TRENTON – Sen. Bob Smith, who heads the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, said today the committee will send a letter to Gov. Chris Christie, recommending giving emergency powers to the Department of Environmental Protection commissioner to circumvent local permit regulations in order to give residents the ability to deal with southern pine beetle infestation on their property.
The DEP estimated that some 26,000 pine barrens acres in the past decade have been destroyed by the southern pine beetle, with some 14,000 acres in a single year.
Amy Cradic, assistant DEP commissioner, said the department reached out to 265 towns where there has been reported pine beetle infestation, requesting them to provide a liaison to the state. However, only about a third of them have responded, she said.
“We need the coordination and to provide information,” she said. “We need municipal support.”
Cradic added that the DEP created an ad-hoc committee consisting of other state officials to talk about possible beetle suppression activities, as well as experts from Dartmouth University and the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension.
Cradic said that some 18 acres worth of trees have been “felled” to make room for a suppression line.
She cautioned that while they can never eradicate the problem, the department can take steps to manage it.
In 2011, she said that some 5,500 acres of the Pine Barrens were infested by the beetles, based on aerial photos.
The state, she said, is expecting to receive $600,000 worth of federal forestry funds, about half of which will be given to towns to help them manage the problem.
“DEP has played a lead role at the state and local level to combat this as thoroughly as possible.”