Along with widespread public outcry, the New Jersey Sierra Club, Highlands Coalition, and North Jersey Pipeline Walkers have come out against NJDEP’s controversial plan to log Sparta Mountain. The proposed Forest Stewardship Plan for Sparta Mountain’s Wildlife Management Area will threaten critical drinking water sources in the Highlands region and impact threatened and endangered wildlife habitat. The New Jersey Sierra Club worked with other organizations to save Sparta Mountain to be used for outdoor recreation, including the hikes and trails. We are concerned that this plan will interfere with our right to use our public land preserved that is held in the public trust for all of us. Yesterday was the end of public comment for the environmentally destructive proposal and the Sierra Club has urged the DEP to extend the public comment until the day after any public hearing. The DEP promised to schedule a public hearing, but no date has been set as of yet.
“Sparta Mountain is a treasure of the Highlands, but DEP’s proposal is to clear-cut an environmentally sensitive forest under the phony excuse of creating so-called bird habitat. We oppose this plan because Sparta Mountain is part of an important forested greenway whose canopy protects wildlife species and clean water. If they take down 120-year-old oaks to turn them into a field for logging, it will threaten the highest water quality in the state. Logging operations will also impact pristine C1 trout streams and neo-tropical birds who are dependent a deep forest to protect their habitat from other species,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Sparta Mountain was purchased with public money to be protected for future generations, but this plan will interfere with recreation and public access for years to come. The DEP should be protecting forests, not logging them under the disguise of so-called ‘stewardship.’ These lands belong to all of us, not commercial loggers. DEP must listen to the public outcry against this proposal and protect our water and public land.”
Logging will bring in siltation and run-off, impact pristine C1 trout streams and the highest water quality in the state. The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act was signed into law in 2004 to preserve open space and protect the state's water supply. According to the Highlands Regional Master Plan, the biggest threat to the region is the alteration of habitat, maintaining the forest’s edge, and fragmentation. This proposal will actually increase fragmentation by removing the forest canopy. Clear-cutting will impact the area 300 ft. inland from the cut. That means if there is only 2 acres of cut, it will actually increase the amount of area impacted to 6 acres. It will not only change the soil composition by opening the forest floor to more sunlight, but it will open up the entire area for invasive species, deer over-population, as well as increase flooding and non-point source pollution.
“Public opposition to this plan is deep and broad, for good reason. The plan is not supported by established science, it manipulates or ignores data to reach a predetermined result, and in the process its authors have completely cut out the public. We cannot support logging the State's last old-growth forests to create new habitat for game birds. We inevitably will damage the headwaters of some of our state's rivers in the process. The State must withdraw the plan now!” said Julia Somers, Executive Director, New Jersey Highlands Coalition.
These operations will lead to more erosion and stormwater runoff impacting pristine streams and reservoirs and aquatic ecosystems. Opening up the canopy will lead to a loss of biodiversity in our forests as more deer and invasive species take over. Invasive species infestations would require herbicide use which could impact sensitive streams and areas above reservoirs and water supply intakes. Since the DEP Forest Stewardship Plan does not meet these two standards for C1 streams, we are concerned of its impact to the Russia Brook, which is a DEP designated trout production C1 stream. Based on a study by the USGS, increases in sediment and temperature result in toxic effects of increased stream concentrations of nitrate and aluminum from logging runoff. The USGS also found that clear cuts caused 100% mortality of trout. We are even more concerned is that this plan is exempted from water and soil rules by the DEP themselves, as well as the Highlands Act, which will allow run-off and siltation coming off the site.
“The DEP's forest stewardship plan is a plan to log Sparta Mountain disguised as forestry management. This forest is environmentally sensitive and considered at one time a high conservation value. There is no sound reason to believe that clear-cutting will enhance new growth of anything but invasive species plants. This kind of logging will impact the water table, water quality, air quality and much more. And as if all that is not enough, we still have to consider that this plan does not take into account all the wildlife that will be displaced when their habitat is cut down and sprayed with pesticides. We are opposed to this plan and urge DEP to withdraw it immediately,” said Diane Wexler, North Jersey Pipeline Walkers, resident of Vernon.
A final and mysterious blow to this proposal is that Sparta Mountain WMA had previously received High Conservation Value designation, that prohibited logging, but in in 2013, FSC removed its designation, while adjacent privately managed NJA Sparta Mountain Preserve retained it. Also, NJA is the only group in New Jersey that are a FSC certified organization so therefore they have a monopoly since they are the only organization that can do FSC projects. (see the top of page 4 of the Forest Management Audit here: http://fsc.force.com/servlet/servlet.FileDownload?file=00P4000000DX5LzEAl). NJ Audubon had even conducted their own studies previously that cited undisturbed habitat for interior forest species, was critically important for many neo-tropical migratory birds, including in the Audubon report: Impacts of Ecosystem Degradation on Forest Wildlife Diversity.
“With this plan, instead of hiking trails on Sparta Mountain, we will have logging roads. This is a horrible sell-out to our open space for private logging companies. I was given the award of NJ Audubon Conservationist of the Year in 1994, but since then Audubon has totally diverted from its mission to protect the contiguous canopy of this forest. I had worked with them for decades, but in the last five years they’ve switched their mission from preservation to chainsaws,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We must urge the DEP to withdraw this destructive plan to protect our water and open space. Sparta Mountain must be preserved and not turned over to commercial logging operations.”