TRENTON – Excessive red tape and bureaucracy are slowing down efforts by landowners to address the southern pine beetle infestation that has destroyed thousands of acres of forested land in New Jersey.
That is according to a representative of the state Forestry Association.
Barbara O’Connell of the New Jersey Forestry Association, which represents private forest owners, said 42 percent of the land in Jersey is forest, and much of it is owned by private individuals and families, she told the Senate Environment Committee today.
The Pinelands has sustained the most damage by the beetle. In total, she estimated some 14,000 acres have been destroyed by the beetle. O’Connell said 10 days after a beetle attacks a tree, it dies.
“We can’t get a permit (for logging the trees) within that time,” she said. Currently, it takes 30 days to get a permit.
DEP has introduced an expedited system enabling owners to get a permit within three days.
If some red tape is not removed, she warned, “We will continue to lose more acreage.”
Change pinelands regulations, so they will be similar to the rights that farmers enjoy to tend their land.
She also recommended that the DEP establish a forest health council, which has never been set up, despite a law being passed in 2006 to do so.
Another recommendation is to grant emergency powers to the governor to give him the ability to take action on the infestation.
Bob Williams, a forester who discovered the beetle in 2001, cautioned, “This beetle is on the move. We’ve done little to nothing.”
He believes between 30,000 to 40,000 acres have been damaged by the beetle in the past decade.
The problem, according to Williams, is that “We essentially have no forest management.”
He said there are no natural resource management plans.
“We need to move on it fast.”
He recommended enabling landowners to present evidence of damage to the DEP’s forestry experts, who would visit their property and confirm it.
“I don’t think the rules and regulations we have permit that.”