NEWS, SPORTS, COMMENTARY, POLITICS for Gloucester City and the Surrounding Areas of South Jersey and Philadelphia

Thomas J. Gillespie of Turnersville, Audubon High School Alumnus, Service Advisor for Sears
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N.J. Sierra Club: DEP and N.J. Audubon Contract Keeps Public Out of Sparta Mountain Logging Plan


The DEP made a contract with NJ Audubon that prohibits the release of any documents associated with the Sparta Mountain Forest Stewardship plan. This contract shows the DEP is working with NJ Audubon to deliberately keep the public out of their proposal to log Sparta Mountain. In the contract, DEP is allowing NJ Audubon to use its Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification to create a Forest Stewardship plan on behalf of the DEP and provide technical assistance for them during implementation.


At the same time, FSC has just issued NJ Audubon violations for their plan to log Sparta Mountain. This plan is not a surprise because it will clear-cut the forest and destroy critical natural resources, violate the objectives and goals of the Highlands Act, and go against the Regional Master Plan (RMP). By trying to keep the public out of receiving information, this contract violates the Public Trust Doctrine and the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).


“DEP is trying to stop the public from finding out what is happening on Sparta Mountain with this shameful contract. As a result of the public outrage over this logging plan, DEP is trying to hide what is going on there. The people own Sparta Mountain and this land is held in the Public Trust, but our public agency the DEP is clearly trying to keep the public out. They know this proposal will clear-cut thousands of trees, disturb endangered species, and threaten our water supply so they want to keep their plans in the dark. DEP with this contract clearly has violated the Public Trust Doctrine and our Open Public Records Act law,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This contract is just like the DEP’s secret plan to privatize Liberty State Park. The DEP had wanted to turn one of the most visited open spaces in the country into the next South Street Seaport. If we didn’t go to court to release the plan to privatize Liberty State Park and fight the plan, the park would have been privatized.  Now we might have to do the same thing with this plan because the DEP is trying to deny us access to information on their environmentally destructive plan.”


The contract dating July 6th 2016 states, “The Department and Audubon acknowledge and agree Audubon has been providing expert technical assistance to the Department related to certification and implementation of the 2009 SMWMA Forest Stewardship Plan and also on the development and the completion of the new Forest Stewardship Plan for the SMWMA.” This contract exists through the finalization and ten-year implementation period. We believe this plan could have serious environmental impacts to nearby trout streams, wetlands, vernal streams and overall water quality. This plan will violate the objectives and goals of the Highlands Act and the Regional Master Plan (RMP) and even goes against protections for stream buffers. Logging will bring in siltation and run-off, impact pristine C1 trout streams and the highest water quality in the state.


“It is no wonder that NJ Audubon has supported the DEP’s Forest Stewardship plan because they are being contracted to do so by the DEP. NJ Audubon are in lock step with DEP’s plan because they have been brought in to give DEP greencover and help implement this destructive proposal. This plan is really about logging, not about creating bird habitat. There are clear alternatives for Golden Wing Warbler habitat, but they rather take down 120-year-old oaks Logging will remove the canopy, bring in siltation and run-off, impact pristine C1 trout streams. This plan goes against the purpose of the Highlands Act, which was enacted to keep the contiguous canopy forest in place. If you remove the canopy, it will cause great long-term ecological damage,” said Jeff Tittel. “DEP has hired NJ Audubon to help log Sparta Mountain, when they already received violations from FSC. This is a warning bell because FSC auditors are not normally an organization that does not criticize one of their members. This audit resulted from NJ Audubon changing the conservation value designation of a forest so they could log the mountain. It was based on the old Forest Stewardship plan so it could be even worse with their new proposal.”


The public is clearly against this proposal, but DEP and NJ Audubon want to keep us out. The contract states, “Neither Audubon nor the Department may release any documents, whether in draft or final form, arising from the Forest Stewardship Plan for SMWMA to any third party without the other party’s prior written approval. An inadvertent release of a document or documents shall not constitute a waiver of this provision of the Agreement.” It also states, “To fulfill their respective obligations and duties in preparing, drafting, finalizing, and implementing the Forest Stewardship Plan, the Department and Audubon recognize and acknowledge that opinions, documents, and information have been and must continue to be freely shared and communicated between parties.” Besides this agreement, the public has a right to these documents because of our various concerns with this proposal.


“This plan is so bad that the DEP and NJ Audubon are deliberately trying to block the public from receiving any information. Their contract is prohibiting Open Public Record Requests and the public’s right to receive records relating to this destructive proposal. This is clearly part of the Governor’s plans to privatize our state parks. We must continue the public outcry against this plan and not let this contract move forward,” said Jeff Tittel. “NJ Audubon and DEP cannot even make any comments about the plan without coordinating with each other. It is no surprise that they did not schedule a public hearing because they are working together to gag all of the public opposition.”


We believe logging operations will lead to more erosion and stormwater runoff impacting pristine streams and reservoirs and aquatic ecosystems.  Opening up the canopy will lead to a loss of biodiversity in our forests as more deer and invasive species take over. Invasive species infestations would require herbicide use which could impact sensitive streams and areas above reservoirs and water supply intakes. The Highlands is a breeding ground for endangered neo-tropical song birds, that require a deep forest at least 300 ft. of undisturbed habitat to protect their nests from other species. This proposal would threaten the WMA’s biodiversity including the federally-threatened Northern Long-Eared Bat and federally-endangered Indiana Bat.


“The proposed Forest Stewardship plan is a horrible sell-out our open space for private logging companies initiated by the DEP and carried out by NJ Audubon. This plan is not only environmentally destructive; it is part of the Christie Administration’s attempt to take over our state parks and public lands. The DEP should be protecting forests, not logging them. The public continue their outcry on this terrible proposal and tell DEP these lands belong to all of us, not commercial loggers and not NJ Audubon,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of New Jersey Sierra Club. “While the contract allows NJ Audubon to write and implement the plan, it lets DEP giveaway our public lands to the logging industry. This contract shows NJ Audubon and DEP are working together to destroy an entire ecosystem for one bird species. What is even worse is why are they just signing a contract now? This plan has been behind closed doors from the beginning and they continue to shut the public out.”