216 Stelton Road
Piscataway NJ 08854
Forests are complex ecosystems which can be found in one form or another in almost any climate zone in the world. Forests are home to a variety of plant and wildlife, and can provide many environmental services. In a purely economic sense, forests provide timber which can be put to use in a variety of products. Imagine trying to run a modern office with out paper; if forests are mismanaged to the extreme that could become a reality. Forests provide many other services to humans, which do not necessarily have an economic value, but have value none the less. Forests filter the air; through photosynthesis trees absorb carbon dioxide, a green house gas, and emit oxygen which is essential for life. Large tracts of forest can be counted as "carbon sinks", places where carbon is taken out of the atmosphere for a long period of time to be counted against a nations overall emissions. Forests help purify water through the roots and soil system. As rain water filters down through the forest floor it leaves behind toxins and other impurities. Also, forests help prevent erosion by keeping soil in place. The canopy of a forest provides shade, which helps cool the Earth, and provides shelter for plant and animal species that could not survive under harsh sun. In a study conducted at Rutgers University, it is believed that New Jersey could become the first state to reach "build-out", possibly within the next 40 years. Action must be taken now to preserve and conserve forests; because once they are cut down they will be lost forever.
Because forests provide so many benefits it is important that we work hard to maintain them as an ecosystem. As with many ecosystems, the health of a forest is measured in a balance between all of its parts, so we must be careful not to harm any one aspect too much. According to the New Jersey Audubon Society (NJAS), habitat loss and fragmentation is the largest disturbance to forests. Because many of the disturbances facing our forests are man-made, the NJAS asserts that "natural ecosystems have no built in defenses…and lack time for adequate natural defenses to evolve", in their March 2005 policy white paper. Forest stewardship is a method of preserving forest from a resource management approach. According to the New Jersey Forestry Association in 2006 there were over 2.1 million acres of forest in the State. Of this approximately 820,000 were privately owned, 480,000 were owned by a corporation or non-profit, and 620,000 were federally or State owned. Because so much of the State's forests are owned for commercial use, it is important to develop an effective method to ensure long-term health of forests while at the same time meeting short run economic goals of those who own the land. This is what forest stewardship attempts to do. The NJAS believes that a coordinated approach to forest management on both public and private lands will help "maintain, enhance, and restore biodiversity" in the State.
Forests are categorized as "renewable resources". This means that over time, nature replenishes the resources we have already used. Thus, if you cut down a mature tree, eventually a new mature tree will take its place. Owners of forests that wish to use the timber in a commercial sense need to weigh the current price of the resource to the future price when deciding the "rate of extraction", or how fast to cut down the trees. For any given specie of tree there is a reasonably well known rate of replenishment, so theoretically owners can know how many trees they can harvest in a single year to have no real impact on the population of trees as a whole. However, depending on the price of timber, it might make more economic sense to cut down more trees that is sustainable to see profits in the short run. The goal of forest stewardship is to help re-balance this equation to take into account the other services forests provide that cannot be traded in a market. The method tries to focus on the long term health of the forest, which is good both for the environment, and to protect investments from short-term gains that lose money in the long run.
In an on-going effort to promote forest stewardship in New Jersey, Senator Smith has sponsored Senate bill 2677. This bill would establish a forest stewardship and forest certification program with in the Department of Environmental Protection. DEP would create regulations for forest management for those who own 5 or more acres of forest. However, it would be a voluntary program. The benefit of this bill is DEP would establish the regulations, from an environmental protection aspect, and not from an industry vantage point. Senator Smith will work hard to pass forest stewardship legislation. It is clear that we must act now to preserve our forest ecosystems, and that industry, private interests, and the State must work together towards this aim.