Clear Cutting Proposed for Bass River State Forest Fire Protection

Would Remove Some Historic White Pines
Apr 04, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds Fire tower on East Greenbush Road in Bass River Township.

Stands of mature white pines in Bass River State Forest are to be cut down by the state Department of Environmental Protection in order to improve the line of sight for the fire tower on East Greenbush Road. According to a plan designed in January by the state Forestry and Forest Fire Service, the clear-cutting of 19 acres is necessary – an additional number of acres were scrapped from the plan after local input. But part of the area to be cut is the popular 3.5-mile Pink Trail frequented by hikers in the state forest.

DEP representative Caryn Shinske said the DEP held a stakeholders meeting on Jan. 18 that included state forestry, conservation officers and the fire service as well as elected officials from Bass River Township. A PowerPoint presentation, now online on the NJDEP website, shows the areas to be cut and the rationale.

A plan to replace and raise the tower above the tree line was found to be too expensive, nearly a half-million dollars.

Of the 19 acres slated for removal, less than four acres of white pine were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Still, the removal of those trees would detract from the historic CCC camp site and also remove a favorite trail, dubbed The Cathedral for its 80-foot high trees, said a Bass River State Forest volunteer.

During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted the CCC as part of the Works Project Administration, which employed men to build or improve various public lands. Bass River State Forest was the first public forest in New Jersey, and the CCC planted 4,570 acres of white pine there. White pines can grow to 100 feet tall.

Over the years, the Forest Fire Service has watched the steady growth of the trees surrounding the tower begin to impact the forest fire rangers’ line of sight over the Pine Barrens and surrounding communities. The report notes that the service needs to see clearly 10 miles in all directions to be effective. Presently rangers can have an unobstructed view only to the west, where most of the forested area is. But the tower ranger can see only 110 feet to the north, 170 feet to the south and 390 feet east, where much of the residential or commercial development lies. Between 1999 and 2016 there were nine major fires near the fire tower, including the 2007 Warren Grove fire, which burned 15,000 acres to the east of the tower, destroying one home and damaging four others. It also caused evacuations in Ocean Acres and other developments in Stafford and Barnegat townships.

An option to raise the tower rather than cut the trees is deemed unpractical due to the age of the tower, built in 1939.  Building a new tower would cost $483,000, according to one quote from Davan LLC Fire Tower Restoration.

If the clear-cutting is approved, tree cutting could start sometime this year by machine (drum chopping) and enhanced by prescribed burning, disc-cutting the soil and the application of herbicides if needed. The forest service would then replant the area with Southern species of pine that are slower growing and shorter, growing only 10 to 15 feet high in 20 years.

There is no set date to begin tree removal, said Shinske. There are several permitting steps the state must take, including getting the Pinelands Commission to issue a permit to the New Jersey Forest Fire Service for tree removal.

“Once a permit is issued, the Forest Fire Service would then commence a process where various contractors could bid on the work to be done,” said Shinske.

As part of that process, the Forest Fire Service is required to notify all adjacent landowners within 200 feet of the site where trees would be removed.

The Pinelands Commission would provide public notice and schedule an opportunity for public comment after it receives an application from the NJDEP, she said.

On April 4, Paul Leaken, spokesman for the Pinelands Commission, said although the PC met with state DEP officials for a pre-application meeting on Nov. 1, 2017, since then the commission has not received a formal development application. The Pinelands Commission would have to review such an application to remove the trees, but Leaken said such an activity, tree-cutting, is not a prohibited use. However, the public would be invited to comment on the application if presented, he said.

To keep tabs on Pinelands Commission applications, go to the Pinelands Commission website, then click on applications and select status reports. Applications open for public review are in red.

— Pat Johnson

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