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Murphy DEP Commissioner Urged To Withdraw Pinelands Logging Plan

DEP Forestry Practices Poison The Well For Any Climate & Ecological Reforms

For years, environmentalists and local activists have strongly opposed DEP logging of Highlands forests under various pretexts, slogans, flawed science, and narrow objectives, particularly “active management” “Stewardship”, “young forests”, “thinning” and all sorts of “treatments”.

While former Murphy DEP Commissioner McCabe imposed a temporary “pause” to review those forestry policies and practices, the current Commissioner has ignored critics, abandoned that review, and expanded DEP’s misguided forestry approach.

Current DEP Commissioner LaTourette has expanded DEP’s controversial misguided and aggressive forestry practices geographically into the Pinelands. Programmatically, he has expanded the scope of DEP’s forestry program to include seriously flawed “carbon defense” and climate justifications.

With little public knowledge and legislative authorization, in defiance of critics, he has adopted a Statewide Forest Action Plan and developed a Working Public Lands program to further promote logging and misguided forestry practices.

DEP even recently floated an incredibly bad trial ballon to expand development, commercialization, and privatization of all Green Acres and State lands, including State Parks and Forests.

Arrogantly sticking his finger in the eye of critics, in a revolving door move he appointed ethically challenged John Cecil, the champion of the Highlands logging program – who spun the press and misled the public about the extent of logging – as Assistant Commissioner overseeing logging in State Parks and Forests.

These unilateral, arrogant, scientifically flawed and poor public policy decisions have deeply polarized the forestry and climate related forestry issues.

DEP’s recent arm twisting at the Pinelands Commission to secure approval of the wildfire forestry plan has shed public light on the controversies. It is also the straw that broke the camels back.

If Commissioner LaTourette proceeds with that plan, he makes necessary climate and ecological reforms under Senator Smith’s Forestry Task Force impossible.

Given DEP’s flawed and arrogant policies, which have destroyed any trust in DEP, any legislation would need to be extremely prescriptive and include many specific numeric standards, mandates and prohibitions. Such a bill is unlikely to secure passage, thus killing Smith’s reforms.

One way to avoid this train wreck would be for Commissioner LaTourette to make a good faith gesture to try to begin to restore trust and reduce the polarization – that’s why I wrote him to urge that he withdraw the Pinelands plan:

Dear Commissioner LaTourette:

I am writing to request that you voluntarily withdrawn the NJ Forest Service’s Forestry Plan recently approved by the Pinelands Commission.

As you know, after the Pinelands Commission’s approval became known, the plan has generated significant public concerns, media attention, and valid scientific and policy criticism.

As you also know, the plan was not subject to meaningful public or scientific peer review before it was approved by the Pinelands Commission.

Of equal concern, Pinelands Commission lead staff Chuck Horner publicly acknowledged that the Commission staff lacked expertise in forestry, wildfire, and climate science and deferred to DEP’s expertise. That deference is reflected in the text of the Commission’s approval document, which repeatedly states that scientific and factual findings are based on the Department’s representations, not the Commission staff’s independent findings.

As you also know, Senator Smith’s Forestry Task Force is currently deliberating on legislative and regulatory policy matters specifically of direct and significant relevance to the Department’s plan, which was approved prior to the release of the Task Force’s recommendations.

Finally, the Department’s plan asserts positions on and implements fundamental and controversial scientific and policy matters, including reliance on the (draft) Forest Action Plan’s “carbon defense” policy of significance to the carbon storage and sequestration strategies required to meet the goals of the Global Warming Response Act, as discussed in the Department’s “80X50 Climate Report“.

[Note: Carbon storage and sequestration are funded under the RGGI program with millions of public dollars. There is huge federal funding for forestry and climate in the pipeline as well, under Biden’s Executive Order and the infrastructure and inflation laws, which appropriated billions to forestry programs. DEP bureaucrats and their corrupt conservation cheerleaders are obviously salivating over this money. ]

Given this context, it is deeply troubling that the Department’s Pinelands Forestry Plan received so little and clearly inadequate public and scientific review and integration with upcoming major policy changes anticipated to be the result of Senator Smith’s Forestry Task Force.

In fact, the Department’s plan has the potential to undermine the public reception of Senator Smith’s Task Force Report and followup reforms based on its recommendations.

In light of these significant procedure, scientific, and policy deficiencies and future implications, I strongly urge you to voluntarily withdrawn the plan. This can only bolster the public’s confidence in the Department’s efforts and lend public support for Senator Smith’s legislative agenda.

If you and the Department’s staff are confident in the quality and scientific basis for the plan, a “do over” should not delay or frustrate legitimate forest management initiatives.

I look forward to your timely and favorable response.

Bill Wolfe

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