Bill would allow more tree-removal at state lands

TRENTON – A bill that would allow more logging in state forests cleared the  Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee today unanimously.

This bill, A4358, sponsored by Assemblyman John McKeon, (D-27), South Orange would direct the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a forestry harvest program on state-owned lands.

Among other things, the bill states that its purpose is to help reduce forest fire risk as well as boost the economy by thinning forests and selling the wood.

The program to be directed by the DEP would require the commissioner to select a project manager to implement and supervise the program after public advertisements for bids.

The duration of a contract would be five years.

However, environmentalists strongly opposed many of the bill’s details, and offered several amendments.

McKeon pledged both to work with them on their concerns as well as meet with the sponsor of the Senate version, Sen. Bob Smith, before advancing the legislation to a full vote.

Among other things, environmentalists are concerned about the effect of removing canopy; a lack of surveys on at-risk, rare species; effects of invasive species; lack of sufficient public input; and whether this bill is a giveaway to business and/or hunters.

They argued that removing trees creates so-called ‘edge’ habitat that attract deer, which hunters like.

Also, they argued that oak trees can sell for $1,000 a tree, but it will be loggers – not the state – who will reap the profits.

McKeon counseled that there has to be some level of faith in the Department of Environmental Protection, to which Jeff Tittel of the N.J. Sierra Club replied that many DEP personnel come from industry backgrounds.

But McKeon stated in summary that doing nothing is not an option, and reiterated that he will not move the bill without consulting with Smith and working with the environmental advocates on their amendments.

Bill would allow more tree-removal at state lands