As part of efforts to make New Jersey more resilient to climate change, the Department of Environmental Protection is to restore 10,000 acres of threatened Atlantic white cedar forests in the Pinelands. The forests have been adversely affected by climate change: Sea-level rise and storm surges have brought saltwater into their fragile freshwater ecosystems, leaving so-called ghost forests, acres of dead trees where thriving Atlantic white cedars once stood. Also contributing to their decline were logging, ditching, draining of wetlands, deer browsing and dam-building by a rebounding beaver population.
“This is the largest forest restoration project ever undertaken in New Jersey and the largest ever in the nation restoring Atlantic white cedars,” DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said. The restoration will take place on state-owned forests, parks, and Wildlife Management Areas.
An estimated 500,000 acres of Atlantic white cedar forests once stretched from Maine to northern Florida and along parts of the Gulf of Mexico coast; fewer than 125,000 acres remain nationally. New Jersey’s share of the original forests — an estimated 115,000 acres — was predominantly in the Pinelands but also in the Meadowlands and the Delaware Bay and Raritan Bay regions. Today, New Jersey has less than 25,000 acres of Atlantic white cedar stands.
As well as collecting atmospheric carbon and storing it in the trees and in the organic peat soil, these forests provide unique habitat and are critical in maintaining the excellent water quality of the Pinelands. The first phase of restoration is expected to begin in the latter part of 2022 and focus on 2,000 acres in Wharton State Forest.