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.