VP of Stewardship for NJ Audubon Society Talks Plans to Preserve Sparta Mountain Forest

The best plan to preserve Sparta Mountain Forest? It depends on who you ask. One of the most unlikely battles is brewing between the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club and six other national environmental conservation groups including the Audubon Society. Its Vice President of Stewardship is John Cecil. He spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.

Williams: Thank you for being here.

Cecil: Thank you for having me.

Williams: Your Sparta Mountain Forest Stewardship Plan purposes clearing 20 arcs of forest every year. Why?

Cecil: We have a problem in New Jersey and through out the Northeast. The forest is mature to a point that it doesn’t provide the habitat that so many of our wildlife, our birds, our salamanders, our turtles need. Because of that we have to create the habitat that they would otherwise have available to them.

Williams: It used to be a rule that you leave the forest alone. It has natural fires that burn old growth and promote new growth.

Cecil: Right. Actually we have suppressed fire quite a bit. We’ve fragmented the land, we have little patches of habitat that we have done a great job preserving but we haven’t taken care of those patches of habitat. So, now we have developed a plan that would deliberately manage the forest over the next 10 years, do it very thoughtfully and create the habitat that so many rare, threatened and endangered species are requiring and that’s why they are disappearing.

Williams: The Sierra Club says this is tantamount to logging, something the state stands to make money on.

Cecil: Right. There’s very little money to be made off of the logging. It’s really about creating the habitat, bringing back the birds, bringing back the turtle. The mission of the New Jersey Audubon is to restore the environment, to educate people about the environment. So, we see this as a real opportunity to protect and conserve.

Williams: How does it protect and conserve? The Serra Club says it harms the rivers, the forest, everything.

Cecil: Right. We actually have very deliberate and thoughtful processes that the plan goes through in terms of reviews with the DEP, reviews with the third party auditing of the Forest Stewardship Council. We’ve ensured that the forest activities don’t impact the waters, the streams and the lakes and creeks in the area of Sparta Mountain.

Williams: What’s the next step in this process?

Cecil: Right now the plan is out for public comment. It’s available until the 31st for folks to download on the DEP’s website and take a look at. We’re interested in everybody’s comments. They can take a look at the plan and consider the issues that it presents. And hopefully provide some helpful comments back so we can look to help improve the plan. We think the plan is a great plan in terms of improving the habitat at Sparta Mountain. It’s going through an exhaustive review internally with the DEP. We’ve had a lot of partners look at the plan. This really is an issue that the Northeast faces. Other agencies in New York, Pennsylvanian and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are doing things to address this loss of habitat and we in New Jersey need to catch up and be part of the solution.

Williams: When we’re talking about losing habitat, we’re talking about losing species right? What other than the golden winged warbler?

Cecil: Right. So we have the golden winged warbler and that bird is a symbol of so many other species that are young forest dependent — prairie warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, even interior forest birds. New research is showing they come into these young forest patches with their young birds and find food to eat caterpillars and insects. So, all of that is a resource that those birds would depend upon. Also turtles, federally threatened bog turtle, bats, the endangered Indianan bat. All of those species will benefit from the activities that are represented in the Forest Stewardship Plan.

Williams: What are the odds the plan pleases everyone?

Cecil: That’s hard. It’s very difficult to please everyone. But we’ve done it in a very thoughtful way. We’ve done it with a lot of review and oversight. It adheres to all the laws, rules and regulations that the state has. The projects will be implemented according to the set of best practices. So we think this is the right thing to do at the right time and was really necessary for New Jersey to ensure that we have birds and wildlife for my children, my grandchildren, your children to see. For everybody in this state to enjoy.

Williams: OK. John Cecil, thank you.

Cecil: Thank you so much.