The Pinelands Meet the Highlands
Members of PPA’s staff recently visited the NJ Highlands to learn more about this ecosystem, and to convene a meeting between staff of the Highlands Council, the NJ Highlands Coalition, and the Pinelands Commission.
By Ava Peifer & Heidi YehSeptember 11, 2023
Did you know that there’s more to NJ than just the Pinelands? We didn’t believe it either, so we went on a field trip to see for ourselves! Members of PPA’s staff recently visited the NJ Highlands to learn more about this ecosystem, and to convene a meeting between staff of the Highlands Council, the NJ Highlands Coalition, and the Pinelands Commission to discuss commonalities shared between the work that these government and non-profit entities are engaged in across New Jersey.
Like the Pinelands, the NJ Highlands region has a special protected status thanks to state legislation. Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, passed into state law in 2004, preserves open space and protects the wide range of natural resources found in the area. According to the NJDEP, this region encompasses “over 1,250 square miles and 88 municipalities in seven counties (Bergen, Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren).” Like the Pinelands, this region is a very important natural resource that provides clean water to a large portion of the state’s population.
This area has a rich geologic history that began 1.3 billion years ago in the Precambrian geologic age. The Highlands have been impacted by continent collisions and rock metamorphism. The Highlands consists of bedrock that is extremely strong and difficult to erode. To read more about the geologic formation of the New Jersey Highlands click here or here. The northern half of the state of New Jersey actually has significant topography to it, with the highest point at 550 meters of elevation—that’s nearly 9 times higher than the highest point in the NJ Pine Barrens (62 meters at Apple Pie Hill)!
Overdevelopment a Common Theme in New Jersey
Although they may seem completely different at first glance, the New Jersey Highlands and Pinelands hold significant similarities. For instance, both areas are under extreme pressure from development that is devastating to native wildlife. These regions are also incredibly unique and beautiful with species that are found nowhere else in the world. To read more about species found in the New Jersey Highlands click here.
145,000 acres of the Highlands Preservation Area are undeveloped and Major Highlands Development in this region consists of any development or actions that result in the disturbance of land besides agriculture. One of the first developments in the Highlands was started by the Water Witch Club in 1895 when they purchased land to create vacation sites. Development has since rapidly expanded in this region, thus posing a great ecological threat. According to the NJ Highlands Coalition, “Suburban Sprawl, overdevelopment, and poor planning threaten the resources of the New Jersey Highlands.” Development destroys around 3,000 acres of the Highlands per year, harming its natural resources such as water. The New Jersey Highlands create around 373 million gallons of water per day which 6 million people rely on for clean drinking water.
Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, established in 2004, preserves open space and protects the wide range of natural resources found in the area. In addition, according to the NJDEP, the Highlands Act defines the geographical boundary of the official Highlands Region while also creating the Highlands Planning Area and Highlands Preservation Area. All major development in the Highlands Preservation Area needs to be specifically approved by the DEP through the guidelines of the Highlands rules and other major legislature. The Highlands Planning Area provides “enhanced standards” and “smart growth” in development. Furthermore, the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council (Highlands Council) is responsible for identifying “environmental and farmland preservation priorities within the Preservation Area, designating critical areas within the Planning area, supporting a Highlands Transfer of Development rights program, and advising the DEP on Highlands water resources regulations.” This council must also adopt the Regional Master Plan which also is intended to protect vital resources in the Highlands region and prevent development. To read more about these laws you can click here.
Partners in Environmental Advocacy
As PPA is to the Pinelands, the Highlands Coalition is a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of the Highlands. This organization represents several organizations fighting for the protection of the Highlands to preserve drinking water. They advocate for strict implementation of regulations in the Highlands Master Plan, as well as greater funding for conservation. The coalition also works to educate the public about the devastation of the Highlands and the preservation of natural resources. To read more about the Highlands Coalition check out their website here.
Learn more about the Highlands’ unique ecology here.