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Lenses of Nature


The Mullica River after a winter storm.

The lenses through which we view the earth are different for every person. In the Pine Barrens, there are distinct cultural views separating individuals and groups in the debate over land-management. These points of view carry with them all the accumulated baggage of the land-use and property debates that have raged over the centuries. From the colonization of the Americas and the persecution of native people to the creation of National Parks, Forests, and Reserves, we have a long history of debate, conflict, and resolution over land and water. Additionally, we all have individual experiences that shape our perceptions of the natural world and influence our perspective. The state of New Jersey will only become more densely populated in the future so it is more important than ever that we build a consensus that balances the desire to use our natural resources with the need to protect them.

For instance, some are of the opinion that land is there to be used exclusively for human purposes. This is the doctrine of the extractive economy, to which many environmental and humanitarian consequences are attributed to, including our warming planet. Others may be ideologically influenced by the methods of early conservation, feeling that a degree of protection is needed to keep the resource productive, but may not be comfortable with large-scale protections against resource extraction. This middle of the road philosophy was developed in the early 1900s when there were still millions of acres of untouched wilderness. Others see natural areas disappearing at an alarming rate in our country and believe that we must protect the land that remains because the failure to do so puts our own survival, physically and spiritually, at risk.

Pink Lady Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium acaule)

One of the most common arguments among the extractive interest groups, including logging, oil and gas drilling, and off-road vehicle groups, is that the land in question is not worthy of protection. This is argument has been made at both the local and national level, but too often without any substantive discussion of ecological value.  For instance, one motor-vehicle advocacy group arguing against travel management in Wharton State Forest spoke before the Pinelands Commission in January 2016 and used this all-too-common misrepresentation to lobby against more robust protection.

“Are there wetlands out there that need recover and stuff? Yeah, that’s true, but that area was a widely industrial area, they forested it, there’s not even all the trees and stuff that should be out there. The white pines they used to use for sails, you know for masts, they’re not out there, its scrap pine.” – Jen Dickson, Open Trails New Jersey at the Pinelands Commission on January 29, 2016

To hear this for yourself click here.

By the term “scrap pine”, this speaker may have been referencing the most common Pine species in the region, Pitch-Pine (Pinus rigida), which some narrowly view as invaluable because of its limited application for human building purposes. To clarify, this speaker most likely was referencing the use of Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) in the construction of ship masts during the colonial era. This species was put at great risk by logging, salt water intrusion, and other factors, but remains today because of the protections that established the Pinelands National Reserve. White Pine (Pinus strobus), was planted in some areas of the Pine Barrens by private citizens and by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s, but it is not a native to the Pine Barrens region. Those that harbor these opinions are trying to establish a viewpoint of only the “virgin forests” being worthy of protection. Just because something or someone has been victimized in the past, does not mean that they are not worthy of protection today. The Pine Barrens has globally unique geology, is home to one of the cleanest freshwater aquifers in the United States, and provides habitat for many rare and engendered species. It is more than worthy of preservation and protection.

“It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Tell the Pinelands Commission to designate areas where motorized use is not appropriate in order to keep wildlife and plants safe.


Click on the video below to see the entire Pinelands Commission Policy and Implementation Committee meeting held January 29, 2016.

2 responses to “Lenses of Nature”

  1. Patrick Gilliam says:

    Great article highlighting the different, often anthropocentric viewpoints on how we should manage the Pinelands. The conclusion that I always arrive at is that it took mother nature an incredible amount of time to create the Pinelands and if we destroy it by selfishly using the natural resources for strictly human desires, it may disappear forever. We do not necessarily need to keep people out of the Pinelands altogether but rather use our current knowledge to manage the Pinelands in a way that protects it and allows humans to partake in its grandeur responsibly and sustainably.

    There is direct evidence that these types of practices work. For example, there are regulations that don’t allow the construction of sewers, strict pollution regulations, and protected forests that allow groundwater to infiltrate the soil and filter contaminants the way nature intended. The result is some of some of the cleanest aquifers in the US referred to in the post. This exists alongside responsible passive recreational use by people who come to enjoy the Pinelands. We know what we need to do, we only need to have the willpower to do it.

  2. Mike Kaliss says:

    As mentioned in the article the pressure of increased population density and legal/illegal usage of the Pine Barrens is an ongoing and worsening issue. Additional protection of the New Jersey Pine Barrens is certainly warranted. My hope is that through effective lobbying additional funds can be allocated in the State budget to enhance the existing Park Police presence. As a National Reserve and designated International Biosphere I am puzzled as to why Federal funds cannot be earmarked to supplement the State’s investment in preserving the Pine Barrens. Additional funds(State or Federal)could also be used for better road maintenance on primary sand access roads as well as helping with restoration and enhancement projects. Providing safe and low impact access on established and well maintained sand roads to law abiding users of the forest while aggressively pursuing and prosecuting individuals that use the Pine Barrens as a Motorsports Park should be the goal. Thank you for your continued efforts to protect the Pinelands.

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