Thursday, June 25, 2009

NJ Pinelands report: Some sun, some clouds

** Updated on June 26**

The Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA), an environmental organization that sees itself both as a protector and promoter of New Jersey's extensive Pinelands region, says in its third annual report that:

"while most of the Pinelands’ forests, streams and wetlands are surviving the pressures of sprawl, government agencies are not doing enough to save the Pine Barrens over the long term by controlling development and its impacts."

The group issued its report today in advance of the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Pinelands Protection Act on June 28.

“Recent debates and actions of the Pinelands Commission have placed its commitment to preserving the Pinelands in serious question,” says Carleton Montgomery, the PPA's Executive Director. “In the coming year, the Commission faces critical tests that will show us where its soul really lies."

Montgomery's organization says the news is not all bad. It credits the state Pinelands Commission staff with completing an Ecological Integrity Assessment and says the regulatory agency is using the analysis to identify changes to the management area boundaries that could lead to greater environmental protection.

The PPA also tips its hat to the Commission's dedication of some $2.1 million to preserving 602 acres in Camden and Ocean Counties that connect to adjacent properties that already are preserved.

But the enviros also have concerns.

"Over the past few years we’ve seen a slow shift in philosophy from the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) as rules with regulatory teeth, to the CMP as guidelines only,” said Richard Bizub, PPA's Director for Water Programs.

A recent example, Bizub says, is the Commission’s approval of a road project through threatened and endangered species habitat in the Preservation Area of Woodland Township. In this case, he says the burden of proof was placed on the public to prove a violation of the CMP, instead of requiring the township to demonstrate compliance with the CMP.

Bishop says that "reverses the regulatory standard and contradicts nearly 30 years of the Pinelands Commission’s practice in order to approve an unnecessary, financially wasteful and environmentally harmful project."

You can get a copy of the entire report here.

UPDATE
: In a June 26 Philadelphia Inquirer story, a spokesman for the Pinelands Commission criticized the report's "incendiary language," and said it was both unbalanced and misleading.

Share your own views of the Pinelands 30 years of preservation in the comment box below or click on the tiny 'comments' line. You can identify yourself or respond anonymously
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