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A Renewed Effort



An at-risk savannah in Wharton State Forest

The NJ DEP has begun to implement a few changes to their enforcement tactics to address off-road vehicle destruction in Wharton State Forest. These new changes include a small increase in fines $250 to $900 if vehicle impoundment is required and designating officers specifically to Wharton State Forest instead of being assigned regionally. However, there has been no increase of officers on patrol at any given time, which implies that officers still will be unable to effectively cover the hundreds of miles of roads left open by the DEP. Signs will be posted to inform the public of illegal nature of off-roading at roughly half of the entrance points of the state forest (sixty-four), preventing the ignorance defense when ticketed persons stand before a judge. Although these changes are small, they are important and will eventually contribute to the solution once a substantive travel management plan is enacted.


Park Police respond to a vehicle stuck at 10 degrees on a wetlands rd off of rt. 206.

The individuals who engage in illegal off-roading are experienced law-breakers. Many of them have been eluding the police for years on ATVs, dirt bikes, and modified Jeeps and trucks. They fully understand the limits of Park Police and they are happy to continue the cat and mouse game with only the slight risk of a fine. These individuals spend many thousands of dollars per year on vehicle upgrades, transportation, and equipment and the minuscule risk of a $250 ticket is not a deterrent to dedicated ORV riders. Instead of a “fine”, the off-roaders simply view this as an entrance fee that they may never have to pay. To elude enforcement, they will simply travel into heavily damaged areas where Park Police vehicles are not able to go.  Once in those areas, they are completely free from any chance of being discovered or penalized.

One popular idea often floated at meetings is the use of hidden cameras to capture license plates of offenders, but this idea is filled with flaws. Much of this damage is committed at night, where cameras are completely ineffective at capturing license plates or other details. Cameras are a known monitoring tool and are actively searched for and often removed by these individuals. In effect, the use of hidden cameras has created a veritable Easter-Egg hunt with the prize of an expensive camera for lawbreakers. Additionally, the cameras do not have a telephoto lens and are completely immobile. Even in the daylight, a license plate may be completely illegible for a variety of technical reasons combined with the distance these cameras need to be from the monitored site to go undiscovered.

The bottom line is that we need a map and plan that makes it crystal clear to anyone traveling in a truck, jeep or car or on a motorcycle where they can and cannot travel in order to prevent the destruction of critical habitat and harm to rare and endangered plants and animals. It is also essential so that there is no doubt for law enforcement officers or courts when ticketing and prosecuting law breakers. The DEP’s enforcement rearrangement will be a help to such a plan as effective patrols are needed for its success. Volunteers will also be critical as many of these areas must be monitored beyond what law enforcement is capable of to ensure that law-breakers have not broken through into sensitive areas.

This is good news overall. We are on the verge of a great success of land management for the Pinelands National Reserve due to the renewed effort by the citizens of this region and their demands for the protection of the land we all hold so dear. Through tremendous effort and sacrifice, you have written your legislators, you have spoken at contentious meetings, and many of you have even marched on Trenton in the pouring rain. This is the type of commitment that will make a difference and we are proud to be working alongside you towards the preservation and recognition of the Pinelands.

7 responses to “A Renewed Effort”

  1. Fred a rider of the pines says:

    I have been hunting and riding in the pines since 1984 and yes there are many areas that have been destroyed by off road vehicles this problem will not be fixed by fines. It will only put some wasted money in NJ pocket. The way to fix this is to have an area where people can ride the trails legal there is plenty of room for everyone. There was a small off road park in Chatsworth that was leased from the state that is now gone. FYI I ride completely legal. But if I want take my child I have to go to other states that allow this and also make money doing it. We in NJ are over regulated over taxed that is why everyone is leaving this state take a look at BAHA Cal. they do it there.

  2. Hilary Persky says:

    Good news overall. Noted video removed. Curious as to why.

  3. ANDY says:

    NJ needs to get serious about this problem!
    Go to WAWA in Whiting on a the weekend and witness the ATV’s, Dirt Bikes, & modified PU Trucks many with PA tags.
    Violators should face:
    1) Impound vehicle
    2) Mandatory court appearance
    3) Forfeiture of unlicensed vehicle
    4) $1,000 fine for unlicensed vehicle
    5) $2,000 fine for licensed vehicle
    6) Motor vehicle points whether or not licensed
    A few well publicized convictions with loss of vehicle and or heavy fines would likely bring this Off-Road insanity to an end.

  4. Well put. The word map is taboo in the DEP right now but with enough pressure from all sides I think they will have to think differently. The real key is to stop issuing motorized sports events permits. It has created a culture that believes this is all Wharton, and other Pinelands public lands, are good for and used for. Also, I think the word Barrens, in the term Pine Barrens, has created they idea that this land is barren. There is no understanding that this land is a world recognized ecosystem. Look at all the trash dumping and off-road vehicle abuse that goes on there with abandon. I have had many responses to my blog say just that “the place is barren (although many times they spell it baron) anyway, who cares”.Do people go to Valley Forge, Smokey Mountain National Park and many of the other preserved lands and trash them, no because they respect them.
    I have suggested to the DEP that if they want to continue to issue use permits for these activities then perhaps they could rotate areas, say through Stokes SF, High Point SF, Round Valley Rec. Area, etc. That way each area could recover the best it can before the next invasion.

  5. Fred Akers says:

    Nice piece Jason, thanks for writing it. I think it is especially important to recognize that “the individuals who engage in illegal off-roading are experienced law-breakers”. Breaking the law is part of the “thrill” involved in using a motor vehicle to destroy nature, and most of these thrill craft operators are very proud of their illegal and destructive action. Governor Christie and his minions in NJDEP are also experienced law-breakers, where they disregard existing administrative laws under N.J.A.C. that require them to protect the environment and only pretend to do their job under the law. Christie and his lackeys believe that rules and regulations to protect the natural environment are nothing but red tape that interferes with humans making money and having fun. So rather than spoiling peoples thrill of trashing public lands with their motor vehicles, NJDEP is going to continue pretending to protect it, just like before the MAP.

  6. Patricia Buchhofer says:

    This is great overall. Finally protection for our beautiful land that was passed on to us to protect and grow for all upcoming generations!

  7. Patricia Buchhofer says:

    This is great news! There is over million acres at stake. All over the world nature is protected and efforts are put in place to protect our precious environment. We deserve the same respect and caring as all the beautiful lands all over the world have. I live on this land and so have my Native American ancestors, and it is our duty to pass the land on in the most pristine nature we can…this is a living thing that may die if not taken care of and I can’t think of a greater natural loss.

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