Sunday, June 12, 2016

Plan to cut N.J. forest land splits environmentalists

A plan to help endangered birds by cutting down dozens of acres of state forest on Sparta Mountain represents a radically different approach to land management for New Jersey — and has bitterly divided New Jersey’s major environmental groups.

James M. O'Neill reports in The Record:

The plan, developed by the New Jersey Audubon Society for the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, would clear-cut small patches of forest totaling up to 210 acres to simulate a young-growth forest in the 3,500-acre Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Sussex and Morris counties. An additional 185 to 465 acres would be subject to less aggressive, selective tree removal to open the forest canopy and allow more sunlight to spur quicker growth of mature trees to imitate an old-growth forest.

John Cecil, vice president for stewardship with New Jersey Audubon, showing a stand of trees near Sparta Mountain that has been cleared to help develop some younger growth forest.

The tiny golden-winged warbler is losing habitat in New Jersey.

Cutting down trees to help wildlife may sound counter-intuitive, especially after decades of activism to save the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest by protecting swaths of forest from logging.

But the point is to create more young forest with low, shrubby growth surrounded by large, mature trees — the landscape that certain at-risk species, such as the golden-winged warbler, prefer as breeding habitat.

It’s a relatively new form of public land management being used by many northern states, including New Jersey. For instance, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation worked recently with Passaic County to develop a small area of young forest for golden-winged warblers in Tranquility Ridge County Park on the Ringwood-West Milford border.

“People think we’re killing off nature, but we’re bringing life back by reinvigorating the forest,” said Sharon Petzinger, a senior zoologist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

John Cecil, New Jersey Audubon’s vice president for stewardship, agreed. “By diversifying the age of the forest, it will help make it more resilient to pests and disease and provide more resources for wildlife,” he said. “It’s low intensity — nothing like what a big timber company would do.”

Critics, however, say the plan has many flaws, and that using logging equipment on Sparta Mountain could harm one of the most healthy, mature forests in New Jersey. They say the trucks would compact the soil, and that the clear-cuts would cause erosion, kill off rare plant species and allow invasive species to spread.

They say it is no way to treat a vital swath of forest bought by the state in the 1990s with public Green Acres money for the purpose of preserving it. The state purchased the area in part because it is in the Highlands, a key source of drinking water for millions of New Jersey residents.

Read the full story here

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