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New Jersey Pinelands and Pine Barrens Overview

The Pinelands National Reserve is the largest forested area on the Eastern Seaboard between Maine and the Florida Everglades.


The Oswego River is one of the many beautiful rivers that meander through Pinelands forests on the way to coastal bays or the Delaware River. ©Albert Horner

The New Jersey Pine Barrens is the “ecological” term that describes the unique, beautiful and fascinating ecosystem and natural treasure that covers most of southern New Jersey. (See: New Jersey Pine Barrens vs. NJ Pinelands: What’s the Difference?)

The Pinelands is the legal or political term that describes the 1.1 million acres in south Jersey that is subject to the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan

The Pinelands Preservation Alliance advocates for Pinelands preservation before government agencies like the New Jersey Pinelands Commission and seeks to engage the public in raising their voices for the Pinelands.

We believe this effort will succeed if:

  1. The Pinelands’ large, contiguous forests survive because everything else – water, wildlife, botanical heritage, air, scenery and recreation – depends on saving these big connected forests.
  2. People use Pinelands water sustainably, meaning we enjoy its benefits without depleting these resources or harming natural habitats by draining streams and aquifers.
  3. Natural Pine Barrens water quality and soil chemistry are protected from contamination and alteration, so they will continue to sustain native communities of plants and wildlife.
  4. The habitats of native and rare species of wildlife and plants are preserved from development and other damage, so they sustain the species that thrive there.
  5. Historic and cultural resources that make the Pinelands distinctive are protected and enjoyed by the public, helping build interest in and loyalty to the Pinelands.
The Pine Barrens and the Pinelands

The “Pine Barrens” is the special ecosystem that is marked by acidic, low-nutrient water and soils – and all the species of plants and wildlife that are adapted to these challenging conditions.

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Today, as throughout our history, human beings depend on the health and vitality of the Pine Barrens’ ecosystems. Wander through the region’s forests and you will find a surprising variety of scenery, habitats and species in this island of biodiversity within the most crowded part of North America. You will find the largest surviving open space on the eastern seaboard between the northern forests of Maine and the Everglades of Florida. Ghost towns, historic sites and legends such as the Jersey Devil preserve the Pinelands’ unique culture, telling the many stories of how humans have used and depended on the natural world around them.

barrier construction wharton state forest mullica river pinelands preservation alliance

Land Protectors are volunteers who plant trees and shrubs, remove illegally dumped debris and install blockades to protect against off-road vehicle abuse.

The “Pinelands” is an area of 1.1 million acres designated for special growth management rules by the New Jersey Pinelands Protection Act of 1979 and the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. These laws constitute America’s foremost effort to control growth so that people and the rest of nature can live compatibly, preserving vast stretches of forest, rare species of plants and wildlife, and vulnerable freshwater aquifers.  The Pinelands encompasses most, but not all of the Pine Barrens ecosystem.

Today, the Pinelands …
Pitcher plant © Albert Horner
  • Is the biggest surviving forest on the eastern seaboard south of Maine’s North Woods. The Pinelands has over 800,000 acres of forest, of which only about half is permanently preserved.
  • Is one of Earth’s unique places, different from anywhere else. The unusual geology and natural history of this region have created an island of unique biological diversity – a kind of Noah’s Ark for species adapted to the Pine Barrens.
  • Provides water for millions of people, thousands of acres of farmland, and the rest of nature.
  • Serves human health and well-being by providing water, clean air, beautiful scenery, and accessible and diverse recreation opportunities for the 22 million people living within an hour’s drive.
  • Preserves forests that help clean the air and absorb greenhouse gasses.
  • Provides the fresh water that sustains our coastal estuaries, such as Barnegat Bay, which are themselves critical natural resources and sources of a thriving tourism industry for the state.
  • Is a refuge for rare species of wildlife and plants which thrive here, while they have been wiped out or pushed to the brink elsewhere. A growing number of plants and animals are finding their last or greatest refuge here in the Pinelands.
  • Has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in recognition of its global significance.
  • Has been given the gift of America’s most powerful and innovative regional growth management planning program, through the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978, the Pinelands Protection Act of 1979, and the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.
two people kayaking and waving

Paddle, hike and explore historic sites with PPA’s Pinelands Adventures outdoor discovery program.

Comprehensive Management Plan

Protecting the Pinelands

In the 1960s and ‘70s, citizens, scientists and farsighted politicians realized that the Pine Barrens was something special that we needed to save. They understood that the Pine Barrens was threatened by the sprawling development that was eating up New Jersey’s open spaces in the great post-World War II expansion. Their efforts led Congress to pass § 502 of the federal National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 and New Jersey to pass the Pinelands Protection Act of 1979. These laws created the Pinelands National Reserve and the New Jersey Pinelands Commission.

Citizens protesting gas pipelines in the new jersey pine barrens pinelands
PPA members protest gas pipelines in the New Jersey Pinelands. ©PPA

Adopted by the Pinelands Commission in 1980, the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) implements these statutes. The CMP regulates where development can take place by creating conservation and growth zones and applying stringent environmental standards to all development. The “Land Capability Map” divides the Pinelands into various conservation and growth zones, with more or less restrictive development rules applying to each colored zone. [Download: CMP Land Capability Map (PDF)]

The goal of the CMP is to protect the Pinelands’ natural resources while allowing agriculture and urban/suburban development that is compatible with the overriding environmental protection goal. You can read the whole CMP body of regulations. [Download: Comprehensive Management Plan Map (PDF)]

The Pinelands Commission

The New Jersey Pinelands Commission is an independent state agency overseen by a 15-member board of unpaid volunteer Commissioners. The Commission has the power to set minimum environmental standards for all local zoning and development ordinances. All municipalities are required by law to conform their local master plans and zoning ordinances to the regional plan.

The members of the Commission are chosen as follows: The governor nominates seven members, subject to confirmation by the state senate; each of seven counties in the Pinelands appointments one member; and the final member is selected by the United States Secretary of the Interior (usually from the staff of the National Park Service). Those chosen by the governor and counties serve three year terms. They serve until they are replaced (or retire by their own choice), so many members continue to serve long after their terms have expired.

Pinelands Commission meeting March 2009
New Jersey Pinelands Commission meeting.

Protecting the Pinelands is an enormous challenge. As land around the Pinelands, and land in the Pinelands’ growth zones, is developed, the pressure only grows to make changes or exceptions to the rules against development of the conservation zones. Even when enforced to the letter, today’s rules are not strong enough to save the Pine Barrens from the cumulative impacts of development. In many areas, new and better policies are needed to make the Pinelands the protection ideal succeed over the long run.

It is critical that members of the Pinelands Commission be committed to its environmental mission and have the will to stand up to the pressure they often receive to waive or weaken rules to benefit one or another development project.


Pinelands Protection Act of 1979 (Source: Pinelands Commission)
Rutgers Climate and Environmental Change Initiative
National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 (Source: Pinelands Commission)
Pinelands CMP Land Capability Map (Source: Pinelands Commission)
Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (Source: Pinelands Commission)

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