Recent News on Controversial Forestry Bill
Thanks to your help, the controversial forest harvest legislation that New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) strongly opposed in late 2011 has been significantly improved. NJCF, Highlands Coalition, Pinelands Preservation Alliance and many other environmental groups were able to support the new version of the bill, S1085, which was passed by the full Senate in late June.
The key change to the proposed legislation was a provision that all forestry on state land would be independently certified by a third party auditor, to conform to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards and practices, both in planning and implementation. NJCF carefully examined the FSC standards with The Nature Conservancy and other forest restoration experts. The Nature Conservancy is one of the leading international conservation groups serving on the FSC Board.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Senator Smith, indicated as the bill passed out of committee that including FSC certification was the “only way to lend credibility” to the concept of using our public lands for wood product extraction while also practicing habitat stewardship.
The future of the bill is uncertain as it still needs to be considered by the Assembly and signed by the Governor. Unless independent third party certification and audit requirements remain part of the bill, NJCF and many other environmental groups will oppose enactment of this legislation and forest harvesting practices on lands held in the public trust. Please stay tuned!!
Letter from scientists opposing bill to allow logging on state lands >>
Read more about the Harvest Bill in Michele Byers' column, "The State We're In" >>
Dr. Emile DeVito interviewed about the Harvest Bill on NJTV. >>>
Conservation Easement Revitalization Project
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. Easements are a widely used tool for preserving land. Yet because the land itself generally remains in separate, private ownership, ensuring that easements continue to fulfill their original promise as time passes and land changes hands is often a challenge.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation recently took part in a national project called the Easement Revitalization Research Project. The project was sponsored and funded by the Open Space Institute in New York and funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Kohlberg Foundation and Resources Legacy Fund.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation was one of six case study partners nationally working with consultant Marc Smiley from Solid Ground to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the extent to which land trusts are encountering situations where conservation protections on private lands are not being honored, and to focus on how land trusts can remedy or otherwise manage these troubled easements.
A subsequent report evaluated the case study easements and gave options for addressing the challenges that have arisen. NJCF staff provided feedback on the report, which has been finalized in the form of a general guidebook, “Easement Revitalization Guidebook,” for land trusts across the country.
Download a copy of the guidebook >>
On a state level New Jersey Conservation Foundation, as the state’s leading private holder of conservation easements, has launched an initiative to ensure the long-term viability and integrity of conservation easements throughout the Garden State. Working with conservation partners from all sectors, we are developing strategies to ensure that easements remain an effective preservation tool and that preserved land is truly protected in perpetuity.
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|Support Sustainable State Funding for Preservation and Stewardship
The Garden State Preservation Trust finances the preservation of open space, farmland and historic sites in New Jersey. Today, one third of New Jersey’s dry land mass is permanently preserved as open space – a total acreage that exceeds the size of Grand Canyon National Park! In late 2012, the Garden State Preservation Trust approved the last funds available under the 2009 bond for Green Acres acquisition and development, farmland preservation and Blue Acres projects throughout the state. All of the funds have been appropriated by the legislature.
Without action to replenish the fund, critical preservation efforts will come to a halt at a time when there is still much work to be done.
New Jersey has been a national leader in preserving open space, historic sites and farmland since 1961 when the Green Acres Program was established. The Green Acres, Farmland and Historic Preservation Programs have touched every county in New Jersey enabling critical preservation and park development projects with significant human health, economic and environmental benefits. These funds are used by the state, counties, municipalities and non-profits to preserve lands throughout the state for the benefit of all New Jersey residents.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a member of NJ Keep It Green, a group of local and regional organizations at the forefront of efforts to secure a funding source for the Garden State Preservation Trust, as well as for stewardship of preserved lands, including state parks, forests and Wildlife Management Areas.
Now is the time for Governor Christie and our legislative leaders to adopt a long-term, dedicated funding source for open space, farmland and historic preservation. This will allow New Jersey to continue the tremendous work of preserving our landscapes and the animals and plants that depend on them, protecting our drinking water, preserving the farmland that produces our food, and retaining and restoring our historic treasures.
WE NEED YOUR HELP!
Please click here to add your name to the list of supporters for ongoing preservation funding in New Jersey.
Call your legislators and urge them to renew the Garden State Preservation Trust funding this year. To find your legislators, click here >>
Learn more about the effort to secure a permanent funding source for the GSPT>>
Learn more about the Garden State Preservation Trust>>
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|Address Climate Change and Energy Policy
The rapidly growing focus on energy and climate change at the state and national levels creates both challenges and opportunities for land conservation. We are encountering threats to preserved land posed by global warming, as well as proposals to divert preserved land for alternative energy development.
At the same time, we are defending land from threats posed by transmission lines and pipelines, and trying to protect our water resources from natural gas drilling. On the positive side, our work on forest protection and restoration presents an opportunity to promote carbon sequestration.
In recognition of the enormous role energy conservation can play in decreasing energy use, we advocate for a much greater focus on conservation and efficiency in the state's energy master plan.
Read about how "Saving Energy Saves Land" >>
"Energy Efficiency and Economic Opportunity" >>
-American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
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|Advance and Defend Environmentally Sound Regional Plans
New Jersey has a strong history of adopting comprehensive regional plans. Regional planning that incorporates environmental protection is critical to protecting the land and water supplies on which we depend. Other important benefits of such planning includes stabilizing local property taxes, retaining the character of rural areas and established communities, and generally promoting growth in places where it is less environmentally damaging and more cost-effective to build, because of the presence of existing infrastructure like roads, sewers and public water systems.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation has been integrally involved in the passage of many landmark New Jersey regional planning laws, including the Pinelands Protection Act, the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park law, and the State Planning Act. Constant vigilance is required to ensure these laws and their regional plans aren't weakened over time.
New State Strategic Plan in Developing Stages
Governor Christie proposed a new "State Strategic Plan" for economic growth in 2011, with the aim of replacing our current 2001 state plan. New Jersey has had some sort of statewide land use plan since the 1930s. The most recent plan, the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, was adopted in 1992, updated in 2001, with further modifications developed in a collaborative process known as “cross-acceptance” between the state, counties and municipalities, which ended in 2006. However, the results were never finalized by a vote of the State Planning Commission.
An important planning goal for our state, the most densely populated in the USA, has been to limit sprawl development that destroys farmland, forests and wildlife habitat, and to use resources more efficiently. The 2001 Plan also wisely promoted the reuse and redevelopment of our urban centers, cities and towns; and the coordination of planning between local, county and state government.
Our State Plan should provide a predictable, unifying and comprehensive vision for New Jersey. This new strategic plan does not. It does not protect the environment or manage development, as required by the State Planning Act. Although the new "state strategic plan" contains some laudable goals and mentions smart growth and sustainability, it is unacceptably short on specifics. It is oversimplified at 40 pages, lacking the detail in the comprehensive 2001 document. It does not contain a statewide policy map to indicate where development should and should not occur, which has been an essential feature of the current Plan that provides guidance to all interests. Environmental protection, water supply and septic capacity issues do not receive adequate attention.
Seven public hearings were held on the strategic plan, at which environmental organizations (and the Tea Party) voiced concerns. The comment period is over and the document is currently undergoing revision. The Strategic Plan is not ready for adoption until there is a map showing, at a minimum, natural resources that will not be disturbed and where infrastructure capacity exists to support sustainable future growth.
Read more about the new strategic plan in Michele Byers' column, "The State We're In" >>
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Help Protect the Highlands
The Highlands are part of the great sweep of the Appalachian Mountains that shadows the East Coast from Maine to Georgia. The Highlands Region extends from southeastern Pennsylvania through northwest New Jersey into New York and Connecticut. With forested ridges, pastoral farmland, and pure streams, lakes and reservoirs, the Highlands form a greenbelt surrounding the most populous metropolitan area in the US. The Highlands provide an essential source of drinking water, clean air, critical wildlife habitat, historic resources, recreational opportunities and scenic beauty for both its residents and the millions of people who live within an hour’s travel.
About the New Jersey Highlands Act
New Jersey’s 2004 Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act passed by overwhelming majorities in the State legislature after two decades of focused citizen and governmental efforts to protect the New Jersey Highlands Region. The 860,000 acre Highlands, with only 17 percent of the land in the State, provides drinking water to 5.4 million – nearly two-thirds – of the State’s residents, who live in fifteen counties in northern central and southern New Jersey. If you are either a Highlands water-drinker or a Highlands resident, there is good reason for you to become involved in the region’s protection.
If you are either a Highlands water-drinker or a Highlands resident, there is good reason for you to become involved in the region’s protection.The New Jersey Highlands Coalition has an outreach program directed to Highlands water-receiving areas outside the region. To find out more visit the Highlands Coalition website.
The Highlands Act affects 88 municipalities in parts of seven counties: Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren. The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council (Highlands Council) and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are both charged with implementing the Act. The DEP has rule-making authority over the Preservation Area, about half the region, much of which is preserved state and county lands. The Highlands Council completed the required Regional Master Plan (RMP) for the 88 municipalities in 2008.
Highlands Plan Conformance
Conformance with the Plan is mandatory for the Preservation Area, but voluntary for the Planning Area. Since the Plan is based on scientific assessments of available water supply and septic capability in each watershed, its build out scenario, along with required environmental ordinances, offers a blueprint for sustainable, capacity-based development for all Highlands municipalities in both the Preservation and Planning Areas. Implementation is achieved through municipal conformance with the Plan, which benefits substantially from the involvement and support of local residents.
As of December 2012, 43 municipalities and two counties (Passaic and Somerset) have had their Plan Conformance Petitions approved by the Highlands Council. Of the 88 Highlands municipalities, 60 have submitted Plan Conformance Petitions. Nearly all that have not taken action are located entirely in the Planning Area. Clearly, these municipalities need encouragement to take advantage of the sustainability offered by the Regional Master Plan! You can check the status of specific municipalities on the Highlands Council website - www.highlands.state.nj.us.
The Highlands Council meets monthly on Thursday afternoons at 4:00 pm, at the Council headquarters at 100 North Road (Route 513) north of Chester in Morris County. New Jersey Conservation Foundation regularly monitors and comments at these meetings.
You can help move Plan Conformance along! The New Jersey Highlands Coalition, of which NJCF is a founding member, has a Highlands Advocate Program that you can join to take action. Please visit the New Jersey Highlands Coalition website to find out more.
Politics Trumps Water
New Jersey Conservation Foundation is working to defend the Highlands from efforts by the Christie Administration to weaken the Highlands’ protections.
Damaging steps already taken include the appointment of anti-conservation individuals to the Highlands Council. At the Council, the progress of plan conformance by municipalities has slowed. The process of meeting the commitments for conformance, including the submission of planning area petitions, and the completion of Environmental Resource Inventories, the “checklist” ordinance and the Highlands land use ordinance have lagged. Until the checklist and/or the land use ordinance are passed by the municipality, there is no real change in municipal land use.
Environmentalists are concerned about potential weakening of the Regional Master Plan during an upcoming review process. Also, it is feared that strongly protective DEP Highlands rules may be revised. Without gubernatorial leadership committed to Highlands protection, New Jersey faces the serious risk of damage to the watersheds that represent the State’s primary source of drinking water.
Finally, 2012 Permit Extension Act Amendments reactivated 19 expired State Planning Commission Center designations in the Highlands region. These centers were designated before the Highlands Regional Master Plan was created and may not comply with the Plan. They could facilitate undesirable impacts on the Highlands.
The Highlands Council meets monthly at 5 p.m. on Thursdays at the Council headquarters at 100 North Road (Route 513) north of Chester Borough in Morris County. New Jersey Conservation Foundation regularly monitors and comments at these meetings.
We also periodically post action alerts on Highlands issues, so please sign up for our email alerts and stay tuned!
Read statement by former Governors about the importance of protecting Highlands, Pinelands >>
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