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Managing Our State Forests


Cedar Swamp at Goshen Pond in Wharton State Forest

Cedar Swamp at Goshen Pond in Wharton State Forest

In our last blog post, we covered the ecological role of fire in the Pinelands and the use of prescribed burns as a management technique.  We know that prescribed burns are not the only management technique used in our forest, so how do we try to replicate natural disturbance events to promote overall ecological integrity and what should we prioritize in developing stewardship plans for managing our state forests?

While the type of management technique (burning, thinning, mowing, or logging) we decide to use is vital to the expected outcome – the frequency, intensity, scale, and location of a treatment is very important in mimicking natural events and maintaining ecological integrity.  Some points on disturbance we should keep in mind when thinking about forest management include:

1) Natural disturbances occur randomly over a landscape and their return intervals vary greatly.

2) Areas most susceptible to disturbance events are those with older, diseased, or stressed trees.

3) Middle-aged forests that have few early successional sites are functioning as expected.  Due to our past forestry and land use history, many sites that were cleared of trees have since been allowed to re-grow.   Open patches will naturally occur in forests that are allowed to mature.

4)  Natural disturbance events such as floods and fire may kill certain susceptible trees while maintaining their vertical profile.  These dead standing trees become critical habitat for many birds, bats and insects.

5) Another important factor is the scale of our treatment areas and identifying appropriate places for that treatment in recognition of its overall impacts to the landscape.

How we choose to manage our forests has a state wide implication, beyond the Pinelands region.  With recent forest stewardship plans, like Sparta Mountain, and proposed legislation to promote more forestry on state lands such as A2406, which would establish a forest harvest demonstration program in the Pinelands, now is the time to evaluate our past efforts and plan for the future.  We need site specific approaches to managing both the intact and many fragmented forests we have in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation.

There are several items we must prioritize when assessing our forests, particularly on state land including:

1) Prioritize areas to control invasive species. They are most commonly found in areas of human disturbance.  We need to protect forests with few invasive species and recognize that the disturbance and open conditions created during forest harvests open the door for many non-native invaders.

2) Incorporate a plan for deer density in areas we plan to actively manage.  Not accounting for deer and their possible management can be detrimental to the expected forest regeneration.

3) Incorporate ecological surveys and rare species occurrences with an emphasis on the life history traits of uncommon species into forest stewardship plans.  Forest inventories (assessing what timber is available for harvesting) that are carried out prior to forest stewardship plans, such as those currently planned for Wharton and Penn State Forest, are focused on tree species and board feet of wood.  This is unacceptable for our state lands.  We must prioritize ecological surveys and forest stewardship plans.

4) Plan for additional human disturbance as a result of any management technique that opens large patches of forest.  As is evident in any right-of-way or fire service plow line in the Pinelands, off-road vehicles will repeatedly access open patches of forest negatively impacting the regeneration projected in any forest stewardship plan.  Ignoring this impact can compromise the effectiveness of our forest management.

5)  Identify which forests actually need management.  We need to identify which forests can benefit from management and which will be left alone, subject to natural disturbances and natural succession.  This is just as important as deciding which technique, what frequency and what scale we decide to use to actively manage a forest.

Many factors must be considered in developing forest stewardship plans and we shouldn’t rush the process just to increase the opportunities for harvesting trees.  In light of recent forestry plans, legislation and the Department of Environmental Protection’s unwillingness to address the off-road vehicle problem, we should not allow any forestry in the Pinelands until we address these current problems.

8 responses to “Managing Our State Forests”

  1. JohnnyJohnBoy says:

    The very term “forest management” reeks of meddling. The idea that forests evolved along with the native American’s involvement is ludicrous. I think that very few people, scientists included, realize how incredibly long it takes for any species of flora to evolve, with or without man’s tampering. Not thousands, but millions, perhaps billions of years.

    Managing forests is a bad concept no matter how it’s looked at. Until the powers that be realize that Zero Forest Management (ZFM) is the best policy, we’ll continue to have problems with fires, mono-culture forests, species loss, habitat loss, insect infestations and more.

    Ask yourself: Who managed the forests before we came? Answer: Nobody. Yet, they still existed when the native Americans arrived. Who is managing the Amazon rainforests? Yet look how (what is left) thrives.

    Before you classify me as a nutcase who has idiotic ideas, know that I worked for the forest industry for over 2 decades and now own a large chunk of forest myself that has not been logged or “managed” for over five decades. I’ve watched it very closely and have realized that my best management technique is to try and re-integrate those species that were lost in the area due to logging (hemlock, shingle oak, spice bush, redbud, witch hazel, and many more) and let nature take it’s course. I get large areas of downed trees from wind, lightening, tornadoes and heavy snow. I don’t need to log or selectively log for natural regeneration (and it’s resulting small meadows, brush areas, larger habitat for more varied wildlife) to occur. Our local DNR agreed to let me put all of it into “classified forests” for a tax break, but their rules are laughingly tailored for later harvest of trees. Create fire paths, take down grape vines, create brush piles, cull misshapen or older half-dead trees, etc. Sounds like a great plan for future harvest of logs to me. But I have them fooled. I get the tax break, they get zero logging later as it is all now in a trust which cannot be broken and which has rules about felling any single tree at all. In 50 years when my acreage is an enviable oasis of 250 year old trees, diversity and fauna which is found hardly anywhere else in our state, the powers that be might open their eyes and realize that my own forest management techniques (do nothing/add back whatever species are missing) are what really should have been going on elsewhere for 100 years or more.

    I feel sorry for the individuals who have the degrees, are in bed with logging industries or are otherwise “owned” by corporations in order to justify their studies and their positions on this topic. Whenever humans meddle in nature, we get bad results. When nature takes it’s course, the best happens. Nature, after all, has been at this game a few billion years longer than we have and she knows best what to do. We humans haven’t a clue as is evident in the nightmare we have in our national and state forests currently.

  2. bill wolfe says:

    Dear Leopold – this is all I know – very little beyond visual observation – about forestry in the Pinelands:

    Pinelands Forest Stewardship


    It did not look good – if you have scientific basis to support this project, please provide.

  3. bill wolfe says:

    Dear Leopold – I just today (9/1/16) randomly came across this while looking for something else.

    As you named me personally, and implied I was somehow at fault, please send me an email to provide information supporting your concerns.

    I was not aware of this – but if NJCF is doing the kind of damage NJ Audubon is, I will certainly write about it. Reach me at


    I would have thought, if you had a problem with e, you would reach out first before criticizing me as an individual.

  4. Bill Zipse says:

    The article’s characterization of the Wharton and Penn State Forest inventories as simply “assessing what timber is available for harvesting” or “focused on tree species and board feet of wood” is inaccurate. These inventory efforts are designed to scale with national forest monitoring programs in which the state is a partner with the USDA Forest Service. The inventories provide data vital to calibrating simulation models, forecasting fire behavior, determining the likelihood of insect and disease outbreaks, presence of invasive species, and more. It should also be noted that the particular inventories mentioned in the article can be coupled with other data collection efforts such as habitat surveys, forest fire fuel surveys, operational inventories, etc. and can help inform these data collection efforts in order to make them more efficient.

  5. david caccia says:

    From what I read, the State would like to turn the Pine Barrens into a tree farm. Bad idea! I also read that the forest must pay for its management. This means that when a cedar swamp is thinned, the mature trees will be cut so the young trees will have a chance. What this really means is that someone would like to get all this valuable lumber in the name of helping the forest. Cedar swamps are able to manage themselves without our help. When an old tree falls, it opens a spot for sunlight to reach a young tree so it can grow. Can you imagine what a cedar swamp would look like after all the mature trees have been dragged out by heavy equipment? The best way to manage a cedar swamp is to leave it alone! To some extent, this applies to the rest of the forest also.

  6. leopold says:

    Good points – but how do you explain a situation in your own backyard that that is far more frightening on not just an ecological scale, but a real threat to life and property scale? – meaning: Lets pick an example similar to that of the Sparta controversy in the Pinelands.– the Franking Parker Preserve. A site doomed ecologically under its current “management”, a poster child for how to disregard local culture and a ticking time bomb for a wildfire of catastrophic proportions..why, NO ACTIVE MANAGEMENT or no consideration for what the local people to have a say. And don’t let the New Jersey Conservation Foundation fool you – Franklin Parker IS OWNED BOTH BY THEM and THE NJ DIVISION OF PARKS AND FORESTRY – (check the deeds – I did). Also check the management agreement between them and the State.. is this legal? Do they have an approved forest management plan which is required by the State when they got the Franklin Parker as they told the residents down here that it was part of the good work they would be doing… NO. They said on their website last year they had a forest plan written and it now is in review, but wait a minute… if it is co-owned by the state where was the required public review and the comment period? There wasn’t one, why, because NJCF circumvented the Pinelands Rules because they always claim it is managed by them and is mostly privately owned by them (which is not true – -it is co-owned by them AND the state of NJ – THIS A IS A FACT). Also you pay a lower plan review fee if you are privately owned, so NJCF circumvented paying the proper fee as well that others are required to pay. Where is the Pinelands Commission on this? Where is PPA on this? Where is Bill Wolfe on this? And where is Mr. Tittel on this clear disregard for the public trust by NJCF and the State Parks Dept have been doing for years at Franklin Parker? Why now is forestry such a topic of supposed controversy? Because an creditable organization like Audubon figured out how to use proven science and implement a plan that pays for itself without coming to these others groups first so they can get leach on to it somehow to message their own bloated egos ? Or is it because someone figured out that the previous “preserve and do nothing model of land preservation” does not really work and this hurts the land trusts and advocacy groups business model of how they raise money? Why the double standard when it comes to the Pinelands, why the clear violation of the public trust , does anyone ever look in this? PPA you are hypocrites to allow this to happen and continue in your own backyard. At least Audubon is getting public comment to help better the Sparta plan hopefully, and they are clearly the only honest conservation organization out there because of their choice to follow the rules and be transparent (unlike NJCF and the Franklin Parker Preserve). As stated in the press, Audubon even went and got a third party to do oversight through a globally recognized program that National Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, WWF and many others endorse, the Forest Stewardship Certification and yet NJ’s Sierra Club still is against it. Anyone see the giant discrepancy between National Chapter of Sierra club and NJ’s Sierra club on this? Its about raising funds for NJ Sierra Club by creating controversy while sacrificing good management of our lands. BTW – Franklin Parker Preserve, NJCF and NJ State Parks… HAVE NO THIRD PARTY OVERSIGHT, NO PUBLIC COMMENT, NO TRANSPARENCY, NONE OF THAT for their so-called forestry plan that is perpetually in review at Pinelands Commission. Stop forgetting about the Pinelands people, stop with double standards all you so-called conservation organizations, stop misleading the public with your nonsense of conspiracies and misinformation, get rid of the old guard of preserve and do nothing and start embracing sustainable practices that are proven and grounded in science and do active management on all of our public lands!

  7. Yes, your article caught my attention. All ten points are thought provoking and well made. Forested areas in this State have been manipulated my man, for better and worse, since since the pleistocene. The Article highlights the necessity to develop stragies that “replicate natural disturbance events and promote overall ecological integrity”.

  8. Ktsparkman says:

    Excellent article about the complexities of forest system management. Very helpful for anyone concerned about our state’s forests.

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