Why Are Communities, Organizations, and Towns Opposed to This Logging Plan?

For an introduction to why communities, organizations and towns are opposed to this plan, please click here to read this statement prepared by Sue Dorward, resident of Beaver Lake.

Why is Sparta Mountain WMA Special?

Sparta Mountain is located in the NY/NJ/PA/Conn Highlands.  In 2004, President Bush signed the Highlands Conservation Act “to recognize the importance of the water, forest, agricultural, wildlife, recreational, and cultural resources of the Highlands region, and the national significance of the Highlands region to the United States.” Its forest provides water catchment and purification services for Rockaway and Wallkill River Valley.  The U.S. Forest Service identifies Sparta Mountain as a  priority conservation focal area – one of only eleven areas within the Highlands that received such designation.  The “closed canopy” provides a habitat for over 120 endangered or threatened plant and animal species and is a key component of the “Skyland’s Greenway” for neo-tropical birds   The Natural Heritage Program recognizes five “Priority Sites for Biodiversity” located within or adjacent to the Sparta Mountain WMA.   Within its boundaries lie the Historic Edison Mines, vernal pools, C1 trout streams, warm water fisheries, scenic vistas, and homes of many lake community residents.  For more detailed see comments submitted by the NJ Highlands Coalition and the Endangered Species Coalition.

What is the purpose of a forest management plan?

A forest management plan describes your property, identifies your goals, and defines a path to meet those goals. The plan can focus on conservation or economic objectives or a combination of the two.  Forest management plans often incorporate recognized standards to support sustainable forest management practices that are environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable.  In the United States “Sustainable Forest Initiative” or “Forest Stewardship Council ” (FSC) standards are typically used.  The current forest stewardship plan used to use the FSC standard. The applications of standards require proper tailoring to achieve the objectives of the plan.  In the spring of 2017, the NJ DEP and NJ Audubon (not a chapter of National Audubon) stated that they no longer will be utilizing FSC compliance standards, instead they will abide by their own standards.

What are Forestry Best Management Practices?

“Forestry Best Management Practices (BMP) are a set of preventative measures that help control soil erosion resulting from human disturbance. These simple and inexpensive practices have become widely used as a means to divert surface water into undisturbed areas before it gains sufficient speed for large soil removal. Once diverted, the natural control mechanisms of an undisturbed forest floor work to stop rapid surface water flow, absorb it, and recapture any removed soil.” Prudent application of forestry BMPs is especially important for Sparta Mountain WMA, located within the NJ Highlands Water Protection Area.  For a discussion of impact of human disturbance resulting from the proposed plan see comments submitted by the NJ  Sierra Club.  (Note:  The proposed plan uses the New Jersey Forestry and Wetlands Best Management Manual that has not be updated since 1995. http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/forest/nj_bmp_manual1995.pdf)   

What is NJ DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife’s objective for Sparta Mountain WMA ?

The NJ DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife has partnered with the NJ Audubon Society to revise the existing Forest Stewardship Plan (FSP).   “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’.” (http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/spartamt_plan.htm) This goal embodies the Young Forest Initiative. For a more detailed description of the Young Forest Initiative, see NY Department of Environmental Conservation” Young Forest Initiative on Wildlife Management Areas” at http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/104218.html.

Also, there is a newly published peer view article (January 2023) discussing the downsides of creating  Early Successional Habitat. Please see below: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/ffgc.2022.1073677/full

The proposal describes equipment to be used and how timber will be extracted from the property.  Trees may be felled by hand using a chainsaw, or by mechanical shears and cutters. Skidders are the most common piece of equipment used on timber harvests in northern New Jersey. There are two types of skidders:  cable skidders and grappling skidders.  Timber harvesting methods planned are seed tree with reserves (leave a few trees), shelter wood (leave half the trees and come back and log those later), single tree selection (cut trees of all ages), and group tree selection (cut groups of trees).   The plan is to also use prescribed burning (in Stand 9) and chemical treatment when necessary.  In order to accommodate the tree harvest, existing access roads will be improved and new access roads constructed.  NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife provided no budgetary information; however, the approach is obviously capital intensive.  

What is the case for “No Action”?

“In reality, New Jersey’s forests originally grew by themselves, have regenerated by themselves since the peak of deforestation in the mid-19th century—to the point where they now support a diverse suite of forest-dwelling animals and plants—and will continue to grow perfectly well by themselves.”   http://www.wolfenotes.com/2016/02/nj-highlands-coalition-joins-public-debate-on-dep-sparta-mountain-logging-plan/

The proponents of this approach cite recent events reported exhibiting nature’s resilience.  “An interesting note is that pitch pine is found growing along this ridge top, providing what may be the only alternate conifer species to hemlock in the immediate area.” (Reference:  Sparta Mountain WMA FSP treatment prescription for Stand 24)  Bobcat and Bald Eagle have been spotted on Sparta Mountain with increasing frequency. The super-rare fisher of the Weasel family could be making return. (A resident from Beaver Lake reported that fishers have been seen on Sparta Mountain.)  These occurred with no human interference.  

On the other hand, forest management and development has had catastrophic results.  A 35 acre clear-cut near Beaver Lake was overtaken with invasive ferns which prevented proper tree and understory regrowth.  FSC Audits on New Jersey Audubon Society Forest Stewardship document erosion and environmental damage issues.

What is our recommendation?

We support the NJ Highlands Coalition’s  “closed canopy” recommendations consistent with Highlands policies:  “In conclusion, creating numerous large forest openings throughout Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area will cause far more ecological harm than good.  The WMA now is a landscape of priceless forests whose unbroken extent is fundamental to their health, resilience, value to native species, and landscape and state level importance. Instead of creating holes in these forests, the Plan should abandon these inappropriate commercial goals and instead continue stewardship actions that focus on protection from such incursions.”

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