Shortsighted Solution

Jan 15, 2020

To the Editor:

The clear cutting has begun around the Bass River fire tower – a tower that few knew existed or still functioned. Did this provide a benefit for the public? Are we any safer now?

Anyone aware of the unprecedented wildfire outbreaks around the world, the latest in Australia, should be asking this vital question. What is New Jersey prepared to do to ensure our safety? We received our answer and it’s not hardly enough.

For two years residents and local government officials have been asking the state for updated technology to monitor for the all-too-frequent forest fires in the Pinelands. Statistically, 99 percent of New Jersey’s forest fires are started by humans, the remaining 1 percent caused by lightning. Alarmingly, arsonist are to blame for half of these devastating fires. Wouldn’t it be prudent to have the means to observe these criminals and have the evidence to prosecute?

The original proposal by the Forest Fire Service detailed the cost to replace the old tower. The report from Davana LLC Fire Tower Restoration did not recommend raising or restoring the existing tower because it was past the service life of 70 years. However, the Forest Fire Service insisted at Pinelands Commission meetings that the towers are structurally sound, do not have a service life and they will last forever. A recent coat of paint and more bracing apparently now supports their claims and the tower. Clearly the 90-year-old tower had been neglected and overlooked.

New York state, like most of the states in our country, removed their towers in the 1970s. The remaining towers that haven’t fallen over are museums dedicated to educating the public on the history of how forest fires were monitored in the past.

Did the state reap the profits from the sale of the white pines harvested for lumber? No. The original proposal presented to the Pinelands Commission was to clear cut 90 acres. Based on a Bass River State Forest management plan from 1927, the objectives outlined by the state proposed “to raise as much State income as is possible, to the end that the forest may become self supporting and eventually show a net profit” for the state.

We now have learned that the profits from the proposal by Greg McLaughlin, of the Forest Fire Service, went to Colin McLaughlin, owner of the Advanced Forest Solutions Co. The company that was paid to clear cut will also profit from the sale of the superior white pine lumber.

The arguments for or against the clear cutting and continued use of the tower at this point are moot. The unnecessary damage to the forest has begun. Neighboring land owners have put their property up for sale. The public using Bass River State Park is being rerouted around the paths of destruction. We watch the state waste money that could have been used to begin the process of making the changes necessary to protect South Jersey residents.

Out of continued and urgent need, we are asking the DEP for more fire detection capabilities. We are asking for updated technology to be installed on existing towers such as the communications tower located in Bass River at the State Police barracks.

I don’t need binoculars or a tower to see what is going on with the Bass River clear cutting project. Deceiving the residents of South Jersey into believing this is a win leads us, in the event of an evacuation, down the road only to find that those roads thick with smoke are closed.

Gov. Murphy has made a request for the DEP to update the Forest Fire Service’s capabilities and has contacted Homeland Security to address the hazard of road closures during these events.

The premise that acres from the previous Spring Hill fire were destroyed because the view from the 90-year-old tower was blocked is invalid. Waiting for three men to drive to old towers after the fire had already been reported and then having to wait for them to triangulate the location by obsolete methods wasted valuable time. Had one single camera been in activation the smoke would have been automatically detected in seconds. The exact location using GPS would have been available for deployment of firefighting crews.

The EnviroVisions Solution Co., makers of the Forest Watch System whose cameras are in limited use in New Jersey, and successfully in operation in forests throughout our country, was one option suggested to improve the capabilities and it was rejected.

What has underfunding, budget cuts and an unresponsive attitude left us with? A 90-year-old tower and scarred land. Is this what are lives are worth? This isn’t a time for Band-Aids; it’s a time for action.

Riki Losiewicz

Little Egg Harbor

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.