Balancing Use and Protection of Public Lands
The Pinelands Preservation Alliance supports and promotes the use of our state forests, parks, and fish and wildlife lands if done so in a responsible manner. We also advocate for the preservation of lands specifically for wildlife and untouched by human disturbance. Maintaining a balance between the two is always difficult, and we don’t claim to have all the answers. What we hope to do is have an honest and open dialogue among public agencies, private entities and individuals so that we can reach a common ground.
This blog is our way of having this dialogue on a weekly basis. We will share stories of problems, highlight successes, promote opportunities and ask that those who follow this blog do the same. The end of 2015 highlighted the need for a continued dialogue about the balance between preservation and recreation. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) plays a major role in this effort and has taken action to reduce the impact of off-road recreation in some wildlife management areas.
Wildlife Management Areas Off Limits for Enduros
The DEP recently concluded that motorized recreation is not in keeping with the mission of Wildlife Management Areas, which is to protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat, while providing a variety of compatible recreational and educational opportunities. Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and Peaslee WMA are threatened by invasive plants like Phragmites Australis, off-road vehicle activity, and encroaching development according to public officials and a report from New Jersey Audubon Society. DEP has told organizers for an enduro (dirt-bike competition) event that goes through Peaslee and Tuckahoe WMA that they can no longer use Fish and Wildlife property.
Read an article that appeared about this issue in the Press of Atlantic City on December 30, 2015, The economy of off-roading by Michelle Brunetti-Post.
Tuckahoe WMA has hiking trails and an 8-mile vehicle and multi-use trail open all year to visitors that traverses salt marsh and ends in the Pine/Oak Uplands. It is an ideal bird-watching location. If you visit, watch for an ebbing tide, as elusive species like the Virginia Rail come out of hiding to search for food brought in to the intertidal zone by the high tide. In Peaslee, the early summer migration brings neotropical song birds such as warblers, tanagers, and vireos. There is a 7-mile vehicle loop and extended hiking trails throughout. Canoeing or kayaking on the lower Tuckahoe River presents some challenges to a paddler in terms of obstacles but offers many rewards in botanical and wildlife viewing opportunities. These areas deserve protection.
You can learn more about New Jersey’s Wildlife Management Areas on their website.
Motorized recreation severely degrades the experience for other users because of the noise, disturbance to wildlife, and inherent danger. Speed is often a large part of the problem. It is hard to appreciate a Pink-Lady Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium Acaule) at fifty miles an hour, much less to stop in time to spare the Northern pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus) that came out of hibernation to warm itself on a sandy trail. A visitor who was walking would have a chance to appreciate these natural wonders and makes little impact on the species they find. In addition to the possibility of direct mortality, Northern pine snakes suffer from lower reproductive outcomes when their hibernaculum is located near an ORV path. Closing the path to motor vehicles has been shown to restore reproductive success. (Burger, Zappalorti, Gochfield, DeVito. 2007)
Motorized recreationalists often express a preference for enforcement over management, but there cannot be a ranger at every pond and critical habitat location to protect it from irresponsible riders. It takes only minutes for an unscrupulous driver to turn millions of years of evolution into a lifeless mud-pit. These machines amplify the destructive ability of those that wield them and their use must be strictly controlled. Our state Wildlife Management Areas were preserved in order to protect habitat for fish and wildlife, we should never let them be used as a motor sports arena. We have to remember that we are part of a community, not the masters of it. We have to conduct ourselves as good neighbors to our environment and work hard to keep it protected.
Burger, J, RT Zappalorti, M Gochfeld and E DeVito. 2007. Effects of Off-road Vehicles on Reproduction Success of Pine Snakes (Pituophis melanoleucus) in the New Jersey Pinelands. Urban Ecosystems. Springer Science. 10:275-284.