DEP commissioner presses pause on Sparta Mountain plan
Work was scheduled until April

Ryker's Lake on Sparta Mountain photo by Madhuri Mure

SPARTA — The state Department of Environmental Protection announced last week that the Sparta Mountain forest management plan has been halted pending a review from the new commissioner.
Forestry activities at two different sites on the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area were set to begin in February and end in April, but new Acting Commissioner Catherine McCabe wants to review the project before it proceeds any further.
“We’re going through a change of administrations,” said NJDEP Spokesperson Larry Hajna. “We have a new acting commissioner and so she is getting up to speed on various issues across the state and this is one that she wants to review. So we’ve decided just to hit the pause button and allow her to review the plan and then we’ll take it from there.”
Work was to end in April because between April and November, wildlife would be actively using the areas where the stewardship activities would be taking place.
The state announced earlier this year that the two areas within the Sparta Mountain area slated first for work were 18.5 acres in Stand 18 and 17 acres in Stand 33, both in Hardyston Township.
Stand 18 area was planned to be managed to restore young oak-hickory forest — habitat the DEP says is currently underrepresented within the region and needed for more than 60 different bird species, including the endangered Golden-winged Warbler. Stand 33 was planned to be managed to accelerate the development of old growth forest to diversify the forest.
Until the review is completed, Hajna said they won’t know how this hiatus will affect the timeline of the entire plan, which covers the 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 is 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).
The plan received final approval in mid-March 2017.
Response from oppositionThe New Jersey Sierra Club, a strong opponent of the plan from it’s proposal in December 2015, released a statement celebrating the news of the pause.
“This halting of the plan is important because our forests were bought for all of us to protect the environment, preserve habitat for important wildlife species, and safeguard clean water,” New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel. “There are plans currently to log Sparta Mountain that will actually clear-cut the forest under the disguise of creating habitat for one species.
“The DEP needs to stop the open season to clear-cut our forests for private profit,” he continued. “It is a good sign the DEP halted the plan because it is a horrible sell-out to our open space for private logging. We must continue the public outcry against this plan and tell DEP these lands belong to all of us, not commercial loggers.”