Conservation groups and NJ DFW at loggerheads over Sparta Mountain

Sparta. As the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife announces plans to begin logging the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area on Feb. 17, local and state conservation groups push back and issue a call to action.

| 04 Feb 2020 | 10:43

When it comes to logging on Sparta Mountain, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) can’t see the forest through the trees, according to local and state conservation groups.

Logging activities in the area known as Stand 8 of the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area will begin on Feb. 17, the division said.

According to the DFW, the aim of the renewed logging is to restore the young oak-hickory forest, which requires opening the forest canopy to allow for the growth of a variety of species, including young oak and hickory trees, blackberries, sedges and a variety of other shrubs and saplings.

Opening the canopy will also create breeding and foraging habitat for more than 60 different bird species, including the endangered Golden-winged Warbler, the division said.

All logging activities will cease prior to April 1 but may resume after Nov. 15, and approximately 9.1 acres will be treated, according to the division.

While the DFW said it will continue to work with project stakeholders, the division’s plans have been met with criticism from local and state conservation groups.

In a post to the group’s Facebook page, Friends of Sparta Mountain associated with NJ Forest Watch said DFW is not meeting it halfway.

“Our group and the NJ Highlands Coalition Natural Heritage Committee have been trying to work with our NJDEP Div of Fish & Wildlife in not using heavy equipment AT ALL and only girdling trees -they denied these recommendations and hence we are not supporting the deforestation and removal of timber that the current plan calls for,” the group said.

New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said the logging will have a major impact on the state’s waterways.

“The forests in the Highlands act as natural filters and sponges, and the canopy protects the clean drinking water for 6 million people,” he said. “Opening up this forest to logging will cause more stormwater runoff, more silt and pollution in our waterways and will release more carbon. Bringing heavy equipment into the forest will result in soil impaction and will change the ecology of the forest.”

The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act was signed into law in 2004 to preserve open space and protect the state's water supply.

According to the Sierra Club, the forest helps break down rain drops so the waters can soak into the region’s soft soils. This helps recharge the Highlands aquifers and, without the forest, the groundwater supply will be depleted, the conservation group said.

“These lands were purchased to protect our water supply and contiguous forest,” Tittel said. “With this plan, they want to turn the Highlands into the Stumplands.”

Friends of Sparta Mountain called on its members to contact Gov. Phil Murphy, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe and NJ DEP Assistant Commissioner Ray Bukowski to voice opposition for the upcoming project.

The DFW is an agency within the NJ DEP.

With this plan, they want to turn the Highlands into the Stumplands.”
- New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel