reduce the risk to the public and their own fire firefighters through management that also does no harm to native ecology.

In sum, we don’t think the project is unreasonable or ecologically harmful, and it’s certainly not Armageddon for the Pinelands!

Anonymous talking points widely distributed via email to dissuade opponents by NJ conservationists made similar misleading and statements (very close to verbatim Carleton and Emile):

“Please do not oppose this. This is not a logging plan. This is thinning from the ground up and a firebreak that will help with ecological fire management. There is virtually no change to the canopy. The canopy won’t be opened, and there is virtually no removal of wood. … The Pinelands Commission staff worked hard to get some important modifications to this proposal – modifications that PPA and NJCF have been recommending.

They all knew they were either lying or spinning to cover up their quiet involvement in and approval of this logging scheme and failure to warn the public about it.

In direct contradiction to the above falsehoods, here’s what the Pinelands Commission’s approval document states about reduction in canopy cover, facts which I forced them to acknowledge publicly on the record in my testimony to the Commission on October (emphases and Notes are mine):

“Approximately 1,041 acres of pine-dominated forest type will be thinned twice. The applicant proposes that this acreage will be “thinned low and from below.” This type of thinning cuts and removes those trees that are the shortest in height and smallest in diameter. The applicant indicates that these trees generally act as forest fire “ladder fuels” by connecting the plants and shrubs on the ground with the upper canopy of taller trees. The proposed “low and from below” thinning will reduce the forest from 2,075 trees per acre to 204 trees per acre. Canopy cover will be reduced from 68% to 43%.

[Note: that density reduction is a 90% tree removal rate, for a total of 1,947,711 trees.]

Approximately 255 acres of pine-shrub oak forest type will be subject to a variable density thinning treatment. This thinning will reduce the forest from 1,940 trees per acre to 74 trees per acre. Canopy cover will be reduced from 74% to 30%.

[Note: that density reduction is a 96% tree removal rate, for a total of 475,830 trees.]

Approximately 8 acres of pine-shrub oak forest type along the western outside edge of the Allen Road firebreak will be subject to a “feathered” variable density thinning treatment. The applicant indicates that this type of thinning creates a gradual transition in tree density from zero trees per acre created by the proposed forest firebreak to 33 trees per acre for a distance back from the proposed forest firebreak of 75 feet. Canopy cover will be reduced from 74% to 19% by the “feathered” variable density thinning treatment. The applicant indicates that this “feathered” treatment is intended to reduce the harsh forest edges and create a more visually appealing aesthetic between the proposed forest firebreak and the variable density thinning treatment.”

2) Claim: Thinned forest wildfire burns are “low and slow” (temperature and rate) which protects forest – is now thinned burns are fast and hot, and that’s all good;

In my reader comments on the Hennelly story (and in several other places), I noted that logging that reduces canopy cover increases sunlight on the forest floor and increases wind penetration, which in turn dry our soils and vegetation and makes them MORE combustable and prone to wildfire, making wildfire risks WORSE.

I also noted that the current science questions the benefits of forest thinning in managing wildfire (I relied on the science in a letter to President Biden from over 200 scientists opposing thinning as a wildfire management approach. Commissioner Lohbauer cited the same science in his criticism below).

On October 24, Emile DeVito wrote this, which not only walks back his initial claims about forest canopy, but is a U-turn in the rationale for the DEP wildfire logging:

This proposal is OK. The globally rare Pitch Pine -Scrub Oak community that is the subject of this plan will BENEFIT from this ” thinning from the ground up “. This characteristic Upland plant community of the New Jersey Pine Barrens is not supposed to have a 75% closed canopy, which has resulted from over a century wildfire suppression. Huge numbers of rare species and common food web insects and small vertebrates, incl. various low growing plants, moths, lizards, snakes, and birds have declined because of wildfire suppression, and in the Pine Barrens  they need a little more sunlight on the forest floor.

True, this extra sunlight could create a hotter natural fire, which would actually be GOOD, and the fire break will allow firefighters to allow natural wildfires to burn in the interior instead of making New Roads into wetlands and other sensitive areas trying to attack the fire directly and putting themselves in severe danger. The thinning will be a little bit more aggressive along the edges of the meadow-like fire break, again creating a sunny habitat that can be repeatedly prescribe-burned and actually behave like the original fire-dominated Pine Barrens savannas with huge pines and an open canopy filled with rare species beneath. What matters here is the follow-up work for the next 20 years after this forestry mowing is done. Certainly we have to make sure that the DEP does not shift its priorities away from this project and ignore the follow-up work that needs to be done for it to fulfill its objectives. This project will cost tons of money, probably $500 to $1,000 per acre or more, and there is no way that it is being driven by monetary gains. There might be a few pine trees cut down that are big enough to be used to create mulch, but almost all of this material has to be left in the forest because it is worthless. Herbicides will probably not have to be used at all, unless something like Chinese Bush Clover sprouts up along some of the disturbed road edges. In other words, if they have to use herbicides at a later date, it will be for a good reason. The Pinelands Commission got some concessions that we advocated for , regarding rare snake habitat and wetlands and a bit of reduction in places where herbicides might be used.


So the original lie that there would be no reduction in canopy cover has been repealed and has now shifted to reduction in canopy cover is a good thing!

“Low and slow” wildfire dynamics have become the opposite: “fast and hot”.

I actually tweeted a photo of a savanna landscape as kind of a joke – but Emile and DEP are not kidding: they actually want to create a savanna landscape!

Savanah coming to the NJ Pinelands?

Savanah coming to the NJ Pinelands?

3) Claim: all cut trees will be left on site and the carbon recycled.

Facts:  DEP’s actual plan, based on fuel reduction, is tree removal and sale of wood products, including “merchantable cordwood”, “forest products”, and “converted to energy”.

As DEP’s application approved by the Pinelands Commission’s a “cut and remove” plan, reveals that the trees that are cut will NOT all be left in the forest (and to do that would contradict DEP’s fuel reduction objectives:). Here’s the text from the DEP plan:

“The proposed project will significantly reduce the forest carbon pools throughout the site overall due to the removal of forest overstory. In particular, the flux in carbon before and after each of the treatments will change primarily from live aboveground carbon (removal of trees) to the dead wood pool (increase in slash, tops, etc.) due to harvesting activities. In addition, removed carbon may be utilized and stored by long -term forest products, stored within landfills, converted to energy, or may be left on site to be recycled back to the system depending on the implementation contractor and method of harvesting used to carry out the treatments.

4) Claim: “DEP agreed to vastly reduce herbicide use”.

Facts: DEP agreed to reduce use on a little over 200 acres. But Carleton makes no mention of the fact that over 1,000 acres still can be treated (with no water quality or ecological monitoring). This is not a “vast reduction”. It’s political cover.

5) Claim: DEP agreed to snake protections.

Facts: Rutgers snake experts were excluded from reviews of the DEP plan & DEP made no specific protections, a reality exposed by Commissioner Lohbauer (see below).

6) Claim: DEP agreed to provide buffers (80 feet) for wetlands, vernal ponds and T&E habitat.

Facts: DEP regulatory buffers to protect those sensitive natural resources are from 300 to 1,000 feet. DEP made no concession at all, but failed to enforce their own regulatory standards.

In addition to false and misleading claims to support the DEP plan, and providing new false rationales, the conservationists are totally ignoring key science and facts, like these:

7. The fact that there is No justification in reducing wildfire risk is being ignored

DEP stated that the logging is “badly needed”. (see Hennelly story)

In contrast, Pinelands Commissioner Doug Wallner, a retired National Park Service expert on wildfire, noted that the DEP plan failed to provide a justification and failed to consider the “no alternative” option. Wallner noted that he had reviewed the maps and that there was little of no people or property at risk or benefit from the logging and firebreak plan.

8. Flawed Carbon analysis being ignored

The Pinelands Commission did not consider any climate implications or carbon impacts. They claim that the CMP does not authorize that.

The DEP’s carbon analysis is flawed, see:

(BTW, how could DEP even conduct a carbon analysis when they made no commitment to the harvest methods and the disposition of the wood, which they explicitly say is influenced by the contractors (and Emile admits would cost from $500 – $1,000 per acre. In tight budget times and with no funding source, obviously Pinelands forests will be sacrificed to DEP’s staff salaries.);

9. Political Pressure was applied to the Pinelands Commission to approve the plan

Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette pressured the Pinelands Commission to approve the plan. Both DEP and the Pinelands Commission have refused to disclose his letter, see

Additional political pressures and considerations result from the fact that Gov. Murphy’s appointments (Matos and McCurry), who PPA and NJCF supported, both voted to approve the Murphy DEP plan, elevating loyalty to the Gov. over protection of the Pinelands.

The conservationists don’t want talk about any of that.

10. Pinelands Commissioner Lohbauer wrote this scathing criticism:

In conclusion, you don’t have to take my word for any of the above. Read Pinelands Commissioner Lohbauer’s criticism. He wrote (emphases mine):

“In this case I don’t believe there was a good basis to approve the Forest Service’s application. This is the same one that I had opposed last December, and Emile is right—the Service did modify their proposed application of herbicides in the project. However, they did not agree to eliminate them, nor did they agree to avoid the use of glyphosate (“RoundUp”) which I consider unsafe at any application. Moreover, the restrained use of herbicides was conditioned upon“if practical,” meaning that were they to decide that the mechanical approach were not working, they could revert to the use of herbicides without further review by the Pinelands Commission. Yet this was not my primary objection.

The application contained two projects: 13 miles of firebreak along Allen and Oswego Roads, and a separate project of thinning over 1,300 acres of forest in Bass River State park. The firebreak was occurring in a broad swath that included the most productive snake dens in the State—possibly the northeast region—for T&E snake species. These snake dens have been the subject of continuous study by Rutgers herpetologists as well as our own science staff at PC for 30 years. Last December I asked for the Rutgers herpetologists to be consulted by the Forest Service on their firebreak plan, because they had not been. It is not apparent to me that Rutgers was given the opportunity to participate in the revised firebreak plan that was before us last Friday. Nor did the revised plan include a specific protection for the snake dens, other than the Service would consult with the PC Executive Director in the event of contact with the dens. That seemed inadequate to me. Yet this was not my primary objection to the application.

Both the firebreak and the thinning projects were proposed as wildfire control measures, yet—as Commissioner Doug Wallner pointed out on Friday—there is no population center, housing development, or commercial area near the sites of the project activity. Wallner, who spent his career at the National Park Service working with local agencies like the NJ Forest Service on wildfire control, argued that there was no reason to pursue these projects since there was no population at risk of wildfire harm that could be protected by this project. Rather than vote for it, he abstained. I certainly agreed with him on that point, yet this was not my primary objection.

The thinning project was proposed to be performed over more than 1,300 acres in Bass River State Forest. For 1,100 acres they proposed to remove 90% of the trees. For the remainder they proposed to remove 96% of them. Ed Lloyd calculated that this would be over 2.4 million trees. This thinning was intended as a wildfire protection measure, yet we learned at the Pinelands Climate Committee last year that thinning has not proven to be a useful wildfire control measure; if anything, it causes wildfires to burn hotter and more destructively.Leslie Sauer shared a paper by ecologist Chad Hanson on this subject ( https://grist.org/fix/opinion/forest-thinning-logging-makes-wildfires-worse/  ) and argued persuasively that pro forestation is a much better approach to wildfire management. I find it difficult to support thinning as a wildfire management practice generally, but particularly so in this case where: 

A number of T&E bird species including barred owl, would be impacted negatively by the tree cutting;

The plan called not only for cutting the trees, but for harvesting them as well, which is contrary to the good forestry practice of cutting and leaving trees in place;
At the Pinelands Commission, we are in the process of deliberating a “no net loss” policy for trees which, although not yet in place, would be completely contradicted by this project. 
In the end, the injury to the carbon sequestering ability of this forest was my primary objection to this project. I don’t believe that the work that the Forest Service proposes to do is either warranted by the circumstances, nor healthy for the flora and fauna of this forest. I opposed it, and I hope that there still remains some opportunity to prevent the Forest Service from moving forward with this now permitted, yet ill-planned project.”  ~~~ end Lohbauer

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