LETTER – Bills to Block Logging on Public Lands

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Senator Lesniak has today introduced legislation to modify the Highlands Act to protect public lands from logging. Another piece of legislation will require environmental criteria in forest stewardship plans to prevent clear cutting and other abuses. The first bill will exclude Forestry and Forest Stewardship from public lands. This should have been done in originally when the Highlands Act was passed in 2004, but we did not need the provision because there were no attempts to log our state forests back then. The second bill will select criteria to further protect endangered species. Overall, it will prohibit certain activities including controlled burns, forestry activities including clear-cut, selective cutting, or thinning activities, undergrowth removal, wetlands alteration or filling, and other similar activities that impact animal and plant species that are of special concern, rare, threatened, or endangered on State-owned lands.

“We support this legislation to protect our forests from logging in the name of stewardship. Our forests were bought for all of us to protect the environment, preserve habitat for important wildlife species, and safeguard clean water. Now under the Christie Administration these lands have been subject to abuse of so-called forest stewardship. There are plans currently to log Sparta Mountain that will actually clear-cut the forest under the disguise of creating habitat for one species.  That is why we need this legislation to stop this abuse,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This legislation will help close a significant loophole in the Highlands Act to stop the open season to clear-cut our forests for private profit. With the plan to log Sparta Mountain, we have seen secret contracts with private companies to destroy an environmentally sensitive greenway in the Highlands we fought hard to preserve. These operations will take down 120 year old oak trees, while clear-cutting a canopy that protects our clean drinking water as well as hundreds of endangered plants and species.”

Lesniak’s legislation also codifies DEP’s “Landscape Project” concerning critical habitat. It will declare that all plant species that occur on State-owned lands and are listed on the State list of endangered plant species and plant species of concern developed and maintained pursuant to the “Endangered Plant Species List Act”, are worthy of careful consideration and protection, and that activities proposed for State-owned lands must be informed as to the presence of such plant populations and either the positive or negative impacts to them that the activities may present. 

“The plan to log Sparta Mountain will require heavy machinery from ruts and gullies, new roads, logging equipment. It will cause skidders to run right through category one streams, vernal pools, and wetlands. These practices will not only change the soil composition by opening the forest floor to more sunlight, but it will open up the entire area for invasive species and deer over-population. Invasive species infestations would require herbicide use which could impact sensitive streams and areas above reservoirs and water supply intakes,” said Jeff Tittel. “With the Sparta Mountain plan, the DEP wants to destroy an entire ecosystem to create habitat for one species called the Golden Winged Warbler. The DEP have even hide their contract with Audubon just like they did with Liberty State Park. This is because they don’t want the public to know the this plan is a scam for groups to make money to log public lands. The same groups working for Chris Christie to log our forests are working for Donald Trump to make his golf courses look ‘green.’”

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Not only are these practices harmful to endangered species and plants, they are being done under the disguise of creating bird habitat that can occur somewhere else. There are 75 different species of neo-tropical song birds that would be impacted by logging on Sparta Mountain plan as well as hundreds of other species, including threatened and endangered Bat species.”

It is important that this legislation is passed because it will help prevent other proposals like the NJDEP’s current Forest Stewardship Plan for Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area. This plan will turn the Mountain into a field for Golden Winged Warbler bird habitat and other vaguely defined “stewardship” practices. 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. The Highlands is also 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.

“We support this bill because if the Governor can sell out our public lands at Sparta Mountain for commercial logging, they can do it anywhere like Walden Mountain, Hewitt State Forest or Basto State Forest in the Pinelands. In the past, the state has received $75 per tree for oaks that sold on the market for over $2000. This is a horrible sell-out to our forests and water resources for private logging companies. Given all the environmental damage by logging, these plans are a huge waste of taxpayer money,” said Jeff Tittel. “This bill is critically important at a time where our state forests have been taken over by logging companies and private interests. When the Highlands Act was passed, the law only allowed for forest stewardship on private lands because no one ever thought they would be plans to log public lands. The reason is because our public lands and forests are used for recreation purposes, not for logging.”

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In our state forests, oak trees have taken 120 years to grow. DEP’s plan to log Sparta Mountain, however will not trim trees in the area, but take down the most expensive trees for re-sale, causing the most damage possible. We are even more concerned is that this plan is exempted from soil conservation, which is problematic because there will be run-off and siltation coming off the site.

“Our forests and public lands belong to us, not commercial loggers. If we don’t stop the plans to log our forests, instead of hiking trails, we will have logging roads. This is a horrible sell-out to our open space. It will mean that millions of people who use our parks and forests to recreate, fish, swim, and hike, but are unable to when logging occurs and there is damage from new roads and safety issues. That means even though we purchased this land, and it is held in the public trust, the public can no longer use it,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “If they do they bring commercial logging into Sparta Mountain, they can do it anywhere in the Highlands and Pinelands, which together holds the drinking for millions of people. This legislation will help end logging in our forests to allow sensible management to continue.”

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