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Changes and Public Forests

by Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton

The road to unfunded mandates is paved with good intentions in the form of legislation. That’s my take-away with A-4843 and its companion S-3549 now being considered by the New Jersey Legislature. In a nutshell, this bill would require municipalities and nonprofit organizations that acquired land with Green Acres funds or funded recreation efforts on those lands using Green Acres monies, to create and implement a “forest stewardship plan” for any lands amounting to 25 acres or more.

Being a public official from a more urbanized community, I’m not knowledgeable about forest management but I suspect that such requirements will come with a need to hire professional consultants to do a combination of assessing, reporting, recommending—and they do not come cheaply. Once there’s a plan, implementation will also require funding that we simply don’t have.

My initial concern is this should not be a one-size-fits-all proposition. The pinelands are likely far different in character than the forest-like areas that make up parts of Bridgeton City Park. Certain planning and management efforts that might make sense for the pinelands won’t necessarily make sense for wooded areas containing trails in a community park. I hope that any forthcoming legislation would acknowledge these differences.

My concerns are necessarily narrow, but a host of organizations are on high alert about this and three other bills dealing with NJ forestry, including the New Jersey Forest Watch, New Jersey Sierra Club, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. They see these bills individually and collectively as a mechanism for more logging leading to greater timber extraction from the state’s forests under the guise of stewardship.

One possible example of this legislative sheep in wolves’ clothing is A-4844 (S-3550). This bill purports to make the planning process more streamlined by eliminating multiple layers of approvals (i.e. municipal approval). It acknowledges the struggles some municipalities have with state requirements. But cutting out municipalities entirely and presents its own concerns, especially if the purpose is to facilitate more logging.

These groups are also alarmed with A-4845 (S-3548), a bill that would set a statewide goal for controlled burns. This would amount to 50,000 acres in the Pinelands and 10,000 more in other areas of the state, totaling 60,000 acres a year burned. Those in the know suggest that there’s no scientific justification for this number of acres.

The final piece of legislation rounding out this quartet of bills is A-4846. This bill would create a working group to coordinate between government and owners and is specifically focused on the pinelands. This group would consist of 14 persons representing various levels of government, private owners, the nonprofit community, and foresters. The group would be advisory and would make recommendations to the governor and legislature on how to better coordinate forestry management efforts in the pinelands. For those on high alert, this bill is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

If those leading the opposition are right about these bills in that they’re really for those who make money from logging and timber extraction, then we need to re-examine the bills and the necessity for the changes they would bring.

Mayoral Musings