A plan adopted by the New Jersey Pinelands Commission on October 14, 2022, and set to begin in April of 2023, has split environmental groups. Some environmental groups have said it is a reasonable and necessary response to the dangers of wildfires, which were a major issue this year in the area. Other groups are saying it is an unconscionable waste of trees that would no longer be able to store carbon as climate change, they say, imperils the globe.
Created by an act of Congress in 1978, the Pinelands district occupies 22% of New Jersey’s land area, is home to 135 rare plant and animal species, and is the largest body of open space on the mid-Atlantic seaboard between Richmond, Virginia, and Boston. It also includes an aquifer that is the source of 17 trillion gallons (64 trillion liters) of drinking water. The plan involves about 1,300 acres (526 hectares), a miniscule percentage of the 1.1-million-acre (445,150-hectare) Pinelands preserve, which enjoys federal and state protection and has been named a unique biosphere by the United Nations.
Most of the trees to be killed are 2 inches (5 centimeters) or less in diameter, the state said. Dense undergrowth of these smaller trees can act as “ladder fuel,” carrying fire from the forest floor up to the treetops, where flames can spread rapidly and wind can intensify to whip up blazes, the state Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement.
Most of the cut trees will be ground into wood chips that will remain on the forest floor, eventually returning to the soil, the department said, adding, “It is not anticipated that any material of commercial value will be produced because of this project.”
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