Pinelands Commission Turns 40 Years Old

Governor Brendan T. Byrne established the Pinelands Commission by executive order on February 8, 1979. So 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of this independent state agency that is absolutely central to the survival of wetlands, forests and streams of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.

Image of Stream Parker Preserve CKM cropped

Pinelands National Reserve is Created

In November 1978 President Carter signed the National Parks and Recreation Act. This federal legislation created the Pinelands National Reserve in order to “protect, preserve, and enhance the significant values of the land and water resources of the Pinelands area.” This was the first attempt at the federal level to protect a vast area outside the jurisdiction of the National Park Service through a federal state partnership in regional land use planning.

The state of New Jersey was directed by the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 to establish a “planning entity to develop a comprehensive management plan for the Pinelands National Reserve.” The management plan, as described in the federal legislation, was to “determine the amount and type of human development and activity the ecosystem can sustain while still maintaining the overall ecological values” as they relate to the Pinelands. This is reflected in what we now know as the state Pinelands Commission and the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.

The Pinelands Commission plays the central role in this effort to protect natural resources for the benefit of people, plants and wildlife, and to allow development only to the extent doing so is compatible with this fundamental environmental protection goal. It is impossible to overstate how important this agency is to protecting this special place.

Survey map found in old desk

In a crazy coincidence at the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, a woman called us on Monday (2/4/19) to say she bought a desk at an estate sale and deep inside, all folded up, was a survey map showing the Pinelands boundary. She brought us the map the next day and sure enough it was a draft originally issued in October 1979 by the newly formed Pinelands Commission showing the outline of the Pinelands National Reserve and the state Pinelands Protection Area.

Image of Survey Map Large Scale Oct 1979

The map is in good condition, a bit worn where it had been folded for so long. Some of the edges have become brittle with time. But the broad outlines of the boundaries showing how the Pine Barrens would be protected in the future are strong and have not faded in the least.

This map represents the current status of the effort to protect the Pinelands. The central achievements of the Pinelands Commission are strong and have not faded with time. Over its 40-year history this agency has been able to withstand efforts to weaken or abolish the plan to protect the Pines.

But political and economic pressure are wearing away at the Commission’s commitment to protect the Pine Barrens. There is a danger that the rules we all fought so hard to implement will become brittle and break away as the plan is weakened by political manipulation of the rules to benefit specific developments, like the proposed South Jersey Gas and New Jersey Natural Gas pipelines.

Today the integrity of the Pinelands program hangs in the balance after years of special deals and utter inaction in fixing critical problems, like over-pumping of the aquifer and rampant abuse of public lands. We hope that sound science and good policy over the next 40 years will be the hallmarks of the Pinelands Commission. We hope to see improvements to the plan that better protect water and habitat in the Pinelands.

Image of Close up of the map to show the title and the date.Close up of the map to show the title and the date.
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