TRENTON – A coalition of environmentalists and scientists today spoke out against two bills they say will open up state forests to harmful logging.
The group, which includes members of the N.J. Sierra Club, the Highlands Coalition, and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, opposes S1954/A4358, whose stated goal is sustainable-forest management, but whose real purpose, opponents say, is opening up forests to profitable harvesting of timber.
Opponents said today that if these bills pass, rare species will be placed at risk, invasive species will be given a chance to flourish, and sensitive lands and steep slopes will be harmed.
They argue that these bills were drafted without scientifically-based environmental input, that an understaffed Department of Environmental Protection cannot adequately monitor logging or the 900 rare plant species in New Jersey, and that the damage and erosion from past logging – opening up canopy in Sussex County, for example – remains visible 20 years after the fact.
Jeff Tittel of the N.J. Sierra Club, who said his group’s recommended bill amendments are not being addressed, said public lands belong to all of the state’s residents and these bills undermine public trust.
“I don’t think the bill can be fixed,” said Emile Devito, manager of Science and Stewardship at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “We need to start over with a science-based approach.”
The bill opponents said loggers want access to large, valuable oaks, but the irony is that the public lands that have those kinds of trees don’t need harvesting. The areas that need active stewardship, they said, lack the valuable trees.
A representative of bill sponsor Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, said that environmentalists participated in the process and that they all had “a seat at the table,’’ but bill opponents maintained that their concerns were not addressed. Smith was to have reaction to the opponents’ position later today.
Jaclyn Rhoads, director for Conservation Policy with the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, reiterated the opponents’ position: that these bills that will allow a greatly expanded logging program in New Jersey do not consider better health of forests.