Final Sparta Mountain Plan (NJ) Met With Concerns

By Erika Norton for the Sparta Independent


Tree harvest plans:
322 acres managed to accelerate old-growth characteristics (single-tree selection cutting)
100 acres shelterwood cutting
208 acres managed for young forest characteristics (modified tree seed cutting)

Source: New Jersey DEP

SPARTA - The final forest management plan for Sparta Mountain was presented to the public by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Audubon Society Tuesday night, where they were met with about 100 attendees and upwards of 50 comments and questions.

Image

New Jersey DEP and Audubon plan to make some young forest on Sparta Mountain to help golden-winged warblers and other wildlife that need this dwindling habitat./USDA

In conjunction with NJ Audubon, the DEP plans to cut trees on 630 acres over a 10-year span in the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area, claiming that it is necessary to diversify the forest and create “young forest habitat” that endangered species in the area need to thrive. The plan encompasses a total 3,400-acre swath of public land within the townships of Sparta, Ogdensburg, and Hardyston in Sussex County and Jefferson Township in Morris County.

In March, the plan received final approval, and was approved for release by DEP Commissioner Bob Martin just this month. The May 9 informational session at Sussex Technical School was scheduled for a week later, where the public was encouraged to ask questions and share their concerns; however, the plan is final and they do not plan on making further changes.

Dave Golden, the director of land management for the DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife, said that in the final plan, they tried to address the over 2,500 formal written comments they had received in 2016 from local residents, nonprofits, natural resource professionals, national organizations and government agencies regarding the plan. Golden said the DEP and Audubon worked to better clarify their intent for the plan and to be more transparent about the activities for the site.

Overall, there was a relatively even mix of support and opposition from the public commenters Tuesday. Many of the first dozen speakers at the meeting represented forestry groups and sportsmen's associations in favor of the plan, which later speakers accused the DEP of bringing.

Forestry supporters said the plan was “based on good science,” and that forest management plans in other areas of the Northeast have been successful.

"Stop the Chop"

Still, there was plenty of backlash. A representative from the New Jersey Sierra Club, one of the most vocal opponents to the plan, reiterated their claims that the DEP is using the golden-winged warbler, one of the endangered species that needs young forest habitat, as “an excuse for clearcutting.”

In a statement released before the meeting, the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, Jeff Tittel, called the meeting a “public relations stunt.”

“Even though DEP is finalizing their plan, we don’t even know what is in the secret contract between DEP and NJ Audubon because all along they have hid their plans from the public,” Tittel said. “This is because they are hiding the fact they are bringing in commercial forestry to an environmentally sensitive area that should not be logged.”

Golden objected to calling the plan “commercial logging,” claiming that over the last few years, the DEP had made $11,000 from past forest management activities done in northern New Jersey, which he said is not commercial logging.

Image

Habitat created for golden-winged warblers includes blackberry and other low shrubs for nesting, perch trees for males to sing from. This habitat project took place in Sproul State Forest in Pennsylvania./D. Putnam

Local residents, along with the Sierra Club, also raised concerns about how the plan would affect the nearby water supply, an area 70 percent of the state depends on for water. Golden said there would be buffers to ensure that water quality would not be affected, but opponents interjected that they felt the buffers would not be sufficient.

There were some outbursts throughout the meeting from the crowd, and Golden, who served as moderator, even threatened at one point to shut down the meeting.

Silvia Solaun of the grassroots group Friends of Sparta Mountain called the plan a “sham,” saying that if violations occurred, she was not confident there would be appropriate penalties for the DEP. Other commenters expressed a similar distrust of the state government to regulate themselves.

Golden tried to assure her and other opponents that the Division of Fish & Wildlife goes through vigorous internal reviews, but many were not satisfied. The Hardyston deputy mayor Carl Miller said he was disappointed with the DEP for giving them such short notice, and that the whole Hardyston council was opposed to the plan.

The Sparta Township mayor and council could not attend the meeting, as they had their town council meeting.

Andover resident Kenny Collins summed up his feelings, saying, “Will you please go home and leave Sparta Mountain alone?”