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(TRENTON) – Legislation Assemblyman John F. McKeon sponsored to establish a forest stewardship program to promote sustainable conservation of the lands today passed the full Assembly.
“Forest stewardship program would develop and promote long-term management of the New Jersey’s valuable forests by preserving and enhancing those resources,” said McKeon (D-Essex). “We may live in the nation’s most densely populated state, but forests are critical to the welfare of New Jersey. They help clean and refresh the air, reduce global warming, clean and protect the waters, promote replenishment of aquifers, stabilize soils and provide shade and habitat essential to sustaining New Jersey’s native biodiversity.”
The measure (A-3239) would direct the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to establish a forest stewardship program for owners of forest land who prepare forest stewardship plans for five acres of land or more. Under the bill, plans would be required to meet the rules and regulations of sustainability, list the owner’s long term stewardship goals for the forest land and the annual activities that will be implemented in the forest.
The bill also would direct the DEP to:
• Establish a cost share incentive program, “New Jersey Forest Stewardship Incentive Program,” if funds are appropriated or otherwise made available for the support and funding of such a program, the DEP would award grants to local government units, non-profit organizations, and private owners of forest land to help subsidize their costs in implementing stewardship activities.
• Create a forest stewardship advisory council
• Prepare a report every seven years based on these forest sustainability criteria and indicators, with the first report required by February 1st of the third year following the date of enactment.
“New Jersey forest land supports outdoor recreational opportunities, provides residents with irreplaceable aesthetic benefits, and contributes to the state’s economic well being through increased property values, ecotourism, business opportunities and forest products,” said McKeon. “These woodlands are an irreplaceable component of the environment worthy of conservation and stewardship. They must be nurtured.”
The bill would further provide that no local government unit may enact, on or after the date of enactment of this bill into law, any ordinance, rule, or resolution, as appropriate, that conflicts with, prevents or impedes the implementation of a forest stewardship plan or impose a fee in excess of $100 in any calendar year for the cutting of trees on any land that is the subject of an approved forest stewardship plan.
Lastly, this bill would amend the “Landowner’s Liability Act,” which provides general liability protection to landowners (as well as lessees and occupants of the lands) under certain circumstances for defined sport and recreational activities including hunting, fishing and trapping. However, current law removes that protection when permission is granted in exchange for payment such as a fee or lease agreement. This bill would remove this inhibition on lands where the landowner is implementing an approved forest stewardship plan and the use of the forest land for sport or recreational activity is consistent with the plan for sustainability.
The bill passed 67-8.
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