Legislative task force delivers tome on best-practices forest management

02/23/2023 2:30 PM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

Legislative task force delivers tome on best-practices forest management


Report identifies 16 steps for healthier public forests, at least one of which — limited logging — raises hackles and objections

New Jersey needs to take 16 steps to best oversee and manage its forests to fight climate change, prevent fires and improve its ecosystems, according to a legislative task force.

In making those recommendations Wednesday, the task force offered its 270-page report to better manage hundreds of thousands of acres of publicly owned forested lands in New Jersey, with much of the focus on whether those practices ought to allow limited logging.

There appeared to be a somewhat broad consensus among the nearly 50 organizations participating in the process on a number of recommendations, including calling on the Legislature to come up with a new source of funding to hire staff at the Department of Environmental Protection to implement its findings.

The suggested actions urged the DEP to conduct statewide planning and mapping for forested public lands and to begin a formal rulemaking process to develop a forest management plan that land.

Fewer bucks and does

More daunting, the recommendations urge the DEP to look at ways to reduce deer density in New Jersey, which include additional hunting, and to take more aggressive actions to reduce the growth of invasive species.

The most controversial action would allow what the report termed “tree cutting” or “limited logging” in some cases to meet the ecological objectives of a healthy forest. The issue of logging continues to emerge as a contentious one, with several organizations arguing there is no basis for doing so.

Speaking near the end of the hearing before two legislative committees, Elliott Ruga, policy director for the Highlands Coalition, called claims of “ecological health’’ to justify logging spurious.

“The disturbances of mechanized timbering and the removal of felled timber — including the need for new access roads — causes impacts, often devastating, to sensitive ecological components of the forest that must be weighed against any ecological goal,’’ Ruga told lawmakers.

“We should not be logging the mature forests of North Jersey,’’ added Sara Webb, a forest ecologist and professor emeritus of biology and environmental sciences at Drew University, saying the thinning of trees makes it difficult to grow new trees because of deer overpopulation and invasive species.

But Sen. Bob Smith, who appointed the four co-chairs of the task force, asked, “Is this a real problem?’’ Smith (D-Middlesex) said he already has asked the DEP for that information. “How much of the actual state was clear-cut in 2021? In 2022?’’

What price better stewardship?

 Smith also wanted to know how much will it cost the state to improve its stewardship of public forests. The task force did not provide an estimate, suggesting the DEP would be better suited to answer that question, according to co-chair Tom Gilbert.

“If adequately funded and implemented through legislation and rulemaking, these recommendations will result in significant steps in better protecting and stewarding our public forests lands,’’ Gilbert said.

The recommendations also include asking the DEP to identify areas where active management is needed to promote carbon storage and maintain biodiversity. Along those lines, the agency should designate carbon preserves with the aim of protecting mature and old-growth forests.

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