SPARTA, NJ -With the logging due of Sparta Mountain Reserve due to resume on February 14,Friends of Sparta Mountain spoke at the Sparta Township Council meeting on Tuesday. Gail Adrian of Lake Tamarack and Robert Moss took the microphone during public comment to ask for help.
Adrian asked that the council members consider the value of the forest and its part in making Sparta a destination. “Our wealth is in our nature,” Adrian said, “so [logging] is not in our best interest.”
She said residents “deserve more well-rounded research” than is being offered by the Department of Environmental Protection. “There is going to be run-off and spraying to get rid of the invasive species” that will try to take advantage of the cleared area. This is a concern especially because “the Highlands provides for nature and water” which will both be affected by the logging.
Moss, a Bloomfield resident, explained he had filed a law suit in Essex County Superior Court. The basis of his Pro Se filing is to challenge the profit being generated by the logging.
“Green acres [legislation] does not allow for commercial enterprise,” on the preserved land. “Entities pay to take away the logs,” generating income for the DEP which controls the land, according to Moss.
“No conservation purpose is stated,” in the process of getting the contractors to log the land. Instead it “specifically says logging is for revenue,” according to Moss. “That is not permitted under Green Acers,” Moss said.
Moss also said his filing included the argument that the scientific reasons given by the entities that want to log the land, incorrectly site journal articles, making their argument flawed.
Erin Lambert, a resident of Sparta for seven years, said they moved to town because of the Highlands and Green Acres land and their beauty. She pressed the council members for their position on the controversy.
Mayor Josh Hertzberg said they are in a difficult position. “I am not a scientist. I don’t know who to believe when there are conflicting expert scientists.”
Councilwoman Christing Quinn said, “Speaking for myself, we drove to the DEP headquarters for a six hour meeting and have had several meetings since then.” She explained the township does not own the land and therefor does not have a say in what happens there.
“It was our hope we would get farther working with them so we went through their proposal and asked they don’t do certain things because of safety,” Quinn said.
They said they had put parameters in the use of the township roads, but did not explain if there were other changes requested.
“It puts us in a problematic situation,” Quinn said. “We don’t want to put them in an adversarial situation.”
Lambert asked if the council members would consider reaching out again to the DEP given the new leadership there with the new governor.
“I would be open to reaching out again,” Quinn said.
“Nothing can be lost by trying to reach out,” Hertzberg said. “It might be of value to meet with the new leadership.”
“They have changed the plans too,” Councilman Gil Gibbs said. “It might be worth reopening the discussion.”
The DEP, supported by the New Jersey Audubon Society, initially presented the plan to log 10 acre swaths of the forest on Sparta Mountain to protect the Golden Wing Warbler.” That narrative then moved to one of preserving the forest and other rationale. Their plan was met with resistance, skepticism and pushback from nearby residents, New Jersey Sierra Club, Skylands Group and Friends of Sparta Mountain.
The groups have held hearing and hikes to point out the problems with the logging plan. They point out the forest on Sparta Mountain is classified as a High Conservation Forest with many rare, threatened and endangers species. This is not disputed by the DEP.
The forest was also preserved because it is part of the Highlands region protected because it provides drinking water to more than half of the residents of the state.
According to the New Jersey Audubon society which co-authored the plan, the census of plant life was done in the late fall and winter months. Opponents criticize this timing for the obvious reason that not much is growing in those months.
The New Jersey Audubon society said the DEP is exempt from following setback guidelines for soil disturbance near bodies of water in the Highlands. Critics say they will be disturbing soil immediately adjacent to vernal pools and streams. Further the clear cutting will promote runoff and silt build up in those essential bodies of water.
The plan divides the forest which extends from Glen Road to Route 23 between Edison and Holland Mountain Road into 32 areas that will be logged over the next 10 years. The plan calls for different methods to be applied to the different areas include some that will be burned down. The plan also includes language to extend the logging beyond the 10 year initial plan.