Our public lands and forests are at risk for commercial logging and prescribed burn operations under legislation that is currently making its way through the Legislature. There are three bills in the Legislature that could clear cut as much as 2 million acres of land held in the public trust and burn 60,000 acres a year. Destroying our forests undermines any chance of reducing climate impacts. Instead, it will add millions of tons of air pollution and cause serious health issues.
New Jersey has not allowed logging on state forest lands since the early 1960s. New Jersey Green Acres land is managed for conservation and recreation, not forestry and logging. In 2010, former Gov. Chris Christie opened land for forestry and logging. Now under the Forest Stewardship bill, A4843, logging could apply to almost 2 million acres of open space in the state, including state forests, state parks, Wildlife Management Areas, county parks, municipal parks and more.
In New Jersey, our open spaces are held in the public trust and treasured by people across the state. This logging bill breaks that trust. Our forests must be preserved to protect our water quality, especially in the Highlands region. The Highlands Act was passed to save our canopy forests to protect streams, forests and biodiversity — not logging.
Logging creates a welcome environment for invasive species and deer overpopulation. This changes the ecology and displaces important species like cerulean warblers and neotropical songbirds. There are 75 different species of neotropical songbirds that would be impacted by this legislation, in addition to harming already threatened and endangered bat species.
Legislators must oppose this legislation lest we turn the Highlands and Pinelands into the Stumplands. Towns and nonprofits that own open space will have to go out and hire loggers and put together a plan, so this legislation is an unfunded mandate. It will cost towns and the state millions of dollars. Money doesn’t grow on trees.
Another of the three logging bills includes an exemption of municipal approval for these Forest Stewards Plans. Hundreds of towns have tree ordinances to stop unnecessary logging, especially in areas like the Highlands and Pinelands. The bill, A4844, would go around those ordinances. Sometimes a plan may only say it is taking out 4% of the trees in an area, but they could be cutting down every big canopy tree. There are no penalties with forest stewardship, which is why we need local oversight. This bill would take away the authority of local governments to make sure people are not impacting environmentally sensitive areas with threatened or endangered species or close to stream corridors.
Logging will not only hurt the environment but impede our battle to reduce greehouse gasses. The Prescribed Burn Bill, A4845, will be the root of more air pollution problems and will impact public health and safety. It will have a major impact on climate because it mandates burns for 60,000 acres a year. An estimated 50,000 acres will be burned in the Pinelands and 10,000 acres everywhere else, including the Highlands. This equates to hundreds of millions of tons of C02 released into the atmosphere.
Prescribed burns that get out of control can cause a lot of damage and can increase air pollution. Air pollution particulate matter being emitted during these burns can cause respiratory illness and other public health issues that especially affect children. They also impact wildlife by destroying nesting sites and accidentally trapping and killing animals like birds, snakes, and foxes. Studies also show now that hazardous chemicals get released from burning pine needles.
Logging and prescribed burns will limit public access and destroy natural resources that should be enjoyed by all of us and are held in the public trust. Thousands of people visit New Jersey’s state parks, county parks and forests each weekend to hike, hunt, fish and more. These lands were preserved so that their incredible beauty and abundant natural resources could be enjoyed today and by future generations. That is why it is critical that our state legislators spruce up and stop these disastrous bills from going any further.
Jeff Tittel is director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.