New Jersey Conservation Foundation applauds the state Legislature and former Gov. Jon Corzine for passing a landmark bill that provides incentives for private landowners to improve the health of New Jersey forests.
The Forest Stewardship Act was passed by the Senate and Assembly on Jan. 11 and signed into law by Gov. Corzine during his last full day in office, Monday, Jan. 18.
The new law allows landowners with at least five acres to be eligible for reduced property tax assessments by actively managing their woodlands to promote forest health and sustainability.
Previously, the same woodland owners participating in the farmland assessment program were subject to an income requirement, which forced landowners to cut their trees for timber and firewood. The practice was not sustainable and resulted in a major loss of forest productivity and biodiversity.
"New Jersey Conservation Foundation would like to thank the Legislature and Gov. Corzine for recognizing that healthy, sustainable forests provide real public benefits such as water filtration, soil stabilization and flood control," said Michele S. Byers, Executive Director. "Healthy forests also provide habitat to a diversity of wildlife species and can mitigate climate change impacts."
Byers noted that New Jersey Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to preserve land and natural resources, has been advocating for forest stewardship reforms for about 20 years.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation realized the need for improved forest stewardship laws in the early 1990s, she said, when research showed that New Jersey forests were being cut faster than they could regenerate.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation's 1998 publication, "Gaining Ground: Preserving New Jersey Farmland through Effective Tax Policy," points out that state farmland assessment rules discourage wildlife habitat protection and biological diversity. Because of high property taxes, woodland owners need to maintain farmland assessments by timbering, even if they harm the integrity of their forests.
The new Forest Stewardship law sets up a voluntary incentive that allows forest landowners who meet farmland assessment criteria to actively manage their properties under improved forest stewardship plans - promoting productivity, regeneration and restoration.
"Thanks to the new Forest Stewardship law, property owners are now able to concentrate on activities that are beneficial to forests," said Byers.
Stewardship activities can include: removing invasive plants, restoring endangered species habitat, fencing property to encourage regeneration and prevent deer damage, and resolving problems caused by erosion, disease and pests.
The new law directs the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to establish a forest stewardship program for owners of forested land who prepare stewardship plans for five acres of land or more. Under the bill, plans would be required to meet the rules and regulations of sustainability, list the owner's long term stewardship goals for the forest land and the annual activities that will be implemented in the forest.
The law also directs the DEP to:
- Establish a cost share incentive program, "New Jersey Forest Stewardship Incentive Program," if funds are appropriated or otherwise made available for the support and funding of such a program, the DEP would award grants to local government units, non-profit organizations, and private owners of forest land to help subsidize their costs in implementing stewardship activities.
- Create a forest stewardship advisory council
- Prepare a report every seven years based on these forest sustainability criteria and indicators, with the first report required by February 1st of the third year following the date of enactment.
Special thanks are due to the bill sponsors: Senators Bob Smith, Jeff Van Drew, John Adler, Robert Gordon, Andrew Ciesla, Christopher "Kip" Bateman and Robert Singer and Assemblyman John McKeon. For more information on the Forest Stewardship Bill, contact New Jersey Conservation Foundation at email@example.com or 1-888-LAND-SAVE (1-888-526-3728).
New Jersey Conservation Foundation preserves land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. Since 1960, the Foundation has protected more than 120,000 acres and has been an advocate for strong land use policies. For more information, visit www.njconservation.org