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The Disappearing Mountain

By | November 14th, 2017

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Gully at Forked River Mountain

There are a number of large hills in the Pine Barrens that some of us locals love to call mountains. Their names vary, from Jemima Mount, to Apple Pie Hill, Devious Mount, the Forked River Mountain, and Mt. Tabour. The chance to step out above the treeline and peer over the vast forests of the Pinelands National Reserve is an experience not to be forgotten. The peaks of these “mountains” were caused not by tectonic activity, but by the deposition of river gravel, laid down during the middle and late Miocene (between 15-million and 10-million years ago) by rivers that formed as sea levels declined and re-exposed much of what is South Jersey. (1) These rivers brought gravel and deposited those soils along much of the central and northern Pinelands forming what is known as the Beacon Hill Formation.

Erosion at Jemima Mount

Although these peaks have survived for millions of years, they are now experiencing anthropogenic impacts that dwarf the natural forces of erosion. Off-road vehicle drivers have begun tearing into the slopes at an increasing rate to challenge their machines against the land. This pernicious activity has cut deep gullies into most of the highest hills of the Pines and denuded large percentages of their slopes of vegetation which exacerbates the natural processes of erosion. These are places that offer an irreplaceable experience for Pinelands residents and visitors and the threat of their disappearance should be taken very seriously.

Unfortunately, this threat has not been broadly addressed by the State with two important exceptions. Rob Auermuller, the superintendent of Wharton State Forest, took action and with the help of volunteers gated and blocked off-road vehicles from entering Jemima Mount last year. Also in Wharton, former Lieutenant Ranger, Greg Langan, made the same effort for Apple Pie Hill in the 1990s to stop destructive ORV use at that iconic location.  Their efforts have paid off and both locations have been steadily improving and healing from the damage that was done. Soils have stabilized at Apple Pie Hill and vehicles have ceased all activity at Jemima Mount, leaving a chance for the slopes to naturally stabilize there as well.

©Albert Horner

We are asking the Director of Parks and Forestry, Mark Texel, to take this threat seriously as well. He should act quickly to implement the recent Pinelands Commission resolution for Wharton State Forest that would protect future areas from this type of degradation. This unanimously approved resolution will address one of the most serious threats to public land in the National Reserve, but it needs to be implemented first. The public’s land should never be left to fend for itself by those who are trusted and paid to protect it.


Contact Mark Texel and ask him to begin implementation of Pinelands Commission Resolution for Wharton State Forest in order to protect the critical natural and scenic resources of the Pinelands National Reserve.

Mark Texel – Director of Parks and Forestry – Mark.Texel@dep.nj.gov  

Links

Pinelands Commission Resolution for Wharton State Forest

http://www.pinelandsalliance.org/downloads/pinelandsalliance_1593.pdf

References

  1. http://www.state.nj.us/dep/njgs/enviroed/freedwn/psnjsurf.pdf

Water and Gas Don’t Mix in the Pinelands

By | November 7th, 2017

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The New Jersey Pinelands Commission approved two natural gas pipelines by a slim majority this year. They originally denied the first of these to come before the Commission, the South Jersey Gas pipeline, in 2014, but the governor and his allies replaced two key commissioners and the Commission reversed itself in 2017.  According to former New Jersey Governor, Christine Todd Whitman, the pipeline approvals “undermine” the Pinelands Plan, and “is contrary to what is in the charter for the Pinelands Commission and the protection for the Pine Barrens themselves.” Former Governor Whitman was interviewed by Pinelands Preservation Alliance about the potential pipeline impacts to the Pinelands in a Save the Source video, “Water and Gas Don’t Mix in the Pinelands,” released in October 2017.

Pipelines Threaten Drinking Water

See the video.

Not only does the pipeline approval run contrary to the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan, but it also threatens the integrity of the Kirkwood Cohansey Aquifer – a 17 trillion gallon aquifer that serves residents of South Jersey and feeds fresh water into the Delaware River.  A few miles of these pipelines are going to be under streams, rivers, and wetlands, and virtually their entire length will be sunk into the shallow aquifer.  The horizontal drilling process can easily cause materials and chemicals to contaminate the water or change the flow of water in ways that drain or damage surface water bodies.   There was a huge spill in Ohio a couple of months ago that caused two million gallons of drilling mud into a wetland, and the Ohio office for the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that it will take decades for the wetland to recover from this damage.

Not Jobs versus the Environment

Governor Whitman further adds, this issue is “not jobs or protecting the Pine Barrens. We can still have jobs. We can still have energy.  There are different ways of doing it, but we really ought to be very careful about endangering in any way such an important area. It’s also very much about protecting the water supply for literally hundreds of thousands of people which will become far more expensive if you have to put in any kind of plant or any kind of man made system to purify that water and recharge that water from the aquifer.”

Time and again residents and leaders of our state implore our elected officials to do what is right for the Pinelands, right for our water supply, and right by our laws by denying unnecessary energy infrastructure that threatens our natural resources especially our most precious resource – water.  Water and gas don’t mix in the Pinelands or anywhere in New Jersey.  The next governor and administration hopefully will hear the voices, understand the impacts, and follow the letter of the law in deciding on these matters.

To view Save the Source videos, visit www.savethesource.org.

Building a Land Connection

By | June 19th, 2017

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We sometimes hear of the connectedness people experience when they find themselves immersed in nature, but even when we are not deep in some remote forest or hidden wetland, we can call upon these experiences to renew us and restore us. In addition to the connection we experience in an ecological community, we can also experience a connection to the cultural roots that have been deepening in an area for generations in this place we call the Pines. Some of us may not have had these experiences in the past, but wish to attain them, some may wish to regain a sense of connection from the past, and some may simply wish to deepen the connections they already feel.

One potent way to build these experiences is to educate ourselves about our reliance on the natural world. Many of us who live in South Jersey depend totally on the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer for our drinking water, recreation, and even our employment, but this knowledge is not always well understood. Education is one way we can help bind the reality of our dependence to our perception of the world. We can learn that without proper management of our water supplies, we could lose access to the substances which sustain us and the ones we love. A benefit to this type of education and understanding is that the more people who have an interest in sustaining our environment, the more support we will have to work and protect it in times of need.

Another great way to deepen our understanding is to learn about the plants, animals, insects, and geologic forms that make this area unique. Learning that a particular butterfly like the Hessel Hairstreak requires only an Atlantic White Cedar to breed, or that Pine Barrens Tree Frogs and other amphibians require a specific geologic formation (Intermittent Ponds) for successful reproduction, can inform our perception of these places in important ways. Even the recognition between a Pitch-Pine(need bundles of three), as opposed to a Short-Leaf Pine(needle bundles of two and three), can give us a sense of being a part of a specialplace. Traveling deeper into plant and animal identification and relationships will only further that understanding. We can also experience a connection from the cultural roots that have been deepening generation after generation in this place we call the Pines. The feeling of continuity obtained from using a tool from our grandparents shed or practicing an art or craft that has been handed down through the generations, can give us a sense of respect for the past and for the future. It is these things that bind us to place and give us a sense of ourselves and the world around us. Over the long term, this sense, and the motivation that stems from it  wills us to protect our area in the long-term.   The individuals that possess it will not easily let the place they know and love fall into the unrecognizable. This is why the mission of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance to educate the public is so critical, we only will protect what we love, and we love what we know.


Sign up today to Pinelands Watch or our Pinelands Volunteer network to get involved.


For Advocacy and Activism join Pinelands Watch by contacting Katie@pinelandsalliance.org

For on the ground volunteer projects join our Pinelands Volunteer Network by contacting Jason@pinelandsalliance.org

Pinelands Watch Activist Network

By | March 8th, 2017

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Citizen protest during 2/24/17 South Jersey Gas pipeline vote.

On February 24th the Pinelands Commission voted to approve the South Jersey Gas pipeline demonstrating how far they have strayed from their responsibility to uphold the rules that protect the Pinelands.   This project, which is planned for construction in the protected Forest Management Area, is now in the courts pending appeals from the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

Protecting the Pinelands and other natural places in New Jersey requires the joint effort of citizens, nonprofit organizations, experts and dedicated decision-makers.  That is why I hope you will join our activist network, Pinelands Watch.

Join the Pinelands Watch Activist Network

Citizens in the Pinelands Watch network are kept up to date on Pinelands issues, engage with local planners and officials, and advocate for Pinelands protections.  You will play a key role in advocating for the protection of the Pinelands National Reserve.

The network is organized by county and we are holding our first county meetings on March 20 and April 4 with more to be scheduled. Email katie@pinelandsalliance.org if you have a location where we can hold a meeting in your area.  Right now our focus is on the seven Pinelands Counties – Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Ocean.


Pinelands Watch Activist Training:

March 20th at 7 p.m.

  • Location: Ocean City Public Library, 1735 Simpson Ave, Ocean City, NJ 08226
  • Find this event on Facebook. Please share.
  • Please RSVP here.

April 4th at 7 p.m.

  • Location: Pinelands Preservation Alliance, 17 Pemberton Rd, Southampton NJ 08088
  • Find this event on Facebook.  Please share.
  • Please RSVP here.

The Pinelands Commission is straying from its duties to uphold the Comprehensive Management Plan. You, as resident activists, have the power to protect the Pinelands by holding the Commissioners accountable – it’s the only way.

Join us at the launch of the county Pinelands Watch network to collect resources for getting involved and to connect with other activists from your area.

At this meeting we will:

  • Cover the organization, appointment processes, and recent actions of the Pinelands Commission
  • Describe how Pinelands Commissioners are appointed
  • Discuss your priorities and what you need to see from your freeholders, the Pinelands Commission, and other municipal bodies.
  • Develop tactics and a plan to begin taking action on those priorities
  • Provide resources and information to help you in your actions

We will conclude by making calls and writing letters to freeholders and gubernatorial candidates to demand the Pinelands are protected properly.

10th Anniversary State of the Pinelands Report

By | February 16th, 2017

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We issued our first State of the Pinelands report in 2007. Reviewing this decade of reports, it becomes clear that many important policy problems have continued throughout these years without meaningful action by the Pinelands Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and other responsible agencies. In contrast, during this period we have seen several major developments with enormous long-term impacts advance quickly, with great determination shown by the Pinelands Commission, DEP and the governor’s office to get them approved despite big legal and environmental problems. Government knows how to act when key players choose to do so. Unfortunately, we have not seen that kind of decisive action on the following fundamental challenges to the Pinelands.

Stalled Policy Initiatives

Statewide Water Supply Master Plan – The DEP last released a statewide Water Supply Master Plan in 1996. DEP officials promised to release an updated plan in 2002, 2005, and several times since – but it is still missing in action, apparently moldering in the governor’s office. This planning document is important, because it tells the public, water purveyors and government agencies at all levels whether the water supply in each part of the state is secure, is in trouble, or may get into trouble if trends continue. Studies by the US Geological Service and others show that the Kirkwood-Cohansey and Atlantic City 800-Foots Sands – South Jersey’s principal water supplies – are being over-pumped in many areas. In 2016, DEP put every county in the state except for Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland under a drought watch for the fall of 2016. The events of this year signal an immediate need to release the Water Supply Master Plan and apply its findings to protecting our water supplies. Yet the public continues to wait.

Water Allocation Rules – For the last several years, the Pinelands Commission and DEP have recognized the need to reform their standards governing increased pumping of water from the Kirkwood-Cohansey and related aquifers. In addition to studies showing the aquifers are threatened with over-pumping, the multi-million dollar Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer Study, begun in 2001 and finally completed in 2012, showed how lowering the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer harms ecosystems that depend upon it. The agencies have discussed detailed proposals, but have taken no action whatsoever to reform their water allocation rules.

Pinelands Protections for Water Quality – A clean water supply is essential to residential and ecological communities, but Pinelands waters are contaminated in many areas. In 2006, the Pinelands Commission released a report, White Paper on Preserving Ambient Water Quality – Policy Implications of Pinelands Commission Research Projects, which recognized the threat of “non-point source” contamination that comes with all forms of development. The report gave examples of ways the Commission can reduce water quality impacts from development through regulatory changes and incentives. The Commission has never seriously debated, much less acted on those recommendations.

Rapid Speed Development Projects

Meanwhile, here are three examples of major development projects that violate the CMP but have been pushed hard by the Pinelands Commission and/or its staff, DEP and, in some cases, the governor’s office – showing these agencies can act decisively when they choose. All of these matters are still unresolved, but only because PPA, citizens and allied advocacy groups have filed successful legal challenges.

Stafford Business Park – This development project was presented as a compromise to protect water quality in exchange for houses. In reality it set new precedents for developing known rare species habitats by attempting to relocate threatened and endangered plants and wildlife from their established habitats, and using the public memorandum of agreement process to waive and manipulate Pinelands rules in order to foster very large private development. The developer’s proposal to cap a landfill and move protected species in exchange for the construction of over 500 housing units and a big shopping center was introduced in late 2004 and approved in July 2006. It was a short turn around for a waiver of key environmental protections to accommodate a massive for-profit development project on what had been public land in Stafford Township.

South Jersey Gas and New Jersey Natural Gas – These natural gas transmission lines are proposed to cut through the southern and northern parts of the Pinelands in the Forest Area and Preservation Area – management areas that can only allow large infrastructure projects that serve existing needs within those areas. Both these pipelines fail that standard, and both are entirely unnecessary. With pressure from the state’s most powerful Republican and Democratic politicians and the help of the Pinelands Commission’s executive director, both projects were moved rapidly through the Commission process. They have encountered unexpected problems when the full Commission declined to approve the South Jersey Gas project, and, after the government tried to simply circumvent Commission review, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court ruled those efforts to be unlawful. At this writing, the South Jersey Gas pipeline will likely come up for a vote before the Pinelands Commission on February 24th and the New Jersey Natural Gas pipeline is not far behind.

Wal-Mart in Toms River – This Wal-Mart Superstore proposal to cram a huge store and shopping center onto a parcel that is too small and has threatened and endangered species is in the coastal portion of the Pinelands, where DEP has the primary permitting powers. DEP initially denied the application for all the right reasons, and then simply reversed itself when a new governor came into office. Since then the DEP has pressed to approve the development despite repeated legal setbacks, including an adverse Appellate Court ruling, and regulatory violations.

This overview of the past 10 years sheds light on how quickly government officials can act to approve projects that serve special interests instead of supporting projects and policy measures that improve our environment and the well-being of citizens in the state.

Click on the link to read the entire report. This report was mailed to current members of the Pinelands Presevation Alliance in February 2017.

Original Framers of Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan Oppose SJ Gas Pipeline

By | January 22nd, 2017

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Photograph by Albert Horner

Three original framers of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan have written letters to the Commission calling on it to reject the South Jersey Gas pipeline because the route clearly violates the terms and the goals of the CMP’s protections for the Pinelands Forest Area.  Terrence Moore was the founding Executive Director of the Commission, where he served for 20 years in drafting and implementing the CMP.  John Stokes was the founding director of planning at the Commission, and later served as Executive Director.  Over 30 years he was a central figure in designing and enforcing the CMP.  Robert McIntosh worked for the National Park Service on the creation of the Pinelands protection program and represented the Secretary of the Interior on the Pinelands Commission for many years and across a range of Democratic and Republican Administrations in Washington, DC.  These three men bring unequaled experience and expertise in the workings and meaning of the Pinelands regulations.

Each of these individuals understand the purposes and meaning of the specific CMP regulations which South Jersey Gas is trying to circumvent in order to build a very high-capacity gas transmission pipeline across the Pinelands Forest Area.  The CMP prohibits infrastructure like the proposed pipeline from being built in the Forest Area unless it is needed to serve those already inside the Pinelands.  These letters explain in detail why the pipeline would not “primarily serve only the needs of the Pinelands” within the meaning of the CMP, as required of any such pipeline before it can be built within the Forest Area, and why approving the project would set an extremely damaging precedent for future development of the Forest Area.

The fact that these founders of the Pinelands program have never before submitted comments to the Commission on a pending development application since retiring from their official positions, but have all done so now, shows how critical this issue is to the integrity and success of the Pinelands protection program.  Read the letters here:

Letter from John Stokes

Letter from Robert McIntosh

Letter from Terrence Moore

Learn more about the public meeting to be held Tuesday, January 24th at 9:30 am and submit comments on this project.  Click here.

Park Police Need Tools to Combat ORV Abuse

By | December 21st, 2016

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In a recent and revealing video, ORV drivers demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the current approach of management in Wharton State Forest. Because of political pressure on the DEP, the dedicated and heroic Park Police are deprived of the tools they need to succeed in their mission of natural resources protection. NJDEP, in their refusal to designate official routes of the State Forest, is placing an impossible burden of policing an unenforceable spaghetti network of unmanaged routes on the understaffed and often under-gunned(in terms of tools and vehicles) Park Police. The State of New Jersey needs to do a much better job in supporting these stewards of our public land. Without the needed tools and personnel, these modern day rangers are being deprived of succeeding in their mission of public lands protection.

In the video below, you will see an organized group of off-road vehicle drivers abusing public roadways, eroding historic sites, damaging forest infrastructure, and creating new “roads” by driving straight into the forest over pristine areas, These individuals went completely unopposed in their day-long tour of destruction and this has been happening far too often on our public lands.

In a second video, a concerned citizen recorded another group of “mudders” in the Great Swamp of Wharton State Forest, also a Natural Heritage Priority Site for globally rare species. The wetlands in this video were protected by the original Motorized Access Plan by Parks and Forestry, but was forced open to motor vehicles by the NJDEP. Park Police simply do not have the equipment to patrol this area and so it has been left to fend for itself. With a new map, unpatrolled habitat like this could be protected from further damage by vehicle barriers and focused monitoring.

In a third unfortunate recording, individuals filmed themselves driving into the Batsto River and other environmentally sensitive areas as well as abusing the forest roads. After reporting this recording to Park Police and NJDEP, we were told that the individuals were given a warning after their vehicles were observed by Park Police covered in mud. Unfortunately, because of the spaghetti network of roads, it is very unlikely they will be caught in the act and suffer a serious fine. A warning will not prevent them from continuing this type of behavior and damage. We were told the video itself would not be sufficient evidence to make a successful prosecution. Clearly, when our legal system is unable to prevail, we need stronger and better management to protect our natural resources.

In a fourth video, individuals calling themselves the “Shutdown Squad X” film themselves abusing our forest infrastructure while consuming alcohol and vandalizing a historic building within the State Forest. When groups of individuals are able to maruade through our public lands for hours on end without consequence, it is a clear sign that the NJDEP has not brought sufficient resources and tools to the issue. We must now advocate to the Pinelands Commission to enact these management tools in order to physically protect habitat and to give our hardworking Park Police a chance to succeed in their mission

Please join us on January 27th at 9:30am and tell the Pinelands Commission that an official map of Forest routes will give our understaffed and under-resourced law enforcement officers a chance to prevail against this abuse.

 

Pinelands Commission

15 Springfield Rd. Pemberton, NJ

08068

Groundhog Day at the Pinelands Commission

By | December 9th, 2016

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Today is the 1st monthly meeting of the Pinelands Commission since the Nov. 7th Court decision that sent the SJ Gas Pipeline project back to them – stating that the Commission staff and the Board of Public Utilities had improperly approved the project without taking a full vote of the Commission.

Crowd at the Pinelands Commission in December 2013

IRONICALLY – 3 yrs ago today the Pinelands Commission held a public hearing on the SJ Gas Pipeline project when it came around the first time. Hundreds of people showed up to speak out against the project. The room was too small and many people were stuck in the lobby unable to get in the room.

During 2013-2014 over 20,000 people testified, wrote letters, made public comment and signed petitions opposing this project. Because we all believe in equal and fair enforcement of the rules that protect our land and water and air.

Then in January 2014 the Commission voted on the project and deadlocked 7 to 7 (1 Commissioner had to recuse himself, but that is another story). The South Jersey Gas Pipeline project failed. The Commissioners and the Commission staff clearly stated in many documents that IT VIOLATED THE RULES THAT PROTECT THE PINELANDS.


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So why are we still here?

SJ Gas keeps trying to find a way around Pinelands rules that have existed since 1981. Rules that clearly state infrastructure projects like this are not permitted in the forest area unless “intended to primarily serve the needs of the Pinelands” N.J.A.C. 7:50-5.23. These rules exist in part to prevent the Pinelands from becoming a super highway for gas pipelines and other infrastructure trying to get the coast or to another location. The Pinelands is a fragile, rare ecosystem to be valued and enjoyed – not a transit area.

In 2015 South Jersey Gas resubmitted the same application with “new” information showing that now it “meets the needs of the Pinelands”. This is the same project – we will not be fooled and we won’t be worn down by all the years of work that this project has already consumed.

Today so many people showed up at the Pinelands Commission’s regular monthly meeting that there was no room to park.  Pro-pipeline advocates packed the room. Pipeline opponents were crowded into the lobby.

How could the Commission not be aware that people would show up?

Why would they not have planned ahead?  It is like Groundhog Day – just like Dec. 9, 2013.

Today the Commission moved into closed session before public comment – and according to the executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, everyone who was in the meeting room was asked to leave and more than 100 people were told they can go home and be called if they want to come back.

No matter what the Commission MUST vote on the project, there MUST be a public hearing and they MUST vote to deny the project. It isn’t the job of the Commission to determine energy policy or to support the re-powering of a power plant (that could be underwater in the next 50 years due to sea level rise anyway).

It is very simple. The project violates the rules and must be denied.  Learn more here. Sign up on our email list so we can keep you informed.

UPDATED 12.9.16 at 7pm:

PUBLIC HEARING ANNOUNCED
January 24, 2017 at 9:30 am

The Pinelands Commission will hold a public hearing on January 24, 2017 at 9:30 am at the Ocean Acres Community Center located at 489 Nautilus Drive, Manahawkin, New Jersey 08050.  Learn more on their webpage.

We are very disappointed that they are not holding the meeting in the evening.  It is completely unfair to people who work during the day or would need to find child care.  They know how many people are opposed to this project.

For people who can’t attend the public hearing you will be able to submit comments by mail or email.

Comments may be sent via the following:

Mail:   New Jersey Pinelands Commission
P.O. Box 359
New Lisbon, New Jersey 08064

Email:  info@njpines.state.nj.us

You can also attend the next regular Pinelands Commission meeting on January 13, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.  The Pinelands Commission Offices are located at 15 Springfield Road in Pemberton Township NJ.

Make sure you are on our email list so we can keep you informed in a timely fashion.

You can find information on the Pinelands Commission website about monthly meetings (including agendas) and public hearings. You can also sign up on their email list so you are notified of upcoming events. Here is their website.

ORV Riders Plot to Destroy Pristine Ponds while Commission Fails to Act

By | December 5th, 2016

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2approved-michael-virilli_pond

The PPA was recently alerted to a Facebook post by individuals plotting to cut into and destroy pristine Pinelands ponds with off-road vehicles. We confirmed the authenticity of the post and alerted the appropriate authorities. Notably, the organizer of this activity had come to a recent Pinelands Commission meeting claiming to be a responsible off-roader and asked the Commission not to take any action to manage off-road vehicles in Wharton State Forest. In a Facebook post a month after the Commission meeting, this individual discussed how “with just a hare of trimming I could park a deuce in there”, referring to the pristine pond pictured in the post.  A “deuce” is a surplus military vehicle that has been used by some off-roaders to cause immense damage to habitat, especially in Wharton State Forest.

 

See the video clip below for a demonstration what is in store for this pond if the Commission fails to act. This was a pristine wetland in Wharton State Forest.

Here is the statement to the Pinelands Commission given by the same ORV driver who is plotting to destroy this pristine pond.

“I’ve got a bunch of friends like myself who are avid responsible off-roaders, ATV riders, etc a lot of us have machines sitting at home with flat tires and dead batteries because they haven’t been ridden since before spring time. We get out there just to have a little fun. I stay on fire roads, I’m not cutting trails, driving through swamps, but no one wants to go out because they’re afraid of getting fined”

It appears that this individual was deliberately trying to mislead the Commissioners by giving them a false impression of his own activities and of the DEP’s current response to the continuing reign of destruction. In fact, the state Park Police do not have anywhere near the resources that would be needed to monitor all the places vehicles are harming in Wharton State Forest, much less the rest of the Pinelands’ public lands.  They cannot do it alone.  One thing they need is an official designation of which sand paths are real roads, where it is lawful to drive, and which are unlawful.  Truly responsible drivers and the Park Police need a clearly defined map to guide visitors, enforcement and the creation of signs and barriers to protect the most sensitive sites from damage. Without these measures, some individuals will continue to wreak havoc on critically important habitat in the Pinelands National Reserve and Wharton State Forest. Inaction is not an option and we need to let the Commissioners know the importance of this issue.

We are going to solve this problem, but we need your help. Some of those responsible for this damage are coming to these meetings in an effort to thwart protections and we need you there to speak up for wildlife and habitat that can’t speak for itself.

Come to the Pinelands Commission on December 9th at 9:30am and demand a map to protect critical habitat from off-road vehicles.  

Pinelands Commission Address: 15 Springfield Rd # C, Pemberton, NJ 08068

 

Pinelands Commission Releases Damage Report for Wharton State Forest

By | October 20th, 2016

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orv-master-list-screenshot

Visual representation of data submitted to the Pinelands Commission

The Pinelands Commission has released the first official ORV damage report for a Pinelands area at their monthly meeting on October 14, 2016. Robyn Jenny, a Resource Planner, GIS mapped and confirmed data sets provided by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Pinelands Commission Staff, and Pinelands Commissioner Richard Prickett.

The data that we provided was painstakingly documented from aerial photographs and confirmed by in-the-field site visits. This combined effort provided over 200 individual locations within the State forest that have suffered from off-road vehicle abuse. The damaged locations had concentrations within the Batsto Natural Area, Sandy Ridge Natural Heritage Priority Site, and the West Wading River Natural Heritage Priority Site.

The sensitivities of the areas mapped indicate the importance of enacting management that will curtail further damage and allow previously abused areas a chance to heal. According to the DEP, reports to the DEP Hotline in Wharton State Forest are up 35% from 2012 to 2016. It is clear that the DEP needs support, and the Commission has, within its regulations, the authority to provide that support with a map. It is imperative that the Commission acts now. There are a number of strategies that the Commission may pursue in its efforts to curtail illegal and damaging use, but the foremost among these is to decide on a map that will guide the designation of which forest paths (roads) are acceptable for street-legal motorized use. At Commission meetings this year, there has been much discussion on the pre-existing maps that could accomplish that goal, including the recently developed Wharton Motorized Access Plan map, the most recent USGS (United States Geologic Survey) 2014 topographical maps, as well as legacy USGS topographical maps.

Here are a few points about each map.

Wharton Motorized Access Plan Map

  • Highly detailed and accurate, mapped with GPS technology.
  • Routes created in conjunction with the State Forest Fire Service to ensure safety during fire outbreaks.
  • Routes reviewed and approved by DEP’s Land Management Review for impact to endangered and threatened species.
  • GIS files are easily loadable into an App for mobile use and would be updatable based on current conditions
  • Updated to mark new features in the State Forest such as camping areas, Wilderness Areas, Natural Areas, hiking trails, biking trails, and horseback riding trails.

USGS 2014 Topographic Map at 24:000:1 Scale

  • This most recent effort by the USGS used TomTom’s Multinet Mapping service to document routes with a combination of a mobile mapping van and high-resolution aerial imagery.
  • Routes are based on navigability, not historic use.
  • This map has far fewer motorized miles than either the Motorized Access Plan map or the 1997 USGS map.
  • No marking of camping areas, Wilderness Areas, Natural Areas, hiking trails, biking trails, or horseback riding trails.

Legacy USGS 1953-1997 USGS Topographic Maps

  • Based upon data gathered by field observers in the early 1950s
  • Total of seven 7.5 minute quad maps that cover Wharton State Forest. Only four were reprinted in 1997. Maps from the 53-58 printing could be used to fill in gaps.
  • This road data was gathered  during the 1950’s before the Comprehensive Management Plan(CMP) took effect, which would be consistent with the grandfathering of pre-existing uses that is allowed for in other parts of the CMP.
  • This will have more motorized routes than any of the other two maps and some routes will not be navigable by even standard 4×4 vehicles.
  • No marking of camping areas, Wilderness Areas, Natural Areas, hiking trails, biking trails, or horseback riding trails.
  • Some areas will still be vulnerable to ORV abuse and will not be able to be patrolled by police vehicles.

The Motorized Access Plan map is in our view the clear winner. However, any of these maps would be a significant improvement over the current situation. It is up to the Commission at this point to decide which map makes sense from an environmental, practical, and political perspective. We will strongly support the selection of either of these maps by the Pinelands Commission to help stem the tide of abuse that is degrading vast areas of the Pinelands National Reserve.

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The Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan gives the Commission the authority to do this.

Section 7:50-6.143 states the following:

  1. No motor vehicle other than fire, police or emergency vehicles or those vehicles used for the administration or maintenance of any public land shall be operated upon publicly owned land within the Pinelands. Other motor vehicles may operate on public lands for recreational purposes on public highways and areas on land designated prior to August 8, 1980 for such use by state and local governmental entities until designated as inappropriate for such use under (a) 3 below.
  2. The Commission shall from time to time designate areas which are inappropriate for use of motor vehicles. Such designation shall be based upon the following considerations and upon consultation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and other interested persons:

           i. A need to protect a scientific study area;
           ii. A need to protect the location of threatened or endangered plant or animal species;
           iii. A need to provide a wilderness recreational area;
           iv. A need to prevent conflicts with adjoining intensively used recreational areas;
           v. A need to protect historic or archaeological sites;
           vi. A need to protect critical wildlife habitats;
           vii. A need to address a situation of public health and safety;
           viii. A need to protect extensively disturbed areas from further impact; and
           ix. The extent to which such road closure would substantially impair recreation access to and uses of surrounding resources.