TRENTON — Three major environmental groups have withdrawn their support for the New Jersey Healthy Forests Act after Gov. Chris Christie struck out a provision to ensure that commercial forestry projects on state lands are ecologically sound.
On Monday, Aug. 19, the Governor conditionally vetoed the bill, removing a provision requiring certification of forestry projects by the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Leaders from New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the New Jersey Highlands Coalition and Pinelands Preservation Alliance – who have strongly advocated for inclusion of the certification requirement – say they will not support the bill without it.
“We consider Forest Stewardship Council certification essential, and are deeply disappointed in the Governor’s veto,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “Opening up our public lands for forestry projects without the elements included in the certification process is unacceptable.”
Christie, in a letter to the state Senate, said he doesn’t think third-party certification of forestry projects should be mandatory. He added, however, that such certification could still be done at the discretion of the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).
Environmental leaders believe the third-party certification must be mandatory. They pointed out that the FSC is an independent non-profit that sets high standards for responsible forest management around the world, and that its program has been well accepted on public land in many other states.
“The Pinelands Preservation Alliance and partner organizations only supported the bill with the FSC provisions,” said Jaclyn Rhoads, assistant executive director of PPA. “It provided the safeguards that allowed for some harvesting while protecting the public’s natural resources. It appears as if NJDEP and the Governor aren’t willing to provide those protections and are catering to private industry.”
FSC certification requires a host of best management practices including surveys, monitoring, and public participation. “Adhering to this set of standards is critical for proper stewardship of New Jersey’s, forests and for maintaining public trust,” said Byers.
“This bill, with the Forest Stewardship Council standards, would have put a process in place to require the state to develop management plans with a more holistic look at the forest. FSC would require baseline data collecting, as well as more stringent protection of New Jersey’s forest resources – including water resources” said Julia Somers, Executive Director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition. “This bill, with FSC, would have also required more public input at the beginning of the planning process and recognized the value and importance of planning to address all public uses. Currently, none of this is required of NJDEP.”
“We are already struggling with forestry projects on state lands that do not safeguard rare plants and other natural resources, precisely because there are no standards or adequate public input,” said Dr. Emile DeVito, staff biologist at New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
The three groups called on the bill sponsors in the state Legislature to stand firm on the measure’s intent and to reject the governor’s version, which no longer meets the goal of promoting healthy forests in New Jersey.
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