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A Disappearing Act by the "Garden State"

Date : Thu, 2 Sep 2010 12:43:50 -0400

For Immediate Release
September 2, 2010 Contact Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club Director, 609-558-9100

A Disappearing Act by the "Garden State" Sierra Club releases analysis of Natural Resource Inventory Report

An analysis of open space in New Jersey done by the Sierra Club shows that the state is leading the nation in the loss of farmland. The Sierra Club's analysis, based on USDA National Resource Inventory data, shows that rural land in New Jersey is being developed at an alarming rate. New Jersey leads the nation in the loss of farmland as a percentage of the overall land area. Even though New Jersey has some very successful programs in trying to preserve farmland, we're still loosing it at a high rate.

The National Resource Inventory is a report released by United States Agriculture Department and Natural Resource Conservation Service. Based on this data, the status of New Jersey's rural land is bleak. From 1982-2007, we have experienced a more than 20 percent reduction in rural land.

"Rural land, in terms of cropland and forestland, is slipping from the grips of nature and into the hands of developers," said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Based on the report, which was released earlier this year, 40.7 percent of New Jersey's land is developed and 59.3 percent is rural land. This is from 2007 data. The percentages of developed and rural land become closer and closer each year. In 1982, our state consisted of 26 percent developed lands and 74 percent rural lands. The goal of the NJDEP should be to keep those percentages from getting 50-50.

The data shows that between 1982 and 2007, developed land has increased by six percent in New Jersey. Land previously used for public recreation and wildlife preservation is being developed, leading to sprawl and negative impacts on our environment.

We have experienced a 40 percent reduction in crop land and as a result, have witnessed a significant decline in the number of farms producing fresh, local food. Instead of producing much of our own produce, New Jersey now has had to import from other states, increasing truck transport and air pollution. Instead of being used for farming, the fertile soils of New Jersey have been contaminated and covered with cement.

"New Jersey will continue to loose its farmland at an alarming rate as long as we make it easier to grow houses on farm fields than crops. In 1950, New Jersey had more than two million acres of farmland and now we are trying to hang onto 600,000 acres," Tittel said. "The current system is broken and leading to the paving over of our farmlands as fast as possible."

The drastic reduction in forest land is leading to a loss of wildlife habitat and the fragmentation of habitats, which has damaging affects on wildlife survival rate.

While other states may be loosing more land per year, New Jersey is loosing it a higher percentage. Maryland is second in loss of farmland, having experienced a 20 percent reduction between 1982 and 2007.

The weak attempts by the State to preserve open space have not made much of a difference. The Sierra Club believes there needs to be a stronger effort by the state to preserve and protect what the state was once known for.

The Sierra Club believes there are fixes to help us protect our farmland:

* The farmland assessment program needs to change. Under the current program, if you convert a farm to development, you only pay a three year rollback on property taxes. That rollback should be extended 10 more years and the profits should go to preserve farmland. Under Farmland Assessment Act, a farmer pays 90 percent less taxes on his farmland than he would if it was something else. If you convert it to a development, there is only a three year penalty. We need to increase that penalty. * We need a stable source of open space funding to preserve open space and protect farmland. * We need to expand and simplify transfer of development rights so the program can be more effectively used. * Instead of developing rural land, we must reinvest in our urban centers and keep urbanizing infrastructure, like sewers, out of farmland. Developed buildings and abandoned lots should be refurbished rather than taking valued rural land. A focus on urban redevelopment and growth near public transit will replace the need for completely new development on rural lands. * We should be zoning farms for agriculture and have agriculture zoning. Currently most farms are also zoned for subdivisions and office parks. Agriculture zoning was upheld by the New Jersey Supreme Court. We don't zone housing for industrial park uses, we should not zone farmland for housing or office parks. Doing so undermines the whole purpose of protecting agriculture. * New Jersey needs to have growth boundaries similar to Oregon so that farmland is protected. Lands outside growth boundaries in preservation areas would be zoned for agriculture. Farmers would be able to sell their land for open space, sell development credits, or transfer development credits.

The attacks on the environment and rollback of protections by Christie Administration will further accelerate the loss of our farmland. Executive Orders, weakening of environmental protections, streamlining development through the so-called red tape process, cutting funding for planning in the Highlands, holding up and weakening of sewer service rules, and other such attacks put our farmland at risk.

It's not just the loss of farmland that is a concern, it's the way of life for the communities and economies that are impacted. As we loose farmland, farming becomes less viable because services to support agriculture go away. For example, farmers in Hunterdon County may need to go to Pennsylvania to buy a part for tractor, or Salem County farmers may have to travel to Delaware to buy seed.

"New Jersey is the Garden State but at the rate we're going, if children in New Jersey want to see a farm or a cow, they'll have to go to other states. Instead of the Garden State, we'll be sprawl state," Tittel said.

The Sierra Club is calling for serious action on this issue, because preserving rural land for open space is essential for the environment. The state has performed a disappearing act on our farmland. Slowing down development and preventing widespread destruction of rural land will reduce the disappearance of Garden State before our eyes.

###

Kara Seymour, Program Assistant NJ Sierra Club 145 W. Hanover Street Trenton, NJ 08618 609.656.7612 (f) 609.656.7618  <http://www.newjersey.sierraclub.org/> www.newjersey.sierraclub.org   Received on 2010-09-02 09:43:50

New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
tel: 609 656 7612, fax 609 656 7618
or email Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator, at nicole.dallara@sierraclub.org

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