By Desiree Taylor
A bill that would allow private timber harvesting companies to chop and sell wood on 800,000 acres of state-owned land is sparking heated debate from forest scientists, conservationists, and private foresters.
Under the bill, the state would hire a private contractor to oversee the five-year forest harvest management program.
Forester Doug Tavella supports the bill because he says harvesting or cutting down trees in dense forests will help to regenerate them. He says overcrowded forests are prone to fires and they’re more susceptible to insect attacks and disease.
But Emile DeVito, from the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, paints a much different picture. He says the forests aren’t losing habitat because there are too many trees. The real threats, he says, are deer and invasive species and the bill doesn’t address those concerns. He and other opponents also question if the proposed forest management program will be revenue driven because of the potential to make money from the sale of the wood products. But the legislation requires the proceeds to be deposited into a dedicated account within the State Department of Environmental Protection which would be used to help pay for the program.
Sensitive ecological areas would, in most cases, be protected from forest harvesting activities. Any work done in the Highlands would have to comply with all provisions of the Water Protection and Planning Act. And Tavella points out that timber harvesters will be required to follow strict harvesting standards.
A host of different stakeholders have taken sides on this issue. Dozens of academics, biologists, and forest scientists have spoken out against the bill. But supporters have been equally vocal. They include the New Jersey Farm Bureau, the New Jersey Audubon Society, and the New Jersey Forestry Association.
If the bill is approved, forest management plans would be presented in public hearings before being implemented.