Earlier this year, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection elected and publicized a plan called the Sparta Mountain WMA Forest Stewardship Plan. According the agency’s website, “the primary goal of the plan is to maintain ecosystem health, diversity, and integrity by creating a greater balance among the stages of forest succession throughout the property, minimizing further distribution of invasive exotic species, and enhancing biological diversity through responsible silviculture and mimicking natural ‘gap disturbances’”. The plan, in essence, aims to maintain the health of the forest’s diverse ecosystem using logging practices that theoretically mimic natural weathering and damage. The plan aims to deforest approximately 1/5 of the 3,400 acre Highlands Forest. The primary goal of this logging is to encourage the growth of new, young forest and to diversify the age range of the forest’s flora.  The planning board, however, has been unclear about the detailed goals and expected consequences of the plan and has not effectively responded to residents’ protests and complaints.
Almost immediately after its announcement, the plan became subject to major criticism from prominent environmentalists and lobbying organizations. It’s plain to see why – as Levy discusses in his “Contemporary Urban Planning”, environmental planning can be difficult because of a wide variety of reasons; one of these reasons is the complexity and enigmatic nature of environmental issues.  In this way, an action to support one environmental cause can be extremely detrimental to another; additionally, because stakes in environmental issues are high and people can stand to lose a lot from environmental decisions, the clapback from affected peoples after legal action can be intense.
Residents, as well as local ecologists and environmentalists, have voiced their concerns that “responsible stewardship would not log these wonderful forests, which provide our crowded state with riches far more valuable than timber products.”  The Highlands Forest supplies a large amount of freshwater to New Jersey’s reservoirs, and is home to numerous protected species. Concerns center on the fact that logging will be a major disruption to the habitat of these species, and that freshwater that flows into key reservoirs will be polluted from the sediment that arises from logging. Opponents of the plan also questions whether diversification of the forest is even necessary, considering that most species within the forest are thriving and there are no signs of degradation in the forest’s quality.  Overall, the concerns raised discuss the true motivations behind the plan, and whether there a private/corporate interests that are being satisfied by this work; additionally, they criticize the plan in being small-minded and in not anticipating future consequences to extremely important environmental resources in New Jersey. It’s unclear how these protests will affect the action at Highland Forest – but with the pressure building on both sides, it’s inevitable that this will be an interesting fight.
- NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife. “NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife – Sparta Mountain WMA Forest Stewardship Plan.” NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife – Sparta Mountain WMA Forest Stewardship Plan. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Nov. 2016. <http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/spartamt_plan.htm>.
- Levy, John M. Contemporary Urban Planning. 10th ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.