Sierra Club: DEP Protecting 4 Ponds in Wharton State Forest is Not Enough to Deal with ORVs

 

The Department of Environmental Protection has launched a pilot project to install wooden barriers to protect ecologically sensitive intermittent ponds in Wharton State Forest from damage caused by illegal use of off-road vehicles, but we need much more to protect the forest. Driving off-road in the forest is illegal yet still common and poorly enforced. Without real enforcement these barriers will not prevent people from going to the ponds illegally. In 2005, the DEP has issued 3,000 tickets for enforcement, but under the Christie Administration there has been a drop in enforcement in our state parks. The DEP should implement a comprehensive plan to educate the public and real barriers to these environmentally sensitive areas.

 

“The DEP putting up barriers to protect four ponds in Wharton State Forest is good, but there is a lot more that needs to be done. They need to implement a real plan to keep ORVs out of environmentally sensitive areas. Instead of a pilot program to deal with four ponds, we need a permanent program to protect all the ponds and environmentally sensitive areas in Wharton State Forest. We also need real enforcement. Enforcement for ORVs have been dismal in the past under the Christie Administration. How do we expect it to increase now? They need enough resources to do real enforcements, but under Governor Christie DEP budget and staff has been cut,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The DEP must educate riders what the consequences of breaking the rules are. We need a real plan to stop illegal ORV use in these environmentally-sensitive areas. People know how poor enforcement is for this issue already. Unless the DEP is making a real change, there will still be illegal ORV use in Wharton.”

 

ORVs cause pollution, soil erosion, damage and destruction of the environment including streams and wetlands, and the harm plant and animal species. They turn wetlands into mud flats and cause damage to parks and facilities.

 

“ORVs will always cause significant damage to our ecosystems and add air pollution to our already polluted sky. The DEP needs to close off environmentally-sensitive areas and stop ORVs from getting in this area with real barriers They risk damaging the rare plant and animal species that are found in New Jersey’s Pinelands. ORVs trample small plants and disturb wetlands and streambeds. The silt alone hurts water quality and makes it harder for fish to breed,” said Jeff Tittel.

 

The state of New Jersey has done a terrible job at enforcing illegal ORV riding on public lands and we are concerned there will not be any commitment to go after the riders for the damage they do to our public lands. With the Christie Administration’s constant cuts to environmental programs and departments, we have fewer staff to enforce ORV bans and rules, which only leads to more ORV destruction.

 

“The DEP has not been able to enforce illegal ORV riding in the past and with budget cuts, they have even less funding and staff to do so. In the past they gave out 3,000 tickets in one year and impounded vehicles. Now the DEP is understaffed and under-budgeted so these signs are not going to keep them away by itself. There should be certain areas where ORVs are allowed because they’re not as environmentally sensitive. Other areas that are more sensitive should be enforced as off-limits,” said Jeff Tittel. “With 40% fewer park police and conservation officers, we don’t have enough funding to effectively increase enforcement.”

 

In the past New Jersey allowed ORVs to be used legally in parks causing a lot of damage. Years of ago they allowed for a one day ORV rally in Allamuchy Park years causing $60,000 work of damage. Sierra Club studies in other states have showed that legal ORV parks increase illegal rider ship in the areas. This is because ORV park attendees get tired of the same trails and think if they can ride there it should be legal on properties next door. We need to ensure the state has more enforcement in the area around these parks.  ORV riders also want to use stateland because the state is responsible of any accidents on public land, but if it is on private land no one will insure them.

 

“The pilot program to protect four ponds is a step, but not a real plan with real enforcement. It may be done more for political cover than actual protection, leaving environmentally-sensitive parts of Wharton State Forest still at risk. The DEP hasn’t shown us a detailed plan that has been approved by the Pinelands Commission. These vehicles not only disrupt important natural habitat, but they contribute to air pollution as well. Just posting signs and putting in barriers without enforcement is not going to keep riders out of these environmentally sensitive areas,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

 

The DEP press release can be found below:

IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                     Contact: Lawrence Hajna  (609) 984-1795

March 6, 2017                                                                          Bob Considine    (609) 292-2994

www.nj.gov/dep<http://www.nj.gov/dep>                                                                      Caryn Shinske     (609) 984-1795

STATE PARK SERVICE LAUNCHES PILOT PROJECT TO PROTECT INTERMITTENT PONDS IN WHARTON STATE FOREST FROM OFF-ROAD VEHICLE DAMAGE

(17/P13) TRENTON –  The Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Parks and Forestry has launched a pilot project to install wooden barriers to protect ecologically sensitive intermittent ponds in Wharton State Forest from damage caused by illegal use of off-road vehicles as part of a comprehensive enforcement and education effort to protect ecologically sensitive resources in the park.

[Vernal Pond Barriers]The initial phase of the project targeted four ponds, using volunteer help from varied stakeholder groups. It is part of a broader effort to protect ecologically sensitive areas in the 125,000-acre state forest. Wharton, by far the largest unit of the State Park System, is located in the heart of the globally unique Pinelands National Reserve, and covers parts of Atlantic, Burlington and Camden counties.

“This effort, a collaboration of environmental groups, off-road vehicle groups that advocate for responsible use of unimproved roads in Wharton, and other stakeholders, builds upon our ongoing efforts to strike the right balance in protecting the natural resources that are unique to this region, while recognizing that Wharton has a long history of being enjoyed by varied user groups,” said State Park Service Director Mark Texel.

[Wharton Sign Closeup]Intermittent ponds are shallow depressions found throughout the Pinelands that periodically dry out as the region’s shallow ground water table fluctuates. They are ecologically important because they provide breeding habitat for many of the region’s unique amphibian and plant species. Fish that would otherwise eat the eggs and larvae of the Pinelands unique amphibian species cannot populate these ponds due to their fluctuations. Some of the species, such as the Pine Barrens tree frog, are found in few places outside the Pinelands.

[Vernal Pond Frog Cropped]Park Service and State Forest Fire Service personnel worked with volunteers to place timber barriers around access points to the selected ponds. Small gaps were left to allow pedestrian access. The New Jersey Pinelands Commission science staff provided guidance on areas suited for the project.

“The Commission is pleased with the outcome of this collaboration with the DEP,” said Nancy Wittenberg, Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission. “The Pinelands Commission has been consulting with the DEP on a range of issues regarding the protection of Wharton and looks forward to future initiatives.”

Frogs could be seen and heard while the workers were erecting the barriers. Large egg mass clusters were also present in the ponds.
[Vernal Ponds Barrier 2]
Some off-road vehicle enthusiasts run their vehicles through these ponds both during their wet and dry periods. In the process, their tires leave deep tracks in the ponds and destroy plants that fringe them.

Organizations involved in the effort were the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Iron in the Pines, Open Trails NJ, NJPineBarrens.com, the South Jersey Botany Group, the New Jersey Trail Riders Association, South Jersey Geocachers, the Gossamer Hunting Club and the Whitesbog Historic Trust. The barriers were erected Feb. 25.

“The barriers are made of wood posts and rails that blend in with the forest environment,” Texel said. “Now that these barriers are in place at pilot locations, Park Service personnel and State Park Police will monitor these areas. Our goal is to expand to other sensitive areas.”

[Egg Mass]The project complements a comprehensive education and enforcement effort designed to reduce environmental damage in Wharton, which has become popular for off-road vehicles because of its vast network of sand roads and many access points. The effort, which includes a special Park Police unit dedicated to enforcement, is designed to make sure that only street-legal vehicles use the forest roads and that they remain only on clearly established unimproved roads.

As part of this effort, ecologically sensitive areas have been posted with signs warning vehicle users to keep out. Park Police have focused patrols on these areas. Some 60 entrances to the state forest have also been marked with signs reminding the public that motor vehicle and environmental laws are being enforced.

For news releases on the State Park Service enforcement efforts in Wharton, visit: www.nj.gov/dep/newsrel/2016/16_0014.htm<http://www.nj.gov/dep/newsrel/2016/16_0014.htm>  and www.nj.gov/dep/newsrel/2016/16_0030.htm<http://www.nj.gov/dep/newsrel/2016/16_0030.htm>

MEDIA NOTE: For more photos, including before and after pictures, contact the DEP Press Office at the above numbers.

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