Pinelands preservation remains state priority

Guest Column John C. Stokes

Three decades have passed since then-New Jersey Gov. Brendan T. Byrne accomplished what many thought impossible.

“In the midst of what many optimists considered a bleak situation, we have pulled through with legislation which will provide for a comprehensive planning and management system for the Pinelands,” Byrne said before signing the Pinelands Protection Act on June 28, 1979. “This legislation … is testimony to our civilization and future generations that amid rapid progress we have enough foresight to protect beauty.”

Byrne was keenly aware of the serious threats facing the Pinelands and the pressing need to protect a million-acre region that stretches across parts of Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Ocean counties.

Residents can take pride in knowing that the Pinelands’ vast mosaic of rivers, streams, forests, farms and towns are being protected through comprehensive, regional planning as Byrne envisioned 30 years ago.

The Pinelands Commission, the state agency that oversees land use, development and natural resource protection in the Pinelands, remains committed to achieving its mission to preserve, protect and enhance this special part of New Jersey.


uring the past year alone, the commission:

• awarded grants that have permanently preserved a total of approximately 900 acres of land in the Pinelands in Atlantic, Burlington and Ocean counties. An additional 2,511 acres of land in the Pinelands are in the process of being preserved through these funds;

• completed a scientific study that evaluates the status of the Pinelands’ ecology by analyzing landscape and watershed conditions throughout the region. The commission is using information from this study, among other data, to identify ways to ensure that important natural areas receive the appropriate protection;

• continued to lead a six-year study of the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer, a 17 trillion gallon aquifer that supplies drinking water to more than one million people in southern New Jersey. The study will determine how current and future water supply needs within the Pinelands may be met;

• helped Barnegat and Stafford municipal officials to develop and begin implementing a series of strategies aimed at mitigating wildfire risks in the two communities. The project will serve as a model for other communities throughout the Pinelands;

• approved a measure that requires the clustering of residential development in Pinelands-designated forest areas and rural development areas. Clustering is a style of development that allows reduced lot sizes in exchange for the permanent preservation of open space or other desirable features of a property. Development is clustered on a small portion of a property, such as areas close to roads and other infrastructure, while the open space that constitutes the larger remainder of the property is permanently protected through deed restriction.

By clustering development in the forest areas and rural development areas, the commission can better protect large, contiguous areas of land that contain sensitive, high-quality water supplies and provide important habitat for rare Pinelands plants and animals. Clustering also helps towns reduce the costs, such as those associated with road maintenance and school busing, of serving homes that otherwise would be built on large, scattered lots;

• proposed amendments to the Pinelands Comprehensive Management

Plan that will improve the management of septic systems, wetlands restoration, the maintenance of electric transmission rights-of-way and forestry

management practices;

• worked with 16 Pinelands municipalities and five counties to continue developing the Pine Barrens Byway, a 130-mile driving trail that seeks to boost eco-tourism opportunities in the southern portion of the Pinelands;

• tracked key economic indicators to monitor the economic condition of Pinelands communities. According to the latest study, the Pinelands’ unemployment rate is lower than the state and national averages while the average property tax bill in the Pinelands is also lower than other areas of southern New Jersey and the state as a whole; and

• educated nearly 4,000 people about the Pinelands’ natural, cultural and historic resources. This includes record attendance at the annual Pinelands Short Course, as well as a Pinelands-themed World Water Monitoring Day, Pinelands- Friendly Yard and Garden Fair, presentations at our office, festivals and in-class programs delivered at public schools.

I am proud of these accomplishments because they demonstrate an ongoing dedication to carry forth Byrne’s message to “protect beauty” for future generations. And while many challenges lie ahead, the Pinelands Commission and our residents will remain focused on achieving a mission that was boldly launched three decades ago.

John C. Stokes is the executive director of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, an independent state agency that oversees land use and natural resource protection in the Pinelands Area of southern New Jersey.