Commentary

Last Chance to Ask State to Save Historic White Pines in Bass River

By ROSE SWEENEY | May 08, 2019

I seriously cannot believe we are still clear-cutting by drum chopping any Pinelands forests.

On April 12 the Pinelands Commission approved the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s application to drum clear-cut roughly 17 acres of historic 90-foot-tall white pines planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s at Bass River State Forest. The New Jersey Forest Fire Service claims this is the “only” option to restore visibility that has been partially obstructed by the height of the trees from a lookout tower on park property.

This application is full of unsubstantiated, erroneous and misrepresented information. The Bass River Township Board of Commissioners and the New Jersey Sierra Club, along with 500-plus residents providing their signatures to a current petition opposing the clear-cutting, agree this is an unlawful action that represents a gross failure by the DEP, as well as the forest fire service.

For months the Pinelands Commission, the DEP and the forest fire service have actively, purposefully and outwardly resisted and rejected the educated, informed and prepared intentions and efforts of the public to provide safer, more cost-effective options to ridiculous clear-cutting. This commission has dismissed the larger issues of dangerous forest fire risk to the Pinelands and has advanced a disastrous application that violates its own certified management plan.

The application has been suspiciously rushed or inappropriately expedited to meet the needs of the DEP. This matter would certainly have benefited from the influence of new conservationist commission appointees whose confirmation appears intentionally delayed.

The Pinelands Commission has pressed the limits of public transparency and, I contend, has willfully sought to exclude the public from involvement or influence over any outcome that seeks to save the CCC forest and move the forest fire service into more contemporary reliable technologies. Extensive details and information have been provided to the DEP and the Pinelands Commission. The historic, recreational and fire suppression significance of these trees has been readily detailed. Also provided was an amazingly organized, engineer-quality alternative to replace and or relocate the tower to a more appropriate location. This has also been dismissed.

In addition, valid appeals filed with the agency contesting the executive director’s recommendations to approve this application have all been illegitimately denied. How can an agency ethically make determinations regarding appeals to its own actions?

It is odd to me that no one is really doing their homework on these trees. Removing historic stands of white pine planted by the CCC will essentially be removing a natural firebreak that was planted to fundamentally serve that purpose. White pine has a slower incendiary rate than that of the native matchstick scrub pine. High salt and water-retaining abilities, the absence of understory growth or ladder fuel, the high elevation of the crown canopy, the insulating properties of white pine bark, the larger distance between trees, and their history of tolerating recurrent lightning strikes are all critical, well-planned factors of the intentional planting that created this natural fire barrier. There are dangerous consequences to removing this forest.

These trees constitute a significant historical resource. CCC forests warrant historical designation as heritage or landmark plantings and as such should be protected by the state park service.

Why isn’t anyone wondering where the state park service has been in this debate? These trees belong to Bass River State Forest. The superintendent and administrative officials at the park have been oddly silent. It is ultimately the park’s responsibility to protect these trees and work with, and encourage, its monster boss, the DEP, to find another resolution.

Twenty-four years ago, the Pinelands Commission advised the forest fire service to find new approaches to clear-cutting when a similar application was settled by an administrative law judge. Why is history repeating itself? The application to clear-cut was most passionately opposed by the then-park superintendent, Denis Fox. Our current park superintendent seems to be the missing piece of this political nonsense puzzle. There are only seven remaining stands of CCC plantations left in Bass River State Forest. This clear-cutting would be destroying two entire stands.

This is just straight-up New Jersey crazy! Ultimately, the forest fire service needs to replace a piece of equipment. It is that simple. Why would we allow a unique, historic, breathtaking forest and environment to be completely destroyed instead of replacing or relocating what the service deems a valuable tool? If you are not already familiar with Bass River’s Pink Cathedral Trail, you better go check it out quickly before it really is history.

Please call Gov. Murphy if you’re opposed to this action.

Rose Sweeney is a former Bass River State Forest employee, Rutgers master gardener and nursery supervisor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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