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Protecting Our Last Wild Places



Forbidden Pond – Wharton State Forest © Jason Howell

Thousands of acres of precious Pine Barrens habitat has been lost in recent years–taken from us not by suburban sprawl, not by commercial development, but by unmanaged and reckless off-road vehicle (ORV) drivers.  The Pinelands Preservation Alliance and our partners have been working to identify and document each area of wetland, upland, and riparian habitat that has been removed from its function in the ecosystem by ORV activity.  In the Pine Barrens alone, we are at 147 sites and counting. The ORV drivers perpetrating this activity have come to the forest, not for its splendor, not its diversity, not its serenity and quiet.  They come to it for a place to challenge oil, gasoline, and steel against the fibers of nature. Unfortunately, without intervention, nature rarely wins. That’s why it is up to us to put a stop to this wanton destruction.


NJCF Ecologist Emile Devito surveying Forbidden Pond in Wharton State Forest © Jason Howell

Since the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) withdrawal of the motorized access plan for Wharton State Forest, off-roaders have returned to previously protected wetlands to see what their vehicles are capable of.  Undeterred, we have documented hours of video footage of this activity and we are filing dozens of violation reports, but enforcement can only be employed after the crime has been committed and the damage wrought.

The time it takes for a convoy of motor vehicles to turn a vibrant wetland into a lifeless mud pit is less time than it takes most people to mow their lawns.  Although some in the off-road community have attempted to reach out to their peers to stop the destruction, our evidence shows that self-policing is not a realistic solution.  We need strong, effective, and science-based management that keeps off-road vehicles out of the most sensitive areas of the forest. Anything less will simply allow the destruction to continue at the expense of every other user of the forest for generations to come.

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Management, combined with aggressive enforcement, is the only real way to prevent the infinite beauty of the Pines from being lost forever.  Education and ethics cannot be forced and we cannot wait for an epiphany of moral compassion from the individuals who are laying waste to precious habitat.  Laissez-faire management by the DEP has already had ruinous implications for the land they are charged with protecting.

In Camden County, Forbidden Pond was purchased by the DEP in 1996.  According to local amateur botanists, it once contained the rare little floating heart (Nymphoides cordata), but today it is has become a partial-wasteland from ORV abuse.  After years of neglect, this pond was finally protected by the Wharton State Forest Motorized Access Plan, only to be stripped of its protections months later as DEP officials backed down to appease vehicle advocates.  Today, we are left with the consequences as vehicles have continued to drive in circles in this pond.  However, our resolve is strong to protect the wild places we have left and to allow degraded land a chance to recover. It is our duty as concerned environmental citizens to speak up and act out on this issue.

“In the final analysis, it is the citizens who will decide the ultimate fate of the Pine Barrens. It is our responsibility to pass this wilderness heritage on, in its natural state, to our heirs.” – Howard Boyd, A Field Guide to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey

Here is what you can do to help:

  1. Pinelands Commission Meeting – January 29th at 9:30 am: The Policy and Implementation Committee of the Pinelands Commission will be discussing the DEP’s motorized access plan for Wharton State Forest at this meeting.  You can see the agenda on their website. The public will have an opportunity to speak.  Directions to the Pinelands Commission are available on their website.  They are located at 15 Springfield Road in Pemberton NJ.
  2. Tell the DEP Commissioner to Protect Wharton State Forest: Use this link to send an email to DEP Commissioner, Bob Martin today.


6 responses to “Protecting Our Last Wild Places”

  1. marilyn miller says:

    I have hiked the pine barren trails with two hiking clubs for about 20 yrs & have continually seen the damage done by off road vehicles. I have seen vehicles stuck on the trails & watched as a tow truck came to pull the vehicle out. I have been accosted numerous times by atvs who have refused to give me the right of way. I don’t think any plan will work. I think all motorized vehicles should stay on road beds NOT on trails.

  2. I Diane Kristoff says:

    I support measures to ensure that sensitive areas of the Pinelands are protected. ORVs need to be registered and licensed. That way, those who do not follow the law can be ptosecuted.Those who enjoy the Pinelands can do so.

  3. gregory gates says:

    I also from the first hand experience in the past twenty years have seen areas and roads destroyed by motorized vehicles. Just when I think it cannot get worse, place after place that was normal pine lands off road vehicles are causing more ecological havoc and have gotten bolder in their destruction.

  4. Matthew Keane says:

    I fully support fair use of ALL public resources (of any sort) in the Wharton State Forest as well as the rest of the state’s assets.

    I do not support destruction of sensitive areas however your article bends the truth to fit your narrative a touch too much.

    Public resources such as WSF are for all to enjoy in their recreational pursuit not a select few use cases that fit your view of the world.

    Sorry Al. Fair use is fair for all.

    • Jason Howell says:

      Hi Matthew, I am glad to see that you are engaged in this issue. As a person who enjoys trail riding myself, I believe I understand your point of view. One of the factors that brought me to support managed access is the extent of the damage and the lack of motivation on the part of our state government to address the problem. As you know, there are many, many people, equipped with trucks, jeeps, quads, or dirtbikes, who will turn off-trail into sensitive wetland and upland habitat. In addition to the harm to the environment, some of these individuals have taken to disrespecting and damaging the historical sites in Wharton and the Pines as well. Where my Great-great grandfather was born in Hampton Park(Hampton Furnace), riders have driven into the building foundation and driven in circles around and around like the area was an ORV park. Wharton is not an off-road vehicle park, it is a historic and natural area, and it needs respect and management.

  5. Eugene Cranmer says:

    I fully support restricting motorized access (of any sort) by the public into Wharton State Forest and any and all sensitive areas of the NJ Pinelands.

    Eugene Cranmer

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