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24.04.2014 admin
SPARTA TOWNSHIP, New Jersey—On a recent early summer morning, the chirps and trills of songbirds filled the air as our group of around two dozen walked down a dirt access road into a forest in northern New Jersey.
We were on a walk into the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area, a 3,461-acre state-owned nature preserve about 50 miles northwest of Manhattan and about 30 miles due east of the Delaware River and the Pennsylvania border.
Although it’s a relatively small chunk of New Jersey’s roughly 740,000 acres of publicly owned forestland, Sparta Mountain is also at the center of a controversial management proposal, prepared by New Jersey Audubon for the state Department of Environmental Protection, that would allow up to 10 percent of the preserve’s forest to be cut over the next 10 years by state-contracted loggers. The plan is roiling the state’s environmentalists—and it reflects a larger debate in the Northeast about how to manage the region’s resurgent forests, which have regrown in the past century to cover the greatest area seen since colonial times.
The proposed plan would allow for “selective thinning in areas where there are trees of predominantly the same age class,” said Robert Geist, communications coordinator with the NJDEP’s Division of Natural and Historic Resources.
Opponents of the plan argue that New Jersey cannot afford to lose any of its mature forest. Opponents also worry that the plan is a veiled effort to bring commercial logging to New Jersey’s forests. It’s unclear at this stage whether the state would pay contractors to do the work or expect them to generate revenue from selling the wood they cut on Sparta Mountain. That position is echoed by John Cecil, vice president for stewardship at New Jersey Audubon and a leader of our June morning hike, along with colleague Donald Donnelly, a stewardship project director-forester with New Jersey Audubon.
But many of the people who have turned out for the walk—community members concerned that the plan will harm the forest, regional water quality, and local wildlife—look unconvinced. Sharon Wander of Newton, who with her husband, Wade, has worked for decades as an environmental consultant in the state, is one of these skeptics. Wander is also concerned that the plan does not offer the sorts of documentation and protections of streams, wetlands, or vernal pools that would be required in a commercial development project, or firm plans for monitoring them. She also believes that creating big gaps in the forest could lead to big problems with invasive species. The proposal notes the presence of about 50 rare or endangered plants in the Sparta Mountain preserve that the proposed cuts would have to work around or promote, as well as 41 species of vulnerable wildlife. In the bird’s eastern United States range, “we have a lot of early successional forest that has grown up into mature forest because of current land use practices and the way we manage our forests,” Rohrbaugh said.
In the preserve, Donnelly and Cecil bring the group to a brushy thicket of bushes and saplings that barely hit the five-foot-tall mark.
Three years later, the growth is “still a little young for pure golden-winged warblers,” Donnelly said, which like their forests in the five- to six-year range, apparently.


Although there is a stream and a wetland downslope of this cut, Donnelly and Cecil say there have been no signs of erosion or sediment loading since the cut. There were around 100 breeding pairs of golden-winged warblers in New Jersey in the 1990s, said Cecil. While they are still waiting for a firm sign that the cut is attracting golden-winged warblers, Sharon Petzinger, a senior zoologist and a 15-year veteran with the DEP, tells the group that since 2014, she’s seen a jump in the diversity of avian species in the area. The leaves formed a dense green canopy high above our heads, filtering out most of the warm sun.
The preserve is nestled amid a dozen or more preserves and parks running across the state’s northern mountains, in a region called the New Jersey Highlands. While some plots would have trees selectively removed, others would be clear-cut to create multi-acre thickets of young trees surrounded by older forest. Advocates say that cuts are necessary because the forest, which is composed of evenly aged trees ranging from 65 to 100 years old, lacks the habitats needed by diverse wildlife species, including the birds and bats that everyone agrees are on the decline. Neither rule out a logging contractor making some money off the trees they would cut under the management proposal, although they too refute that the results would amount to creating a commercial logging industry in New Jersey.
The one that has come up most often among both defenders and detractors of the plan is the golden-winged warbler, a songbird that summers and breeds in North American forests and winters in Central America and northern Colombia. It’s the site of a 13-acre clear-cut that the state made in consultation with Audubon during the winter of 2013.
But blue-winged warblers and blue-golden hybrids have been sighted in the thicket, and he seems pleased with the diverse array of trees growing in.
We’ve seen nonnative mugwort plants along the dirt road, but Donnelly said that invasive plants are far from problematic in the cut, making up less than 5 percent of the regrowth.
Now there are about 25 pairs, and half of them are using the rights-of-way under power lines for nesting—vulnerable areas because utility companies are legally required to keep undergrowth no higher than three feet. She has recorded 28 bird species—including gray catbirds, prairie warblers, towhees, scarlet tanagers, buntings, field sparrows, and indigo buntings—compared with 14 to 16 in the interior forest and around 20 in typical Sparta Mountain wetland.
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This lofty 100-year-old forest is in the heart of a swath of unbroken, mature forestland that is rare in America’s most densely populated state, all of it sitting above an aquifer that provides drinking water for 6 million residents.


The even ages of the trees also make them vulnerable to a catastrophe such as parasites or extreme weather. All of the equipment fits into a water and weather resistant hard shelled dry box manufactured in an ammunition case style, and lockable. The location of this cut, near a power line right-of-way where golden-winged warblers have been known to nest, makes him and his colleagues optimistic that the species will move in. The dry box is triple latched for security, with a tongue and groove O-ring design, and contains a built-in compass and reflective bottom for use as a signaling device. The components of the kit address the fundamentals of survival: shelter, water collection and purification, first aid and traumatic bleeding treatment, signaling, and fire starting. So, if you are traveling in remote areas in your car, truck, or RV and want to be prepared for just about anything, this is your kit. You can hear the JetScream amazing 122Db ear-piercing shriek above most natural or man-made noises.
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