Monday, January 30, 2012

NJ Senator challenges critics to fix his state forest bill

Bob Smith, sponsor of a bill aimed at improving the health of  New Jersey's state forests, has taken heat for months from the leaders of several environmental groups who object to provisions in the legislation that encourage a more active role for logging in managing the forests.

Today, he turned the tables on them with an interesting maneuver.

At the beginning of this morning's meeting of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee (Energy & environmental bills in committee today in NJ) Smith, the panel's chairman, allowed testimony on his bill but limited it to address a single question:

"What do you believe to be the state of the state's forests?"

Supporters and critics alike agreed that it was pretty bad. 

With that established, he announced that the committee would vote to release the bill, S-1085, at its upcoming March 8 meeting. In the interim, he counseled all "stakeholder groups" to work together to develop a unified set of recommendations.

In other words, if you don't like my bill, take your best shot at fixing it.

A herd of feral cats
Among those testifying today were the State Forester and representatives from the NJ Highlands Coalition,   NJ Conservation Foundation, NJ Forestry Association, NJ Sierra Club, Sourland Planning Council, Old Bridge Shade Tree Commission, NJ Farm Bureau, NJ Audubon Society, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (although the Pinelands are exempt from the bill), Central Jersey Rife and Pistol Club, NJ Outdoors Alliance, NJ PEER, and the NJ Littoral Society.

A few of the organizations supported the bill last session when it passed the Senate but failed to be posted at the Assembly's last voting session. Most did not, and some of their criticism was pretty sharp, suggesting that Smith was selling out to logging interests and/or claiming that his bill would decimate ancient stands of trees.  

It's easy to criticize. Far tougher to reach a compromise

But now that all of the major groups are on record agreeing that the forests are hurting, they'll need to come up with a plan that can help--or face some criticism themselves.

Can these often competing interests, which Smith today jokingly labeled a "herd of feral cats," structure a compromise? Stay tuned.

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