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HomenewsThe Fire Plan Would Destroy 2,450,000 Trees in the New Jersey Pinelands.

The Fire Plan Would Destroy 2,450,000 Trees in the New Jersey Pinelands.

BASS RIVER TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP)— A federally protected New Jersey forest, lauded as an environmental treasure might lose up to 2.4 million trees to avert devastating wildfires.

New Jersey environmental authorities say the plan to destroy trees in Bass River State Forest will largely affect little, scrawny trees, not the towering giants of the Pinelands National Refuge.

The New Jersey Pinelands Commission’s Oct. 14 plan, which begins in April, has divided environmentalists.
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Some call it a sensible and essential response to wildfires, while others call it an immoral waste of trees that would no longer store carbon as climate change threatens the world.

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Herbicides to prevent invading species regeneration are also opposed because the Pinelands rest on an aquifer with some of the nation’s finest drinking water.

Despite the state’s protestations, others fear the scheme could provide a backdoor to logging protected woodlands under the pretense of fire protection.

Jeff Tittel, retired New Jersey Sierra Club director, called the scheme “shameful” and “Orwellian.”
Pinelands Commissioner Mark Lohbauer called the initiative ill-advised. He believes tree-thinning does not prevent major wildfires and could harm uncommon snakes.

“In an era of climate change, we must do our best to maintain these trees that are sequestering carbon,” he said. “We shouldn’t cut down trees until it’s necessary.”

The plan covers 1,300 acres (526 hectares) of the 1.1-million-acre (445,150-hectare) Pinelands preserve, a UN biosphere with federal and state protection.

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The state claimed most trees to be felled are 2 inches (5 cm) or less in diameter. The state Department of Environmental Protection noted dense undergrowth of these smaller trees can operate as “ladder fuel” to take fire from the forest floor to the treetops, where flames can spread quickly and wind can increase blazes.

Using state application data, a Pinelands commissioner predicted that 2.4 million trees would be removed.

The department will not confirm that number or provide its own. But “the total number of trees removed could be large.”

“This is like liquid fuel in the Pinelands,” said Todd Wyckoff, chief of the New Jersey Forest Service, touching a thin pine tree that will be chopped most often throughout the operation. “Fire-prone woodland. This restores the woodland to its proper state.”

Government foresters and timber sector executives promote tree trimming to prevent fires from spreading. Some conservationists argue thinning doesn’t work.

“An unbroken canopy will be preserved across the property,” New Jersey asserts.

However, the state’s application proposes reducing canopy cover from 68% to 43% on over 1,000 acres (405 hectares) and even more on smaller portions.

To construct a fire break for firefighters, several dense, tall trees on both sides of some roadways will be cut down.

The state reports 2,000 trees per acre in the impacted area, four times the Pinelands average.

The agency noted, “It is not anticipated that any material of economic value will be created because of this effort.” Most of the felled trees will be processed into wood chips that will remain on the forest floor and gradually return to the soil.

Environmentalists worry that destroyed trees could be marketed as cordwood, wood pellets, or glue.

“I’m against removing that substance,” Lohbauer stated. “That material belongs in the forest where it will support habitat and eventually be recycled” into the soil. “Even wood pellets, popular for burning in wood stoves, produce carbon.”

The department’s associate commissioner, John Cecil, said his organization won’t profit from wood goods removed from the site.

However, if some trees fall, “Why not use it to create tax revenue? If there’s a method to accomplish this that retains the plan’s core aims and generates revenue, that’s fine. These trees might make fence posts.”

The Pinelands district, which covers 22% of New Jersey and is home to 135 unique plant and animal species, was created by Congress in 1978. Its aquifer supplies 17 trillion gallons (64 trillion liters) of potable water.

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“It is irresponsible to be taking down trees amid a climate emergency, and destroying 2.4 million little trees will substantially limit the future ability to store carbon,” said former department official and environmental blogger Bill Wolfe.

Pinelands Preservation Alliance executive director Carleton Montgomery supports the concept.
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The organization claimed opponents are using the number of trees to chop “to (elicit) shock and horror” by focusing on the number rather than the size of trees to be cut. A robust Pine Barrens forest will result.”

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