Public Land Logging Bill Divides Environmental Groups

STATE – A bill that would open up New Jersey’s public lands to logging is close to becoming law, but the state’s environmental groups are divided on whether it amounts to responsible stewardship or a giveaway to private interests.

The proposed legislation (A-2837) would direct the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop a forest harvest program. Any money left after paying for the administration of the program would be used for restoration projects to increase biodiversity or protect endangered plants or animals.

Many of New Jersey’s forests are plagued by deer overpopulation and invasive species that crowd out native plants. The New Jersey Audubon Society, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance have endorsed the bill, saying that it will lead to healthier forests.

Not everyone is convinced, though. “We clearly need to manage our public forests better than we are doing,” said David Pringle, campaign director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation. “But I’m concerned with the details. There are no enforcement mechanisms in the bill, so commercial logging interests could say all the right things and do all the wrong things with no consequences to them, but with terrible consequences for New Jersey’s environment.”

Pringle added that most of the supporters of the bill – unfortunately including the New Jersey Audubon Society – have a commercial interest in it which creates a conflict.

“This bill creates an open season on our forest and public lands,” warns Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It does not include adequate protections for natural resources….These lands belong to all of us and we must protect them from being exploited by these commercial logging operations.”

The state Senate passed its version of the bill last June by a 36-3 vote. It was referred to the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which approved the proposed legislation on Monday 5-0. It now awaits action by the full General Assembly, and is likely to be signed into law if it should pass.

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