Task Force recommends significant steps towards protecting and stewarding public forestlands
Feb 22, 2023
TRENTON, NJ – Co-chairs of the Forest Stewardship Task Force presented its recommendations to guide the protection and management of New Jersey’s public forestlands today to a joint meeting of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.
The Task Force, co-chaired by Eileen Murphy from New Jersey Audubon, Tom Gilbert from New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Andy Bennett from NJ Forestry Association, and Anjuli Ramos-Busot from NJ Sierra Club, shared a comprehensive framework that was supported by a supermajority (two-thirds) of the diverse organizations and individuals involved in the process that entailed many meetings and hours of discussion over the past year.
The Forest Stewardship Task Force was formed in 2022 by Sen. Bob Smith to study and identify ways in which New Jersey can best protect and manage its forests to fight climate change, prevent forest fires, improve ecosystems, and protect soil and water quality, among other things.
“The task force’s recommendations acknowledge the vital role that forests play as part of the state’s response to the climate crisis, while also recognizing the equally important goals of ecological health, biological diversity, clean air and water, and recreation opportunities in the most densely populated State in the nation,” said co-chair Ramos-Busot, director of the NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club.
According to co-chair Gilbert, co-executive director of NJ Conservation Foundation, “If adequately funded and implemented through legislation and rulemaking, these recommendations will result in significant steps toward better protecting and stewarding our public forestlands.”
The report calls for the State Legislature to direct the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to take a number of actions, including conducting a statewide planning and mapping process for forested public land based upon the best available science and commencing a formal rulemaking process for the development of management plans for public forests.
The planning process, overseen by a scientific advisory council, is intended to identify areas where active and adaptive management is needed to achieve ecological objectives, and to identify areas that should be set aside as carbon reserves to provide for maturing forests and future old growth forests that store large amounts of carbon. Commercial timber management shall not be the goal of any management plan on public lands.
“Over the course of the past year, my fellow co-chairs and I have worked diligently to hear from as many people as possible in order to ensure our report to the Senator’s office represents every voice as it relates to the proper care and management of NJ’s public forests,” said co-chair Bennett, an officer of the NJ Forestry Association. “The process wasn’t always easy, but with the help of all the participants the co-chairs have put together what we believe is a very meaningful report. If executed, we believe that these recommendations have the ability to foster forests which are better positioned to serve future generations that come behind us.”
Other recommendations include directing the NJDEP to revitalize the State Natural Areas Program, identify areas appropriate for reforestation, address the widespread impacts of invasive species, and increase funding for all of these activities through a number of existing and potential new funding sources.
The report endorses NJDEP’s use of fire as an important management tool based on sound science and directs the agency to measure and reduce deer densities in public forestlands to ecologically sustainable levels, with guidance from the Science Advisory Panel.
“The experience of working with colleagues from these three organizations was overwhelmingly positive,” said co-chair Murphy, vice president, Government Relations at New Jersey Audubon. “My co-chairs brought an unwavering spirit of collaboration and professionalism to the table – a spirit so often missing from many controversial topics today. Without them, we would not have reached consensus on so many issues concerning forest health. I am honored to have been a part of this effort with them.”
The task force report is available by visiting: bit.ly/42aefH1