WHITE TOWNSHIP, NJ (Warren County) – Saying it would be an unfunded mandated on local governments, the Warren County Board of County Commissioners went on record “strongly opposing” state legislation that would require Forest Stewardship Plans for some municipal properties.
The commissioners adopted a resolution urging opposition to A-4843/S-3549, the New Jersey Assembly and Senate bill that would require local governments to develop Forest Stewardship Plans (FSPs) for all public forest land of 25 acres or more that a municipality had acquired for conservation and recreation under the Green Acres Program.
“These proposed bills do little to help our forests and woodlands in New Jersey and unfortunately would do more harm than good,” Commissioner Director James R. Kern III said. “Aside from the environmental concerns these bills pose, the unfunded mandates to counties and municipalities are unacceptable. Trenton should not create a financial barrier that would prevent communities from preserving more land,” Kern remarked.
Moreover, while the municipality would have the pay for the FSP to be developed, it would not have control of the contents of the plan or how it is followed. The bill would prohibit a local government unit from enacting any ordinance, rule, or resolution that requires local government approval of an FSP or that conflicts with, prevents, or impedes the implementation of an FSP approved by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, as DEP rules would supersede any municipal ordinance adopted prior to the effective date of the bill.
“These bills would eliminate public participation from forest management plans,” Kern said, “Many of these areas use public funds, and to restrict comments would be a terrible decision and lack transparency. I hope these bills are pulled and all relevant stakeholders are brought to the table to better discuss how we can preserve these vital resources.”
“The state continues to push the financial burden on to local governments with unfunded mandates like these. State government cannot continue to take the voices away from the public while continuing to increase their financial burden,” County Commissioner Jason J. Sarnoski said.
“The state needs to take a step back and realize they cannot continue to push unfunded mandates on local governments, especially when they are denying any public input,” County Commissioner Lori Ciesla said.
The County Commissioners fear that the proposal as written would result in FSPs that lead to more logging on open space properties, diminishing the recreational experiences of both residents and tourists, and degrading the ecosystems of the forests.