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Fight for the Future of the Pines

By | August 19th, 2016

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In the Pinelands National Reserve, we are in the midst of a major cultural challenge. The majority of visitors and residents of the Pines are law abiding, respectful, and conservation-minded, but a small minority has opinions that are counter to the conservation values that the residents and allies of the Pines have worked so hard to instill. In July 12, hard working volunteers helped plant 300 Atlantic White Cedar trees on private land that had suffered from tremendous abuse by off-road vehicles as part of a restoration effort. The total cost of the 3-6 foot tall Atlantic White Cedars was over $2,000 dollars, not including the hours spent in the hot July sun by committed volunteers. The roots began to take successfully and it appeared that this restoration had a strong IMG_2373chance of success, but on the night of August, 6th, a group of off-road vehicle drivers decided differently.

They drove their vehicles in circles purposefully in the site, rutted the soil, and drove over the freshly planted saplings. They then got off their vehicles and physically pulled the tender trees out of the ground as the roots clung to the native soil. The ORV drivers then piled the saplings in a large mound, poured gasoline on them, and lit them on fire. This despicable behavior is all too commonly observed in the off-road vehicle culture, as just last week another ORV driver was arrested for striking a police officer while fleeing the scene.   Whether it is a historic site, ice-aged pond, paleo-dune, stream, or river, off-road vehicle drivers have shown no mercy to the Pine Barrens. We have to work to stop this or we will continue to lose many of the most beautiful and unique habitats of the Pinelands.

Time-lapse footage of volunteers planting Atlantic White Cedar saplings

 

Video of the aftermath of Off-road Vehicle vandalism on the restoration site.

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In another example,  just two weeks after volunteers cleaned and repainted the grounds and structures of Apple Pie Hill, individuals  returned and threw televisions off the tower once again, littered beer cans and other refuse, and spray painted profane language across signs and guardrails. This landmark destination in the Pinelands is a microcosm of what has been happening across the National Reserve and the State forests within it. But we are not discouraged and this weekend we will paint back over the graffiti and clean up the refuse left by these individuals, to give the other visitors of the Pines the experience that they deserve.

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Even in witness to this incredible behavior, we will not be discouraged, our resolve is steadfast and we will eventually succeed in the effort to protect the land and water from off-road vehicle abuse and the other threats to the Pines. We are in this for the future of the Pines and we will continue to fight to prevent further damage and work to restore areas that have already been lost.

Take action now 

Come to the next Pinelands Commission meeting and tell them to stop off-road vehicle abuse in the Pinelands. The next meeting is Friday, September 9th at 9:30 AM.

 

 

Grassroots call for more Federal participation in the Pinelands.

By | August 11th, 2016

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Photograph by Albert Horner

Photograph by Albert Horner

 

A recent grass-roots petition calling for the upgrading of the Pinelands National Reserve to National Park status has gained thousands of signatures over the past few weeks.  While the language of the petition needs substantial flushing out, the desire for a higher level of federal participation has merit, especially as the interference of state politics grows in the agencies charged with the stewardship of the Pinelands.

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Bog Asphodel by Jason Howell

Although the re-designation of some part of the Pinelands National Reserve may not be a practical short-term proposal, Department of Interior and the National Park Service should take a stronger public role in the Pines. The Pinelands was designated as the Nation’s first National Reserve in order to fully protect the most important habitat while compromising in other areas to allow for the partial expansion of Pinelands Towns , Regional Growth Areas, and pre-existing agricultural use. Other cultural concerns were also taken into account, such as the highly valued practice of hunting and trapping. These multifaceted compromises were critical during the negotiations that led to the National Reserve’s designation, and this approach is the reason the Comprehensive Management Plan has been successful to date.

The Pinelands Protection Act(1979) was authorized by Congress due to the importance of the region to the Nation as a whole. The act ordered the creation of the Comprehensive Management Plan and directed the creation of the Pinelands Commission to oversee the plan’s implementation. This was truly a landmark land use agreement at the time and has been widely studied by other regions developing conservation arrangements with a large variety of public and private interests.

 

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Pine Barrens Treefrog

This model has functioned well for over three decades, but there are new concerns about the interference of State politics in stewardship decisions. Particularly concerning has been the executive branch’s efforts to replace the honest and dedicated Pinelands Commissioners who voted their conscious against the construction of the South Jersey Gas Pipeline that is now being battled in the courts. This type of political interference is a serious threat to the integrity of the Commission and one that has been noticed by the citizenry and the press. The recent withdrawal of the Motorized Access Plan by the NJDEP has highlighted the negative effect special interest groups can have on the preservation of the land with the highest ecological value in the State. This failure of stewardship is not lost on the general public, and that is why we have seen such a strong public response to a petition that would take control out of the State’s hands.

The Federal Government should have a greater role in the management of this largest open space on the eastern seaboard between the everglades and the northern forests of Maine. As it stands today, the Department of Interior only has one seat on the Pinelands Commission, while seven Commissioners are appointed by the Governor of New Jersey and one Commissioner is appointed by each of the seven counties in the Pinelands Region. Additionally, the Chairperson of the Pinelands Commission is directly appointed by the Governor of New Jersey, and this combination has given the executive branch far more power than any other party.

With this new surge of grassroots energy to reestablish a federal relationship with the Pines, the Department of Interior should begin to take a more public role in the major decisions that need to be made by the Commission. If they do this, perhaps they can begin to rebalance the power relationship in the Commission and begin to put conservation first, instead of the desires of  special interests. As New Jersey begins to reach the build out of available private land, there will be more pressure than ever to cave in to the demands of the developers. We are in the midst of a renewed conservation movement to counter this pressure and we are going to need all the help we can get.

 

Poaching in the Pines

By | June 13th, 2016

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Northern Pine Snake

When the illegal business of poaching is brought up in media, it is most often in reference to the large mammals of the African Plains, the rare species of the Amazon, or the last of the great cats in Asia, but right here in the Pinelands National Reserve we face many of the same threats to our iconic species. Most notably, the Northern Pine Snake, the Timber Rattle Snake, Spotted turtles, Box Turtles, and juvenile American eels. In 2009, the NY Department of Environmental Conservation revealed a secret network of reptile smugglers in the Long Island Pine Barrens Preserve and New York State with connections to New Jersey, Maryland, Louisiana, and Ontario, Canada. Their investigation revealed part of the world of illegal trade in endangered and threatened species native to the Pine Barrens. The investigation began when an entire population of Spotted-Turtles that was being studied abruptly vanished. Investigators made connections at reptile shows where enthusiasts meet to buy, sell, and admire species. While the majority of those that attend these shows are law-abiding and conservation minded, it is also true that there are those who are willing to break the law in pursuit of rare species or a lucrative sale.

Read the rest of this entry »

Managing Our State Forests

By | May 25th, 2016

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Cedar Swamp at Goshen Pond in Wharton State Forest

Cedar Swamp at Goshen Pond in Wharton State Forest

In our last blog post, we covered the ecological role of fire in the Pinelands and the use of prescribed burns as a management technique.  We know that prescribed burns are not the only management technique used in our forest, so how do we try to replicate natural disturbance events to promote overall ecological integrity and what should we prioritize in developing stewardship plans for managing our state forests? Read the rest of this entry »

Fire in the Pines

By | May 11th, 2016

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After a recent forest fire in Wharton State Forest

Fire Gives Life to the Pine Barrens

Fire, like water, is an essential component of Pine Barrens ecology. Fire adds nutrients into the soil and creates open habitat essential for many species. For those of us who live within the Pines, we recognize that wildfire can be a risk from time to time and accept that some measures be taken to minimize the chance of damage to housing and infrastructure.  The compromise that we have collectively made is to conduct controlled burns that fulfill some of the ecological function of fire and simultaneously reduce the risk of a large forest fire that could potentially cause property damage. This is a more natural approach than clearing trees and opening the forest to damaging off-road vehicle activity. Read the rest of this entry »

Road Designations for the Pinelands

By | April 27th, 2016

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Pristine Pinelands Pond – Wharton State Forest

Cindy Pond - Wharton State Forest

Off-Road Vehicle Abused Pond – Wharton State Forest

The Pinelands Commission needs to designate which forest paths are and are not appropriate for motor vehicle use within the Pinelands National Reserve and they must start with Wharton State Forest.  The Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan gives the Commission the authority to do this. Read the rest of this entry »

Lenses of Nature

By | April 12th, 2016

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The Mullica River after a winter storm.

The lenses through which we view the earth are different for every person. In the Pine Barrens, there are distinct cultural views separating individuals and groups in the debate over land-management. These points of view carry with them all the accumulated baggage of the land-use and property debates that have raged over the centuries. From the colonization of the Americas and the persecution of native people to the creation of National Parks, Forests, and Reserves, we have a long history of debate, conflict, and resolution over land and water. Additionally, we all have individual experiences that shape our perceptions of the natural world and influence our perspective. The state of New Jersey will only become more densely populated in the future so it is more important than ever that we build a consensus that balances the desire to use our natural resources with the need to protect them. Read the rest of this entry »

The resiliency of the Pinelands

By | April 1st, 2016

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A stream corridor turned into a defacto mudding arena in Brendan T. Byrne State Forest

Note: This piece by PPA’s Director of Conservation Science, Ryan Rebozo, was originally published as an editorial in the Burlington County Times on March 28, 2016.  It was written to expand further on statements made in WHYY radio report (90.9 FM) broadcast on March 21, 2016 about the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s draft plan restrict motor vehicle access in Wharton State Forest.  During that radio story a self-described dirt-bike rider used the argument of resiliency as support for their opposition to put stronger protection in place for Wharton State Forest.

Read or listen to the WHYY Radio report Plans to close roads in Wharton State Forest kicking up dust among locals

On March 21st, Newsworks on WHYY (90.9 FM) ran a short segment on the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s rescinded Motorized Access Plan, a plan that would have designated which sand roads in Wharton State Forest are suitable for motor vehicle activity, and which are better suited for foot, horseback, and bicycling activity. These designations were to be assigned based on accessibility, natural resources, and critical habitat. The piece used audio clips of myself and others commenting on this particular issue. I took note of one argument by a dirt-biker who made the claim that the Pinelands isn’t fragile because it survived the industrial revolution.  Read the rest of this entry »

A Renewed Effort

By | March 25th, 2016

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An at-risk savannah in Wharton State Forest

The NJ DEP has begun to implement a few changes to their enforcement tactics to address off-road vehicle destruction in Wharton State Forest. These new changes include a small increase in fines $250 to $900 if vehicle impoundment is required and designating officers specifically to Wharton State Forest instead of being assigned regionally. However, there has been no increase of officers on patrol at any given time, which implies that officers still will be unable to effectively cover the hundreds of miles of roads left open by the DEP. Signs will be posted to inform the public of illegal nature of off-roading at roughly half of the entrance points of the state forest (sixty-four), preventing the ignorance defense when ticketed persons stand before a judge. Although these changes are small, they are important and will eventually contribute to the solution once a substantive travel management plan is enacted. Read the rest of this entry »

The Death of a Pine Snake

By | March 17th, 2016

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Northern Pine Snake - Photo by Jason Howell

Northern Pine Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus) displaying atypical behavior.

 

     The warm spring air drifted into the chamber that protected her during the long winter months, signaling the coming spring. A  female Northern Pine Snake, she trusted her ancient instinct to rise to the surface of her hibernaculum to greet the warmth of the day. With a careful flick of the tongue, she inspected the air for any sign of danger. When the time felt right, she moved deftly out of her chamber and into the pine needles, oak leaves, and shrubs that give her a near perfect camouflage against predators both on the ground and in the air. Then she may have sought out a patch of open canopy, not too exposed to allow easy identification by predators, but just enough to allow her to absorb the beneficial rays of the sun that filter through the pines. Read the rest of this entry »