Tree-cutting starts this week at Sparta Mountain

Forestry work part of larger 10-year DEP plan

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The next phase of forestry work in the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area started this week on 9.4 acres north of the powerline in Hardyston Township.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), work was set to begin on or about Feb. 18.

The goal of the cutting is to restore young oak-hickory forest by opening the canopy to allow for the growth of young oak and hickory trees, blackberries, sedges, and a variety of other shrubs and sapling species, according to the DEP. This will create breeding and foraging habitat for different bird species, including the endangered Golden-winged Warbler.

Heavy equipment will be used for this phase of work, including a tri-axle log truck and skidder and shearing equipment. According to the DEP, the skidder and shearing equipment, similar to typical construction equipment such as a small-medium excavator, will be hauled on Edison Road to the access road on a trailer at the beginning of the project, left on site during the project, and hauled out on a trailer at the end of the project.

The access road is the existing powerline road with gravel bed on the north side of Edison Road in Sparta Township.

The tri-axle log truck, similar to a garbage or propane truck, will transport about 200 cords, or a total 20 truckloads of logs over the course of two to six months, out of the access road onto Edison Road. All vehicle operators are aware of and will be in compliance with the DOT weight requirements for the roads they travel, according to the DEP.

The start date was Feb. 18. Cutting will stop prior to April 1, but may resume after Nov. 15.

This work is part of the larger Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area Forest Management Plan, approved in March 2017 after more than two years of controversy, including a series of contentious public hearings and extended public comment periods.

About two weeks of work was done in an area near near Tamarack Lake in Hardyston Township last November and December.

The entire management area consists of nearly 3,500 acres of the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area within the townships of Sparta, Ogdensburg, and Hardyston in Sussex County and Jefferson Township in Morris County.

Over the 10-year plan, 630 acres are expected to see some type of cutting: 322 acres will be managed to accelerate old-growth characteristics (single-tree selection cutting), 100 acres will see shelterwood cutting and 208 acres will be managed for young forest characteristics (modified tree seed cutting).

Response from oppositionThe New Jersey Sierra Club, a strong opponent of the plan from its proposal in December 2015, denounced the latest phase of work.

“The Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area is an environmentally sensitive greenway in the Highlands region whose canopy protects the clean drinking water for 6 million people. The logging plan will cut down 35.5 acres of the 700-acre old forest in the Highlands,” Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club Jeff Tittel said in a statement. “This will cause run-off, impact pristine C1 trout streams and the highest water quality in the state. Even though Sparta Mountain is designated as a High Conservation Value Forest, it does not stop DEP and Audubon’s destructive plan to log the forest.”

The Sierra Club's stance is that the DEP is using the Golden-winged warbler as a rationalization to clear-cut an environmentally sensitive forest in the Highlands. There are 75 different species of neo-tropical songbirds that would be impacted by logging on Sparta Mountain plan, Tittel said, in addition to threatened and endangered bat species.

“DEP's plans to log Sparta Mountain will actually clear-cut the forest under the disguise of creating habitat for one species,” Tittel said. “Our forests were bought for all of us to protect the environment, preserve habitat for important wildlife species, and safeguard clean water. This plan is a horrible sell-out to our open space for private logging companies and must be stopped. We must continue the public outcry against this plan and tell DEP these lands belong to all of us, not commercial loggers.”

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