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HIGHLANDS HIGHLIGHTS: New Jersey Highlights Hypocrisy in the Fight Against Climate Change

It is astounding how controversial it is to protect our publicly owned forests, even in the face of staggering evidence of how important they are to protecting water and biodiversity, and mitigating climate change. This is just as true in New Jersey as it is around the world. Despite clear goals for how New Jersey should manage its public forests to protect these critical values, the State engages in activities that harm our public forests and ignores any criticism or calls for accountability

In 2020, New Jersey released the Global Warming Response Act 80×50 report which identified pathways to reduce the state’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 to mitigate the effects of climate change. The report concluded that not only must the State transition away from its reliance on fossil fuels towards renewable energy but must also make a “major transition” in its land use laws and practices. The report, which then-Deputy Commissioner LaTourette helped write, called for a comprehensive statewide carbon sequestration plan to establish targets and priority actions. To date, no such plan has been produced. Meanwhile, now Commissioner LaTourette allows the clearcutting of our most mature public forests without public oversight – perhaps illegally.

One of the most egregious examples that highlights the hypocrisy of “laws for thee but not for me” is the clearing of 19 acres of forest and filling-in of wetlands at Glassboro Wildlife Management Area in south Jersey to create habitat for woodcock: a gamebird species of least conservation concern. The project was so egregious that NJDEP admitted fault and fined its Division of Fish and Wildlife $250,000 taxpayer dollars for the violation. Yet, NJDEP continues to carry out similar projects by allowing the clearing and filling-in of wetlands at Stephens State Park for a mountain bike trail, without going through the required permitting process.

Other similar single-minded land-clearing projects have occurred at Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area, with acres of northern New Jersey’s oldest, most mature forest per year being cleared to create habitat for a single bird species, at the expense of many other endangered and vulnerable species that rely on mature, intact forests. No reports are ever released discussing the pre- and post-conditions of these forest plans. There is no assessment comparing the value of what was lost to what was gained by cutting down these forests. By admission of the Division of Fish & Wildlife, who write and implement the plans to log these forests, they have failed to achieve their objectives, and target species continue to decline in New Jersey, which is indicative of a larger climate issue that is only worsened by destroying the only resource we have to mitigate it.

New Jersey’s forests have changed significantly in the last 100 years. What will they look like in just 50 years if New Jersey continues to log its mature forests, which only worsens the bigger problems of invasive species and overabundant deer? With the death of its ash, beech, hemlock and maple trees and the introduction of foreign species, in just a few decades the forest could very well look as unrecognizable to us as the forest of today would look to a native Lenape before European arrival.

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