Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012
Times of Trenton guest opinion column
By Susan Russell
The controversial Forest Harvest Bill (S1085), recently rechristened the Forest Stewardship Bill, allows commercial thinning, or logging, in our state forests. The measure raises questions of transparency, coherent policy and the public trust.
In state legislatures, power over public lands, wildlife and funds is concentrated in alarmingly few hands, many of them corporate and public-private partnerships, each washing the other and dominated by the gun trade. Vague claims of “stewardship” and “science” too often serve commercial agendas.
Logging supporters do not disclose the fact that the bill will increase the number of white-tailed deer. Logging and prescribed burns are classic game management methods that stimulate deer breeding for hunting purposes.
The endearing bobwhite quail, whose tenuous numbers are faltering, is another target of the bill. Struggling to survive, this beneficial bird is shot for recreation. Only recently has the Game Council restricted its kill. In 1931, conservationist William Temple Hornaday described the bobwhite as “the most useful, social, trustful, and the most lovable” of birds. In vain, he implored hunters to “spare his life.” In 2012, we are asked to log forests not to protect the birds, in any real sense, but to enable a sharply shrinking minority to keep killing them.
Logging supporters prefer to say that the bill will benefit “non-game” (does nature discriminate?) warblers. Others have observed that warbler protection does not require commercial logging.
Forty scientists who signed a letter against the original legislation noted that commercial thinning of forests would “grow the deer herd even more.” The bill — the result of “three years of stakeholder” meetings — was criticized as damaging and commercial.
Those who stand to benefit from logging our forests are the principal “stakeholders” behind the original bill: timber, hunting, firearms and archery manufacturer front groups; state agencies; conservation groups partnered with all of the above; and private consultants and grant brokers.
Here’s the rub: The self-appointed stakeholders relentlessly pursue deer-killing programs they claim protect “forest systems.” Now they are lobbying for commercial legislation that grows the herd. Proposed amendments that would include Forest Stewardship Council guidelines will not change the fact that logging, or thinning, creates more deer.
The link between cutting trees and deer reproduction is fact. Googling “habitat development” for white-tailed deer will confirm that logging and thinning forests are long-standing game management staples. Mature, contiguous forests do not support large numbers of deer. Their dense canopies prevent the growth of plants that deer like to eat. State game departments create deer breeding range by mowing, logging, burning and planting deer-preferred crops.
Lest there be any doubt, in 1977, the Journal of Wildlife Management reported that “deer herds are being managed with ever-increasing intensity. The primary management plan has been directed at increasing the productivity of the white-tailed deer through habitat manipulation and harvest regulation.”
Nationwide, from 1975 to 1985, millions of acres were logged, burned and defoliated for commercial hunting. The majority of acreage burned and logged, wrote the Department of the Interior, benefited deer by providing food and breeding range.
It was all the more remarkable, then, when, during an April 26 public meeting, the bill’s sponsor — hunter legislative caucus member and Senate Energy and Environment Chairman Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) — would not acknowledge that thinning forests, or logging, creates more deer, and said that there was “disagreement with that premise.” At best, the chairman is ill-advised by those who stand to benefit from more deer.
To the stakeholders, the resulting “farmed” deer are utterly expendable. Partnership-backed legislation S1848, defeated last session, would have permitted killing deer on forest stewardship lands by egregious poaching methods long deemed unethical.
The public disapproves of hunting animals “over bait,” a poaching practice legitimized by the Division of Fish and Wildlife for deer since the late 1990s, and supported, ironically, by those who decry deer damage to forests. Baiting is counterproductive: In multiple studies, baiting changed forest composition of tree species and held back forest regeneration. Why? Bait sites concentrate deer, who continue to feed on natural browse in the area. In eastern deciduous forests, ground nesting birds were less abundant in baiting areas.
Baiting lures and concentrates coyotes, raccoons and opossums near ground nesting birds.
Maximizing deer populations for hunter-clients, widespread baiting, and trapping of the beaver, one of nature’s most industrious agents of forest health, are yet other examples of how unseemly gun trade and government partnerships help cause forest degeneration and profit from the results, and why S1085 should be shelved. Excluded from the stakeholder club is any organization that does not support, or opposes, commercial hunting and trapping. Less than 0.6 percent of New Jersey residents hunt. By hook, or by crook, and even as hunter numbers plummet, the ammunition, timber and gun alliance, which includes
cooperating conservation groups, is bent upon perpetuating not only their power, but the mistakes and attitudes of the past century.
The Public Trust Doctrine establishes government as trustee over natural resources “too important to be owned.” Could have fooled us. As diverse people have commented at hearings, the only missing stakeholder is the public.
Susan Russell is wildlife policy specialist for the Animal Protection League of New Jersey (aplnj.org).