by Michele S. Byers, executive director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
If you could travel back in time to the end of the Civil War, you’d be amazed to see that New Jersey had virtually no forests. Beginning in colonial times, vast primeval forests filled with centuries-old trees were cleared for timber and agriculture.
Most forests were logged repeatedly, but with few deer and no invasive plant species, they recovered. By the end of World War I, the Industrial Revolution had changed our relationship with the land. As the population shifted from rural, agricultural areas to the cities, denuded landscapes rapidly grew up into young forests.
A century later, New Jersey’s forests have finally matured enough to attract the attention of the lumber industry … and legislators looking to stimulate the economy.
Right now, a bill making its way through the Legislature would encourage commercial logging on state-owned lands. The problem is, the bill, “Forest Harvest on State Lands” (S1954/A4358), makes neither economic nor ecological sense!
Responsible logging, or forestry, with adequate safeguards can be beneficial in certain cases. In fact, many conservation groups, including New Jersey Conservation Foundation, conduct forestry projects on our conservation lands to restore critical natural resources.
But under the provisions of this bill, logging our public lands will worsen existing forest problems without addressing their core causes. And the costs of dealing with the cascade of negative ecological outcomes will far exceed the value of forest products sold from the public trust.
First, the causes. Our forests face many threats and challenges, including over-abundant deer, invasive plant species and lack of regeneration. These threats have been slowly developing for many years and have finally reached the point that new trees are not able to establish themselves and hundreds of rare native plants are in serious decline.
The logging program proposed in this bill will make almost every one of these forest problems worse by:
- Introducing invasive species to new areas, and exacerbating existing invasive species problems by allowing too much sunlight to reach the ground in places where deer have eaten the native shrubs. Under this scenario, invasive weeds will explode into prominence, as the bill does not require deer fencing.
- Making it even more difficult to preserve our dwindling natural heritage. With over 1,000 species of rare plants and animals on our state lands, very few will benefit from commercial logging; and many will become even more imperiled;
- Expanding the deer herd. More sunlight in the forest will result in an even larger food supply for deer and, thus, more deer!
- Removing huge amounts of carbon stored by massive canopy trees. New studies show that our maturing trees are “sequestering” carbon at very high rates. As concerns about climate change deepen, why would we want to reduce the number of mature trees that pull carbon from the atmosphere?
Second, the cost. By the state Department of Environmental Protection’s estimate, it will cost $2.7 million to implement the logging program. Most commercial harvests bring in only about $60-70 per tree, so tens of thousands of trees would have to be cut just to run the program, and hundreds of thousands more to turn a profit! The long-term costs of removing our trees and then addressing the resulting problems of forest recovery will far exceed any short-term monetary benefit.
What can be done? Responsible forest stewardship on public land should have the following safeguards: a baseline inventory of all rare plants and animals, post-logging monitoring, deer-proof fencing to protect plantings and natural regeneration, control of alien invasive plant species, and dramatic reduction of deer populations. None of these safeguards are required by this bill.
Finally, New Jersey forest scientists and ecologists have been researching and studying forest dynamics for more than 50 years, and results of their work are largely ignored in this bill.
Please call your state legislators and Governor Christie and tell them to oppose the Forest Harvest on State Lands Bill, S1954/A4358. The bill is simply the wrong approach for addressing our serious forest ecosystem issues. To find your legislators, go to www.njleg.state.nj.us/districts/municipalities.asp. To reach Governor Christie’s office, call 1-609-292-6000.
And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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