Forestry work to begin at Sparta Mountain after Thanksgiving Project was delayed in March pending a review from the new commissioner
Graphic courtesy of NJDEP
Forestry work is scheduled to begin the week after Thanksgiving on a 17-acre section of the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area near Tamarack Lake in Hardyston Township.
BY ERIKA NORTON HARDYSTON — After a nearly eight-month delay, forestry work is scheduled to begin the week after Thanksgiving on a 17-acre section of the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area near Tamarack Lake in Hardyston Township. According to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), work will begin on or about Nov. 27, weather permitting. The work should take about two weeks to complete. All cutting will cease from Dec. 3 to Dec. 8, 2018 and again before April 1, 2019. The goal of the cutting is to accelerate the development of old-growth forest characteristics through a process known as “gap-phase replacement,” according to the DEP. Through the creation of small canopy gaps and growth of younger, shade-tolerant trees, this area will contain three or more age classes at any given time. About 25 percent of the existing tree density will be cut or girdled (left as a standing dead tree) with chainsaws or hatchets. No heavy machinery or chemicals will be used, the DEP said in its update, and none of the cut trees will be removed or sold. This work is part of the larger Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area Forest Management Plan, approved in March 2017 after more than two years of controversy, including a series of contentious public hearings and extended public comment periods. Forestry activities at two different sites on wildlife management area were set to begin in February and end in April, but Acting Commissioner Catherine McCabe pressed pause on the project to review the effort before it proceeded any further. The entire management area consists of nearly 3,500 acres of the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area within the townships of Sparta, Ogdensburg, and Hardyston in Sussex County and Jefferson Township in Morris County. Over the 10-year plan, 630 acres are expected to see some type of cutting: 322 acres will be managed to accelerate old-growth characteristics (single-tree selection cutting), 100 acres will see shelterwood cutting and 208 acres will be managed for young forest characteristics (modified tree seed cutting). Response from oppositionThe New Jersey Sierra Club, a strong opponent of the plan from its proposal in December 2015, denounced the plan. “Last spring when the DEP put the plan on hold, it was a step in the right direction,” Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club Jeff Tittel said in a statement. "Now it's back! The DEP delayed the plan to diffuse public opposition and went forward with it anyway.” “This phase sounds better than what the department has been doing in terms of not using pesticides and removing older trees however it doesn’t mean they can do that in another phase. This means parts of Sparta Mountain Wildlife Area is at risk for logging. If the DEP really wanted to do a proper management plan, they should do smaller cuts rather than 17 acres in one cut,” Tittel said. “By cutting, they will change the soil and disrupt the habitats in the area. The department is releasing publicity on a better phase while they can still move forward on their destructive plan later on to clear cut in Sparta Mountain WM.” Tittel also criticized the DEP’s claim that the forestry plan will provide breeding and foraging habitat for more than 60 different bird species, including the endangered Golden-winged Warbler. “This plan is a clear cut violation of the reason we passed the Highlands Act which protects canopy forest,” he said. “The DEP is violating that by using the Golden Warbler habitat as a rationalization to clear-cut an environmentally sensitive forest in the Highlands. There are 75 different species of neo-tropical song birds that would be impacted by logging on Sparta Mountain plan, in addition to harming threatened and endangered Bat species. “This plan does not have any rules or enforcement in place for commercial loggers. That means there is no penalty if they clear cut important forest canopy, clear cut, run skidders through streams and do a lot of damage because there is no mechanism for enforcement.”