Professional forester helps officials mull tree removal

Expert recommends
consulting Monroe

By jane meggitt
Staff Writer

Expert recommends
consulting Monroe’s
ordinance for guidance
By jane meggitt
Staff Writer

UPPER FREEHOLD — The Township Committee continues to mull the positives and negatives of regulating how and when trees in the township can be removed.

Professional forester Rick Benz gave a presentation to the Township Committee on ordinances that regulate tree removal at last week’s committee meeting.

Benz, a member of the township’s Open Space Committee, is a state-certified tree expert. Benz described himself as "having a true love of the forest."

"I don’t bring an agenda to you, just helpful hints and advice," Benz told the committee.

Benz said that the public "does not like to see trees cut." However, he also said that there "was no quick fix in a no-cut ordinance.

"Being an agricultural commodity, [trees] are part of the agricultural base; trees are part of that heritage," he said. "Agriculture and pure forestry are coupled."

He added that the harvesting of trees fell under the state Right to Farm law.

"Forestry is growing a crop on the land," he said. "It’s a bigger product and it traumatizes a lot of people when trees move off the land. People cut trees for firewood, lumber."

Benz also noted that there was a commercial saw mill in the township.

"It’s a viable resource. If you get pushed into a tree ordinance, look at the business part of it — don’t step on them," he said.

He said there was a state-qualified management plan written by foresters and reviewed by the Department of Environmental Protection.

"There are best management practices," he explained. "When you harvest a certain tree, it should be done in a certain way; it should be as sensitive to the environment as possible."

He added that he was not speaking about "clear-cutting."

"Deforestation is often mistaken for forestry," said Benz. "Trees are removed and replaced for houses, warehouses. … There are ways around that," he said.

He gave committee members a copy of Monroe Township’s tree ordinance, which he said has withstood a court challenge.

The Middlesex County town charges developers a $15 fee for each tree removed, as well as a charge for replacement trees.

"Monroe gets a lot of money for this," he said. "They’ve had situations where a developer wants to cut down a lot of trees and has a half-million dollar bill," so the construction firms will rework the development plan to reduce their bills.

Benz also suggested that the township form a Shade Tree Commission.

"The state encourages towns to develop shade tree commissions," he said. "There is training and a core standard. It puts knowledgeable people on board. A commission gives a certain amount of tort protection [to a municipality]."

Mayor William Miscoski was concerned about infringing on the rights of property owners to cut down trees, but said, "Clear-cutting is nonsense, I agree."

Committeeman David Horsnall said he was concerned about lots being clear-cut, but he wanted "to get rid of junk or dirty trees, or keep growth back from the house," he should have the right to do that.

"I like the issue of stronger control over developer’s actions, where they will have to keep track of the trees they remove," he said.

Environmental Commission member Sue Kozel asked about Colonial trees, those which are several hundred years old.

"It could be dedicated a historic tree," Benz said. "You have to be careful — big does not necessarily mean old."

Kozel, a member of the township’s Environmental Commission, has been a strong advocate of the township implementing regulations on tree removal.

Resident Roger Bullock, who was once in charge of the gypsy-moth eradication program for the state, said shade tree commissions were professional jobs, and objected to the idea of "individuals who suddenly become experts."

In other business, township construction official Ron Gafgen reported on plans for the first Upper Freehold Day, to be held Sept. 20 at Byron Johnson Park.

Various rides, a petting zoo, music and displays from many local organizations are already scheduled. A fireworks display will be held at dusk. Miscoski noted that all events would be free. Table space is still available for groups wishing to have a display.