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Archive for August, 2016

Fight for the Future of the Pines

Friday, 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 we all work so hard to instill. On July 12th, as part of a restoration effort, hard-working volunteers planted 300 Atlantic White Cedar trees on private land that had suffered from tremendous abuse by off-road vehicles. 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 these 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 common in the off-road vehicle culture as just last week another ORV driver was arrested for striking a police officer while fleeing the scene of a crime.   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. This weekend we will paint back over the graffiti and clean up the refuse left by these individual in order 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. We are in this for the future of the Pinelands National Reserve 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.

Thursday, 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 proscar 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.

 

 

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