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GUEST OPINION: NJDEP Wants to Plant Trees, While Clear-Cut in Public Land  


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by New Jersey Sierra Club

The Department of Environmental Protection is awarding nearly $400,000 in grants to 20 municipalities and two counties to promote the stewardship of urban and community trees and forests. The New Jersey Forest Service's Urban and Community Forestry program has administered these grants through Community Stewardship Incentive Program (CSIP). The grants include funding for tree inventories, ash surveys, resiliency planning, hazard mitigation, and reforestation/tree planting. At the same time they are doing this, the NJDEP has proposed a plan to clear-cut 16 acres of trees in Bass River to clear the view of aan 86-foot fire tower. 


“It’s good that the DEP is giving out funding to plant trees in urban areas. At the same time however, they want to clear-cut our forests on public land in the Highlands and Pinelands. This is an unnecessary action that would cause more harm to the Pinelands than good. Under the guise of stewardship, these DEP grants are vaguely defined and could be used for logging and clear cutting instead. Grant money awarded to counties could be used by utilities to fund clear cutting,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We cannot be removing vegetation in urban and environmentally sensitive areas. We need protective and selective cutting, not just open discretion.”

The Pineland Commission granted the DEP an extension on their application. The Commission will discuss the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)’s request to clear over 16 acres of trees at the next meeting. The purpose of this proposal is to clear the view from an 86-foot fire tower. However, this act would remove trees in Bass River that were planted almost a century ago and surround popular recreational trails. 

 “Clear cutting 16 acres in Bass River could end up allowing for more invasive species in areas with Barred Owl and other natural species. We should be looking at solutions that use advanced technology to protect the Pinelands, not so-called solutions that actually result in less trees and less habitat. We can add cameras and sensors on the tower to assist the DEP in detecting forest fires and other threats. There is also drone, night-vision, and heat-sensing technology,” said Tittel. “We need to bring fire-fighting into the twenty-first century and prevent ruining our forests by trying to protect them.”

The DEP’s also proposed to clear sensitive canopy forest in Sparta Mountain. DEP’s Forest Stewardship plan for Sparta Mountain would clear-cut forest and destroy critical natural resources. We are also concerned that this proposal will threaten the drinking water supply for half of the state as well as interfere with our right to use our public land preserved for the enjoyment of all of us. Governor Murphy has blocked the Sparta Mountain plan for now.

“The Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area is an environmentally sensitive green-way in the Highlands region whose canopy protects the clean drinking water for 6 million people. The logging plan will cut down 35.5 acres of the 700 acre old forest in the Highlands. This land was paid for by the taxpayers and belongs to all of us,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Even though Sparta Mountain is designated as a High Conservation Value Forest, it does not stop DEP and Audubon’s destructive plan to log the forest. The DEP must protect this wildlife area and stop the Sparta Mountain Plan altogether.The DEP need to stop the open season to clear-cut our forests for private profit.”

There is a bill that passed in Assembly Telecommunications Committee today, A2242 (DeAngelo)-the Vegetation Management Response Act. The bill would authorize electric public utilities to clear, destroy, and remove vegetation however they wish. The NJ Sierra Club oppose this bill because it would give utility companies the ability to destroy vegetation.

“The irony is these grants will end up with us having trees in urban areas, which is a good thing, but not in our most environmentally sensitive areas. The DEP grants for “stewardship” could also be used to pay for clear cutting in urban areas. Assemblyman DeAngelo’s bill would allow utility companies to clear important vegetation and harm environmentally sensitive areas whenever they want,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Removing vegetation will decrease the environment’s capability for water storage and create more flooding and pollution.”