Ambitious Murphy and Christie Mirror Images on the Environment, Too

Murphy and Christie

As New Jersey’s Spring will soon turn to Summer, residents are advised to take extra precautions against ticks and rising cases of tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme and, as reported by NJ.com, “red meat allergy” or alpha-gal syndrome.  If residents expect Governor Phil Murphy to enact environmental policies to help stem the causes which contribute to the explosion of the tick population, however, Jeff Tittel, long-time environmental activist and former Sierra Club director, thinks they will be disappointed.

Ecology is a complex subject, and there is no silver bullet to solving the tick crisis.  Tittel believes that the warming of the climate, however, is one of the reasons that ticks and other insects which can carry disease have been moving into the Garden State and thriving whereas this did not happen in decades past.  “If you go and look at the US Department of Agriculture growing seasons, Central Jersey, like where I am in Hunterdon and Somerset County, now has the growing season from 1980 of the North Carolina border.  North Jersey around Union County has a climate of about Northern Virginia from 1980. Down around Camden and below Camden County and Gloucester, it is the climate of almost the North Carolina border in 1980. In that 40 year time period, the range has moved north, and with that much longer growing seasons. And that’s the other problem. The longer the growing season, the more the ticks, bugs, beetles, and other things can survive the winter. They start multiplying much earlier in the season and they stay because frost happens much later. I would say 30 years ago, chances of getting bit by a tick in March were almost nil. Now in April, towards even March, you have to worry about ticks.”

The warming of the climate means that the New Jersey temperatures of 1980 have moved to more northern latitudes while New Jersey inherits the temperature climates of past southern latitudes.  The consequences of that extend beyond tick management.  “It’s brought up more of the Southern pests that can now live here that would have died in the winter. I’ll give you the example of the Southern Pine Beetle. It’s been destroying forests and the pinelands because they’re from around the coast of Georgia, originally, and they would come up and they would die. Now they live and they’ve been causing problems.”

The Baby Boomer generation, of which Tittel is a part, have been lifetime observers of the changing climate.  He recalled his youth and spending time at a family cabin in Ringwood.  “When I was a kid, you never needed air conditioning. Then in the 1980s, on some days, you needed air conditioning. And now even though we’re up in the woods, you need air conditioning most of the summer now.”  Tittel also mourned the loss of New Jersey’s ski resorts.  Growing up, he knew of 30 places people could go skiing.  That is now a thing of the past, by and large, given how winters have become so mild.

Where is New Jersey’s 1980 climate?  According to Tittel, you would have to go to upper New England to revisit New Jersey’s summers and winters of forty years ago.  “That’s why we had no snow this winter and we have had 90-degree days in March. Our weather has changed dramatically and that creates a whole series of problems. It also means more bad air days.  For people with asthma, there are a lot of health implications from climate that we don’t really talk about. I don’t know why we don’t, because I think it’s important.”

Don’t look to Governor Murphy for solutions, though.  As far as Tittel is concerned, there are things individuals can do with respect to ticks.  “There are a couple of things we can do. Part of it is people have to take some sort of responsibility for these things.  There are fewer ticks and bugs in deep forests than there are in fields and lawns. They like those areas better to live in and breed.  One thing that states should be doing is encouraging more forests, and right now the state has these policies such as trying to make grassland habitat in the middle of the highlands for certain bird species, or quail shooting down in South Jersey.  That stuff needs to stop. We need to have deeper forests which will mean cooler temperatures.”

In a tragi-comic display of bureaucratic incompetence, outcry arose after some 21 acres of ancient forest were destroyed in Glassboro.  The New Jersey DEP paid $200,000 to contractors to take down the unviolated forestland because it wanted to improve conditions for the American woodcock.  After bulldozing the trees, the DEP discovered it had caused considerable collateral damage, imperiling other birds which are protected or endangered.

In a statement, Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey Director of the Sierra Club, criticized the DEP.  “The Glassboro Project is a prime example of why New Jersey needs stricter regulations when it comes to the protection of forests, wildlife management areas, and more. If the public was engaged in the process, experts could have pointed out other well suited areas to create or protect Woodcock habitat that would not have caused so much damage to critical ecosystems. Instead NJDEP obliterated our public land and trees that will most likely never grow back. NJDEP violated their own rules, destroyed wetlands, and cut forests all with no plan. They should be held accountable for destroying 21 acres of land that belongs to the public.”

“Over 100 year old trees were cut including the ShortLeaf Pine, White Oak, and Swamp Chestnut Oak and over 10 acres of wetlands were destroyed,” the Sierra Club said. “There was no public hearing or input on DEP’s plan nor was there a 14 step process that would usually occur for a forestry plan.”

According to the New York Times, the NJDEP is now accusing itself of violating its own rules.

But the damage is done.

Tittel charged that this was just one of many environmental catastrophes in the state, all of which contribute to the problems that manifest in various ways, including the rising tick populations.  Cutting down forests continues to exacerbate the crisis.  “That helps to increase the deer and rodent population but that also spreads more Lyme disease and other things. We’ve had that battle over Sparta Mountain.  They have been cutting down and clear-cutting parts of the forest to create golden warbler habitat in the middle of forest, which makes no sense when there are 80 other bird species that need deep forest.”

Some ways that residents can help reduce the tick population, Tittel said, is to break up the monoculture of grass lawns by introducing other native plants.  Planting native trees intelligently will also help not only with ticks, but with temperature.  “By having more trees and more green space, these help lower temperatures.”  Tittel said such methods could help break up the “heat island effect” which is a phrase referring particularly to urban areas being significantly warmer than rural areas.  A lack of green space, tree canopies, and the effects of human activity within a city environment means that temperatures will remain higher for longer compared to outside locations.

Government-scheduled spraying, such as for mosquitoes, do not fully address the issue, according to Tittel, and more natural, holistic approaches need to be undertaken for these methods to have long-term beneficial effects.  Pesticides can get into water, he pointed out, which can contaminate drinking supplies.

“We have to be doing more with integrated pest management and looking for other solutions,” Tittel said, “for instance, if you don’t want beetles on your tomato plants, plant marigolds next to them. There are things that we can do that we’ve been looking at and trying to reduce these populations by how we manage our lands, by using things that are not pesticides as ways to help kill or ward off these insects.”  He said the same logic applies when people go hiking in the woods.  “Unfortunately, we should be covered head to toe and then check ourselves when we get back from our hike or walk.  Check pets also because ticks can come from them to us.”

Tittel did not completely dismiss the idea that New Jersey families could just go out into some parkland and have a picnic in the grass, but he did recommend that people be careful.  A hiker himself, Tittel said that he has never gotten Lyme disease, but friends of his have, and in some cases more than once.  “I used to always wear shorts hiking and now I always wear boots; I tend to wear long pants and tuck them into my socks to protect against insects.  We have to play defense.”

It is no secret that New Jersey is a crowded place.  Housing is in high demand, pushing prices to ludicrous levels.  These contribute to the warming of the state.  “By having all these parking lots and all these big warehouses–and not enough green space–we’re raising our own taxes,” Tittel said. “How we build and where we build becomes important because we’re 40% developed. I think that’s one of the things which have helped, unfortunately, in making New Jersey’s temperatures rise quicker than other places.”

The origins of this devil-may-care approach to development stretches back decades.  “One of the things we’re going to look at is all that development in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, where we just sprawled out along the highways, built office complexes in the middle of nowhere, and built these five acre McMansions on farm fields. With all those policies, we’re going to have to reverse them at some point where we need to develop in a smarter, better way: places that are more walkable, fewer cars, more green space, less pavement.  It’s not going to be easy because we, in some ways, have to fix the mistakes of the past, like on stormwater, where so many of our cities and towns are already paved, how do you go back and retrofit them? How do you break up these heat island effects in places like North Jersey?  With planting trees, putting in more green space, green roofs, and stuff like that.  That’ll take some money and it takes political will in New Jersey. I’ll just say that we have a flood of problems and a drought of action on some of these issues.  We need to have the political will to make some of the tough choices and then make those kinds of investments. So far, we just keep kicking the can down the road.”

Isn’t Governor Murphy an environmentalist?  Tittel doesn’t think so.  In fact, he ascribes much of that image to smoke and mirrors.  “The DEP has less staff now than under Christie. Our parks are falling apart, we used to have a $400 million backlog to fix parks, and now we’re at over $700 million. We’re not really investing in our cities the way we should. We’re still not making the kind of investment that we need to make them more livable. You look at the developments that are going on and these massive squat buildings, like lofts coming in, where they basically build on every inch of the property. There isn’t even a place for a blade of grass or a tree and I’ve been looking at some of the stuff like they’re doing up in Montclair or Westfield, or even in New York. It seems like we’re just making things denser, and then that in turn is going to create its own problems.”

As far as Tittel is concerned, on environmental issues, Murphy is no better than Christie.  “Murphy’s environmental record is pretty horrendous and people are letting him get away with it. Maybe it’s because he’s a Democrat or because Christie was so bad, but not one of Christie’s policies when it comes to dealing with stormwater and flooding changed. Christie rolled back a lot of the stuff we worked for decades to get under Whitman, Codey, McGreevey, and Corzine. Murphy hasn’t replaced any of that stuff that Christie rolled back with stronger rules.”

The DEP, Tittel said, is smaller now than it was under the previous administration, but this is a trend that has been continuing since the mid-90s.  With insufficient staff, the Department cannot respond to the kind of cases and calls it ought to.  The governor’s “Environmental Justice” legislation has seemingly stalled, over two years after being signed.  Tittel said the “EJ” is effectively pointless, but provides a political cover for the governor to seem like an environmentalist while not actually achieving anything.  “[Gov. Murphy] is bragging about how good it is, but there are so many loopholes. The DEP says in their own comment document that this law will not stop one permit, just try to get the permits to be cleaner. But it will not stop one project… I’ve always contended that the environment is political, if we don’t have enough inspectors to go out and make sure chemical plants are safe, then that’s political, because we’re siding with the industry over the public.”

How should New Jerseyans see their governor, a man self-described as both a “progressive” and “cold-blooded capitalist”?  Can one be both with any credibility?  “Murphy has been able to give himself cover,” Tittel said “Part of it is because he uses social issues as a cover. It was one of the things that I saw happen in the Democratic Party.  It started with Hillary [Clinton]. She wanted to go to the left of Bernie, but she couldn’t do it on the environment, economics, and things like that, so she went on the left to him on women’s issues and gay rights. What you see in Murphy–and a lot of corporate Democrats—is that on social issues he looks progressive and meanwhile, on economic issues, he’s pure Goldman Sachs.  People think he’s a liberal because he’s pro-choice and he’s talking about gay rights. And meanwhile, the DEP has gotten rid of the Division of Enforcement. It’s now an office under the commissioner, so it’s no longer independent staffing.  Murphy’s economic policies and environmental policies are pretty in line with Christie in a lot of ways.”

With a glut of cash left over from COVID funding, Governor Murphy distributed that money to several different entities, among them, the New Jersey Hall of Fame.  Tittel was not impressed with the approach—or lack of approach—to dispersing the funds.  “You know, it’s funny. I thought, at the time, ‘this is a time for May flowers, not Christmas trees’.  What I saw was that there was no coordinated plan to do anything.  There was no cohesive plan where you could have actually done something real with it for both the environment and economic development. Now, a lot of places are getting money for different things. Maybe there are other things that might be better for, say, Jersey City. Do we really need to pay for an exposition center in Jersey City when Jersey City’s got fewer parks and fewer playgrounds per capita than almost any city in the country?”

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6 responses to “Ambitious Murphy and Christie Mirror Images on the Environment, Too”

  1. Based on her quote above, Ms.Ramos from Sierra Club doesn’t know what she is talking about. She made several errors:

    1. DEP HAD A PLAN for the Glassboro WMA clearcut. It was a PLAN DEP staff wrote.

    2. The DEP has STATEWIDE PLANS that include exactly the same policies behind the Glassboro clearcut. Those plans are known as the State Forest Action Plan and the State Wildlife Action Plan.

    3. The DEP Glassboro clearcut PLAN was based on US Fish and Wildlife Service Plans. If DEP is allowed to continue these plans and policies, thousands of acres of forest will be cut.

    4. The DEP logging is EXEMPT from DEP wetlands and other major regulations.

    Ms Ramos was a co-Chair of Senator Smith’s Forestry Task Force, where she SUPPORTED all these DEP plans and policies. It is shocking that she now tries to cover all that up and exposes such ignorance.

    Fact support for the above, including links to the regulatory documents and DEP plans can be gowned here:
    http://www.wolfenotes.com/2023/05/murphy-dep-claimed-that-illegal-clearcut-of-mature-wetlands-forest-was-agriculture/

  2. Jeff is absolutely correct.

    Despite 14 years of logging on Sparta Mountain the DEP has yet to show the return of a single nesting pair of golden-winged warblers, the poster bird for this project and has declared that several logged sites failed to produce the desired type of habitat, while others have regrown past that stage but are not being maintained. Creating and maintaining specific habitat is expensive and without its own funding the only tool available to the DEP is to log and sell mature trees, so it continues to do this regardless of the results. Basically, this is a DEP science experiment.

    NJ Forest Watch has developed a guide to the science arguments around logging, proving that the pro-logging arguments are bad policy based on outdated, incomplete, unscientific and deceptive assertions. NJ is cutting down its best defense against climate change and instead is paying $1,300 per tree to plant new trees in places like Trenton. DEP is also destroying the public forests we paid for with green acres money.

    For more detail on the science see https://www.savespartamountain.org/scientific-arguments-debunking-purported-benefits-of-logging-a-forest/

  3. First things first. Governor Phil KNUCKLEHEAD Murphy and the Democrats (sounds like a comedy team) received $6.4 BILLION DOLLARS of $350 BILLION DOLLARS from the Federal Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds in 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan.

    These are the questionable COVID relief items Murphy & his administration are spending the $6.4 BILLION DOLLARS on, with $1.1 BILLION SPENT SO FAR:

    New Jersey’s first round of spending released in January included $521,783 for eight new SUVs and $5 million to buy baby formula to distribute to “families in need.” New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority used $3.5 million to promote Saturday’s UFC 288 event at the Prudential Center. Items on the second list submitted Friday by the Murphy Administration include:

    $12 million for the New Jersey Hall of Fame at the American Dream, $10 million for the Centre Pompidou x Jersey City, a satellite French art museum in Jersey City, new vehicles for State Police and Franklin Township in Somerset County, Hospital upgrades.

    Property tax relief is supposed to be first and foremost in payouts from this COVID funding to the State. Most schools and municipalities were not getting help from the fund. School districts and municipalities are getting screwed. Money goes to the pet projects of powerful legislators and everybody else gets screwed. That’s not how the funding distribution is supposed to work.

    The Joint Budget Oversight Committee was created during the pandemic to expedite measures without budget hearings. Because the Murphy Administration has not distributed the funds because of the prior COVID emergency, there is no longer a sense of urgency about getting the money out.

    If Tittle and the DEP are thinking that the Governor is going to help them, they need to get in line behind the taxpayers who should be getting relief first.

    As Governor KNUCKLEHEAD just said, “The money belongs to me” and he’ll do what I want with it. Sorry Governor, that’s an IMPEACHABLE OFFENSE and CRIMINAL OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT. It’s not your money. It’s taxpayers’ monies, and we want it used to take care of massive property tax (education tax) reductions–NOW!!!!!!!

  4. When are people going to understand that Murphy is not going to do anything. It is the DEP that needs to act and they can’t. They are frozen in place by incompetence. The Parks and Forest Div. is being run by people who no business be responsible for our forest and parks lands. Under some definitions, they are just corrupt.

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