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Americorps NJ Watershed Ambassadors work to Protect Pinelands

Monday, June 25th, 2018
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Watershed Ambassador Isabella Castiglioni helps plant 200 Atlantic White Cedars in the Pinelands

The Americorps NJ Watershed Ambassadors play an important role in the on-going stewardship of NJ’s streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Organized by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, each Watershed Ambassador provides 1700 hours of service during a 10-month service term while receiving small stipends for living expenses and travel and an educational reward upon successful completion of their term. At PPA, we serve as the host organization for the Rancocas Watershed Ambassador by providing a workspace and helping to facilitate projects throughout the year. The Watershed Ambassadors play a critical role in monitoring stream health throughout the state as well as playing an important stewardship role in their watershed. Because the Pinelands extends over multiple watershed areas, we work closely with Ambassadors covering the Great Egg Harbor Watershed, the Mullica River Watershed, the Barnegat Bay Watershed, and more. They have acted as leads as well as support on multiple volunteer projects in the Pinelands including large-scale illegal dumping cleanups, habitat protection from off-road vehicles, and tree-plantings.

During these projects, PPA helps by providing logistical support and project fine-tuning and the Watershed Ambassadors work together on project design and planning as well as recruiting and managing of volunteers on site. The Pinelands Land Protectors, PPA’s volunteer stewardship initiative, have worked closely on many of the projects undertaken by Watershed Ambassadors this year. The most substantial project undertaken to date was the Candace Ashmun planting where volunteers planted over 1000 trees and shrubs alongside a pond degraded from off-road vehicle abuse. This preserve, owned and managed by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, is a stronghold for many rare species and is under constant threat from off-road vehicles. We partnered with NJCF, the Nature Conservancy, and the Watershed Ambassadors to facilitate the planting to help restore the area’s ecological function as a breeding and foraging site for amphibians, birds, and other species. This project is part of a broader effort to “rewild” the Pinelands in preserved areas that have been degraded from human activity.

The preservation of land and water in the Pinelands is not a finished project, it is an on-going struggle to maintain and restore the natural places that have so far resisted development. That is why it is so important that we leverage all the resources available and partner with as many individuals and organizations as practical to further the cause. The Watershed Ambassadors have proven to be an important part of that partnership and we are lucky to work with such dedicated individuals on projects in the Pinelands. The continuation of the Watershed program could never be more important as development pressures increase in this densely populated state. Keeping track of stream health, keeping up with stewardship priorities, and developing the talent for environmental problem solving is a key function of the Watershed program. With the coming end to 2017-2018’s term, Americorps/NJDEP will soon be recruiting new Ambassadors for next year’s term beginning this coming September and it is important that highly motivated candidates are aware of the importance of this program.


To participate in our next partner project with the Ambassadors, please join us on the July 7th Cleanup in Chatsworth.


If you are interested in becoming an NJDEP Watershed Ambassador, see the position summary http://www.nj.gov/dep/wms/bears/docs/americorps_position_description.pdf

Join The Pinelands Land Protectors

Friday, April 6th, 2018
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The Pinelands Land Protectors are a group of dedicated volunteers organized through the Pinelands Preservation Alliance to protect the wildlife, plant life, habitat, and the public enjoyment of the Pinelands National Reserve. This volunteer group began officially last year and has had a large impact on the public land within the Reserve. This effort is unlike any other stewardship effort in the country. We aren’t just picking up bottles and cans or removing the occasional invasive plant, we are going to head-to-head with some of the hardest challenges affecting land and water in our area. From planting trees and protecting habitat from off-road vehicles, removing illegal dumping and searching for threatened and endangered species to providing public support for conservation policy and against oil and gas exploitation and unsustainable development, we work to identify and correct behavior that is damaging the waters, lands, and air around the Pinelands National Reserve. The Pinelands Land Protectors can be counted on to show up with a strategy crafted by PPA and implemented with the help of volunteers to address the problem with thoughtful consideration, hard work, and public pressure.

What makes an innovative group like this possible, is the decentralized nature of land management in the National Reserve. Instead of just one agency responsible for the land, such as in our National Parks, the Reserve has many different non-profit-organizations, governmental agencies, and private individuals responsible for managing land and waters. The diversity of groups we have partnered with so far include, Wharton State Forest, Bass River State Forest, Brendan T. Byrne State Forest, Whitesbog Preservation Trust, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, The Katz Family Trust, NJ Natural Lands Trust, NJ Fish and Wildlife, The Rancocas Conservancy, NJDEP Watershed Ambassadors, Herpatological Associates, the NJ Pinelands Commission, and more. PPA has worked to cultivate strong relationships with the agencies and individuals responsible and we leverage those connections to facilitate long-term plans to solve difficult problems.

 

Volunteer projects and events are always designed with the volunteers in mind–we want to make sure every volunteer knows that their time is being well spent. We try hard to design projects around tangible benefits to improve upon one of the special places within the Pinelands National Reserve. Some projects are only geared towards conservation, where others are for public enjoyment and appreciation, such as our upcoming work on the NJ State Trail. We have a high rate of volunteers that come to event after event because they know they are contributing to a long-term effort to protect the places that they hold dear. All of our success to date, from controlling off-road vehicles, to cleaning up thousands of pounds of waste, has been possible because of the dedication of volunteers we call the Pinelands Land Protectors.

If you want to be a part of this effort, please join us by clicking on this link Stewardship Signup

 

New Vision Needed for NJ State Parks

Thursday, February 1st, 2018
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photo: Bob Birdsall

 

The New Jersey State Park Service is full of hardworking and talented individuals with a desire to serve the public and protect natural resources, but they have been hampered by ineffective or politically motivated leadership during the past 8 years. Because of this, the Murphy administration has a great chance to rectify the situation and renew a positive vision for New Jersey’s public lands. These leaders should have a commitment to science-based decision making aimed at protecting natural resources while providing low-impact recreation opportunities for the public.

This is why we need Governor Murphy and Catherine McCabe, acting Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to take a close look at how New Jersey’s State Parks and Forests, the DEP, and the Pinelands Commission are addressing serious harms and threats to public lands. Governor Murphy is committed to scientific decision making and has already taken strong steps to get New Jersey going in the right direction with the recommitment of NJ to the Regional Green House Gas Initiative.

This kind of decisive action is also needed for good stewardship of State Parks and Forests, and it begins with putting the best people in the key policy-making and implementation roles of state government. These staffing decisions will set the course and ultimately define the governor’s environmental legacy for our state lands.

The citizens of New Jersey do not want habitats to be destroyed by illegal off-road vehicle abuse, and we do not want our parks to become corridors for the fossil fuel industry or commercialized clear-cut logging.  We want to protect and promote the state’s biodiversity, we want clean drinking water, and we want our public recreation areas to be treated as a sacred trust.


Please join us now in asking acting Governor Murphy and Commissioner McCabe to bring in leaders who have a positive vision for the future of New Jersey’s open spaces and the commitment to make it happen.

E-mail catherine.mccabe@dep.nj.gov and ask her to hire leaders with a commitment to science and the environment and SIGN this petition.

 

 

The Disappearing Mountain

Tuesday, 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

Building a Land Connection

Monday, 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

Wednesday, 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.

Park Police Need Tools to Combat ORV Abuse

Wednesday, 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

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

Monday, 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

Thursday, 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.

29464164922_f9a5786d79_k

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.

Perception and Preservation

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016
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snowyowl-ontree

Of all the battles we wage to protect the Pinelands National Reserve, one of the most important is make the high ecological value of the Pinelands known to the public. All advocates and antagonists of the movement to preserve public lands are engaged in a cultural debate about the intrinsic, scientific, and aesthetic value of the land and water. The winners of this debate will ultimately control the fate of the Pines as they shape and influence the minds of the public and of policymakers.

In 2013, sociologist Robert Brulle of Drexel University released a study on the funding of the climate denial groups, he said that “The climate change countermovement has had a real political and ecological impact on the failure of the world to act on global warming,” In a telling example of this counter-movement success, during a 2015 meeting to present a motorized access plan for Wharton State Forest, a group in the back of the room audibly laughed when the presenter mentioned climate change as one of the reasons for shifting management strategies in the State Forest. Have they read the latest climate reports indicating that 2016 (and the each of the 5 years previous) are the hottest on record or are they simply defaulting to a manufactured position instilled in their culture by well-funded anti-environment marketing firms?

The crux of the strategy of the anti-environment marketing campaign is to instill non-scientifically valid beliefs into large subcultures in the United States. By dividing those with an interest in img_0130conservation, they are promoting differences instead of similarities and relying on an us-versus-them strategy. To defeat this false choice, we have to consider ways to relate to the many cultures with an interest in conservation. By harnessing and promoting values that other groups find important, we can emphasize our similarities and minimize conflicts over disputed issues. There is nothing that the oil and gas industry, off-road vehicle lobby, and developers want more than to divide those who value public land, clean air, and water.

In one example, we need both hunters and animal rights activists to unite when it comes to protecting wild places. When these groups conflict in antagonistic ways, the only outcome is a weakening of both, in favor of groups that have no interest in promoting a healthy wildlife community. If we focus on working together to achieve symbiotic goals , we can benefit both groups and resist the trap of tribalism that ultimately weakens. The consequence of failure in this regard is already having direct impacts on the public lands of this state. The truth is that one can be a hunter and an animal right’s advocate, one can be an off-road vehicle enthusiast and a preservationist, and one can be an environmentalist and also want a strong local economy. These groups that are usually pitted against each other are often more similar than they are different and it is up to us to resist the us-versus-them trap that degrades the decision-making process.

Simultaneously, we have to recognize the validity of the concerns of these groups within the conservation movement and work in good faith to resolve them. For example, all animals should have rights and respect, but hunting is a strongly valued local tradition, a valued management tool, and an important means of local subsistence. We should work to join these groups by focusing on the similarities, such as the desire for a diverse and healthy wildlife community. In a similarly contentious example, is the debate over off-road vehicle use caused conflict among those who value publicly owned land. Because of the vast amount of damage that has been documented, it is our opinion that off-road vehicle driving cannot be done sustainably in the Pinelands. However, that does not mean there should not be a well-designed off-road vehicle course on private lands in a less ecologically sensitive area in the State. In another example, we do not want pipelines to criss-cross the Preservation and Forest Area of the Pinelands for legal and environmental reasons, but we do want sustainable economic opportunities for those that live in the Pinelands Region. None of these positions are directly opposed, but they are often framed in that context by those with an interest in divisiveness.

If we are able to find a way to relate to each other, then we may be able to compromise on even highly contentious issues and strengthen the ultimate mission of preservation.