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Logging on State Lands Bill Released from Committee

Date : Thu, 17 May 2012 17:01:18 -0400

For Immediate Release
May 17, 2012 Contact:Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

Logging on State Lands Bill Released from Committee Today the Senate Environment Committee released a bill that would open our state parks up to commercial logging operations.Changes have been made to S1085 (Smith) from last session, but the bill is still extremely troubling.The bill would open our state parks up to logging while sending the profits to the General Fund not forest stewardship projects.The bill would tie logging plans to guidelines from the independent, non-profit the Forest Stewardship Council, however these are planning documents, not regulatory standards that will protect our public lands.Our public parks and forests are held in the public trust and should not be destroyed for commercial interests.Special interests continue to push to weaken the bill and open more of our state parks up to commercial logging operations.

"They can't see the forest for the trees they want to cut down.This bill is more about justifying logging on public lands than real stewardship of our forests," said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club. The bill ties the forest stewardship plans for public lands to the guidance documents of the independent group the Forest Stewardship Council.The Sierra Club is oncerned these standards are not strong enough for harvesting activities on our public lands.When you read the Forest Stewardship Council guidance document, it says you should map where you are going to cross a stream, it does not prohibit such a stream crossing.The document discusses techniques to increase biodiversity in riparian areas or to log in steep slopes, it does not recommend against cutting in these environmentally sensitive areas.Also New Jersey law prohibits guidance documents from independent groups from being used as regulations.Agencies are required to go through a rulemaking procedure.

"These are our public lands.But the Forest Stewardship Council's guidelines are more like the State Plan than a forestry rule.There are nice policies but there are not enforcement mechanisms.This is like a planning exercise not a regulatory tool," said Jeff Tittel. Changes have been made to the bill but there is still no prohibition on logging in wetlands and steep slope areas.The FSC program requires you to map these, show where you will impact them, and encourages loggers to use caution but does not prohibit such impacts by limiting activities in these areas.The bill's language in many cases does not require strict standards, instead encouraging that protective measures be taken. The bill does not set standards for public involvement in the development of forest stewardship plans.The bill does not require scoping hearings as the list of priority properties for logging is being developed and does not require public hearings in the early stages of planning at each State Park and at each specific site.If an area is being considered for logging, the DEP is not required to notify the local community under the current bill.The bill will leave it up to the DEP to determine the process for developing, reviewing, and adopting the logging plan, opening the door for the DEP to exclude the public from the process. There is no language in the bill prohibiting this logging program from being used by private companies for mitigation projects on public lands.Instead of purchasing replacement land, polluters and developers could use this program to do mitigation in our state parks. The bill would allow for logging on our most environmentally sensitive lands if the DEP believes there would be a "net environmental benefit." Loggers could target these areas by claiming they will do mitigation projects on other tracts of land.The language also appears in the heavily ALEC-influenced DEP Waiver Rule. The Sierra Club is strongly opposed to the money generated through this forest stewardship program going into the General Fund.An earlier version of the bill dedicated this money to stewardship projects to improve forest health.We are also opposed to money from logging projects going to cover the exorbitant cost of this program.The Office of Legislative Services has found that the logging program will cost the state $2.7 million to implement.Commercial loggers would have to cut down $2.7 million worth of trees before any money would go towards the General Fund. There has been no financial analysis to determine how much the state would generate through commercial logging to cover the cost of the program, contribute to restoration projects, or send to the General Fund.In the past, the state has received $75 per tree for oaks that sold on the market for over $2000.Without a financial analysis this could happen again under this bill. We are giving away our forests for pennies on the dollar. The claims the logging activities will meet the requirements of the Highlands Act is misleading as the Highlands Act exempts private forestry activities.The language stating that forestry activities will be consistent with the Highlands Act should be replaced with language that removes the exemption for forestry projects from the Act.These projects should meet the full requirements of the Highlands Act. A previous version of the bill encouraged DEP to create a "Forever Wild" program similar to that of New York State.Lands in the Forever Wild program would be areas of environmental significance that are protected to remain forever in their natural state.No roads, diversions, cell towers or other developments are permitted in these areas.Instead the bill allows DEP to expand lands under Natural Areas System Act, but our natural lands are not properly managed and these lands can still be diverted for other uses.The Forever Wild program would protect large areas of contiguous forest whereas the Natural Lands Trust focuses on protecting threatened and endangered species.The forest stewardship plans developed under this bill include protections for sensitive features on the micro-level where they are cutting but does not look at impacts of logging or preservation goals on a broader scale.If this bill moves forward it must contain a component for developing a similar program here in New Jersey, where certain public lands will be selected to be preserved forever and no logging activity or diversions can occur. New Jersey's forests have been recognized nationally and internationally as important forest areas. Whether it is the Pinelands being a National Reserve and a Human Biosphere Reserve, the Highlands recognized as national significant with the Highlands Conservation Act or the Skylands region designated Wild and Scenic by the Department of Interior.During the last session, thirty seven New Jersey biologists, ecologists, and forest scientists came out in opposition to this legislation.

"Our forests are so important environmentally and nationally significant that we must scrutinize this program thoroughly and not move forward with something that would negatively impact our forests' health," *said Jeff Tittel*. This forestry program is part of the privatization of our parks.Logging will limit public access and destroy natural resources that should be enjoyed by all of us that are held in the public trust.Environmentally sensitive areas that should be protected to preserve the state's biodiversity will be turned over to commercial loggers.There is no guarantee that those private interests will restore the land.Private stewardship of our public lands and "creative" funding for our parks, as proposed under this bill,is in many ways part of Governor Christie's plan for privatizing our parks. When people see logging rigs pulling out 100 year old oaks from our state parks, they will vote "NO" for future open space referendums.If this is what happens on our public lands, voters will be less inclined to dedicate their tax dollars to preserving these areas.

"These lands belong to all of us and are held in the public trust.The timber on these lands is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and we are concerned that the public will lose out both environmentally and financially under the proposed program," said Jeff Tittel.

-- 
Kate Millsaps
Program Assistant
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
609-656-7612
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Received on 2012-05-17 14:01:18

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