TRENTON – One of the lawmakers behind a forest stewardship bill that has drawn some environmental opposition disputed their claims today.
After opponents of S1954/A4358 said the proposal would place loggers’ profits over habitat preservation and environmental security, Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, said what they fail to recognize is that doing nothing places people and property at risk by increasing the possibility of a forest fire and decreasing species’ diversity.
He called their position “the standard head-in-the-sand’’ approach that will not help the environment.
Especially when considering how understaffed the Department of Environmental Protection has become, Smith said, it is clear the state needs a sound stewardship plan.
And not all environmental groups oppose the bills, Smith said. Among its supporters are the N.J. Audubon Society, N.J. Forestry Association, and the Outdoor Alliance, Smith said.
The Audubon Society, in an op/ed letter of support written by President Eric Stiles, stated: “If we are to appropriately manage thousands of acres of public forested land with declining Department of Environmental Protection staff and budgets, we need to look to new funding methods to support management while continuing to focus on restoration and stewardship that is protective of habitat and species.”
Smith said that work on the bill began more than two years ago when he began receiving letters from foresters who said that something had to be done to protect the future of more than 800,000 acres of public lands.
Smith said that he had seven meetings over the last two years with numerous environmental groups, some of whom initially backed the proposal but have recently changed their position.
“They don’t want to deal with a real serious problem,’’ Smith said. “We have to allow younger trees to grow. It’s the right thing to do for forest health,” he said.
“The bill says none of this can go on unless there is an approved stewardship plan,” Smith said.
The two bills have passed their respective committees and should be voted on at the next full sessions of the Assembly and Senate in January, according to Smith.