on June 23, 2012 at 6:00 AM, updated September 14, 2012 at 4:02 PM
By Sue Russell
New Jersey’s controversial Forest Harvest bill (S1085), rechristened the Forest Stewardship Bill, will allow commercial logging, or “thinning,” in state forests. The euphemism-rich measure raises questions of transparency, ripe conflicts in policy and interest, and the public trust.
In state legislatures, control over public lands, wildlife and funds is concentrated in alarmingly few partnered hands, each washing the other. Vague “stewardship” and “science” nostrums too often serve commercial agendas.
The logging bill’s sponsors — Sens. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), Donald Norcross (D-Camden) and Steven Oroho (R-Sussex) — are members of the Angler and Hunter Conservation Caucus, an arm of the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses.
Logging supporters do not disclose the fact that S1085 will increase the population of white-tailed deer. That’s why Smith has reintroduced legislation — derailed last session — to permit killing deer on forest stewardship lands by poaching methods long deemed unethical, unsporting and unsafe: killing animals directly over bait, any time of day or night, and stunning deer with lights.
The organizations advocating for S1085 are part of Teaming With Wildlife, a partnership among hunting advocacy groups, conservation organizations and hunting equipment manufacturers.
The TWW national steering committee is teeming with firearms manufacturers, including ATK Ammunition Systems, Remington Arms Inc., SigArms Corporation, the Archery Trade Association, as well as state game agencies, hunting groups, the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy. The latter was the subject of a
Washington Post series on its corporate associations.
Googling “habitat development” for deer will confirm that logging or thinning forests is a long-standing game management staple.
Forty scientists who signed a letter against the original legislation noted that commercial logging would “grow the deer herd even more.” The original bill — the result of “three years of stakeholder” meetings — was criticized as damaging and commercial.
Commercial logging supporters prefer to say that the bill will benefit “nongame” warblers. Warbler protection does not require commercial logging. The rub: The self-appointed TWW stakeholders relentlessly pursue deer-killing programs they claim protect “forest systems.” Now, they are lobbying for commercial legislation that “grows the herd.”
Mature, contiguous forests do not support large numbers of deer. In 1977, the Journal of Wildlife Management reported that “deer herds are being managed with ever-increasing intensity ... 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.
The public disapproves of killing animals “over bait,” a poaching practice by the Division of Fish and Wildlife for deer since the late 1990s, and ironically supported by those who decry deer damage to forests. Baiting changes tree species’ composition and holds back forest regeneration, as it concentrates 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 concentrates coyotes, raccoons and opossums near ground-nesting birds. It increases car accidents and the spread of wildlife diseases.
The basic fact is: Logging creates more deer. There is virtually no public demand for logging our state forests. Maximizing deer for hunter-clients, baiting and trapping beavers, and wiping out beneficial birds are examples of how the combine helps cause forest degeneration and profits from the results.
The Public Trust Doctrine establishes government as trustee over natural resources “too important to be owned.” TWW is bent on perpetuating the cozy misalliances, mismanagement and attitudes of the past century. In New Jersey, the only missing stakeholder is the public.
Sue Russell is wildlife policy specialist for the Animal Protection League of New Jersey.