A Pine Barrens Conservation Ethic


Dec 31, 1969
In A SAND COUNTY ALMANAC, conservationist Aldo Leopold advocated developing a land use ethic amongst the folks who use the land. Leopold owned and managed a farm as well as held a position with the U.S. Forest Service during its early years. He also worked with wildlife management. The Forest Service to Leopold was just a start of a plan to conserve our natural resources. For him, the government could only go so far in caring for our forests and other resources. Knowledge of sound ecological principles put into practice by landowners is the key to good stewardship of the land.

The New Jersey Pine Barrens is a case study of conservation practices advocated by such early conservationists as Aldo Leopold. In his book, written more than half a century ago, Leopold related experiences from his and other farms, hunting, logging, excursions into the wilderness and other means to teach ecological principles and wise use of the land. He explained how certain non commercial plants and non game animals effect the viability of cash crops, and gave examples of not basing decisions on the interrelationship of plants, animals and human activities – the crux of ecology – resulted in farms going under. The axe was a management tool for this conservationist, who explained that landowners decide what and when to cut trees in order to achieve their objectives for the land. He weighed the effects of different land use decisions. The problem Leopold saw was the lack of knowledge and concern for the land, a narrow-minded view of nature, the pursuit of the fast buck the waste resulting from harvesting a small portion of what is used as well as taking more from the land then it could take at a particular time and place, such as over cutting a stand of trees and overgrazing.

According to Jack McCormick, former curator and chairman of the Academy of Natural Sciences who served on the Pinelands Advisory Committee that wrote legislation to form the New Jersey Pinelands Environmental Council, no large areas of the Pine Barrens were not cut or burned or both within the 19th century. Dr. McCormick wrote that forests in the Pine Barrens were clear cut every 25-50 years for firewood, charcoal production, poles and lumber up until at least 1900 and that from at least every ten to 30 years, most of the forests were burned repeatedly. Regardless of what he considered inordinate cutting, and because of the fires, the ecologists concluded, today we have the unique area called the Pine Barrens. http://www.burlco.lib.nj.us/pinelands/vegetation.htm

Recently, with a market for wood products, private landowners in the Pine Barrens have been clearcutting woodlots. Some of them are cranberry growers who, faced with a slump in the cranberry market, are looking for another source of revenue to earn their livelihood and keep their land. A renewable crop, the trees will grow back and will produce yields a few decades in the future from those spots. Responsible tree harvesting not only brings in revenue to keep rural industry viable, by creating gaps in the forest, which occurred naturally long before humans cut and burned the woods, monster wildfires are prevented. I recently heard on the radio that with the sudden hot, dry weather, the state is concerned about forest fires. These openings in the forest at least will keep any fires from spreading, abating the destruction of property and wildlife and pollution from the smoke. Growing trees absorb more carbon dioxide and produces more oxygen than does old growth forests, so a cycle of cutting and regrowth will make the air cleaner.

Unfortunately, today’s environmentalists have been antagonistic towards people who work the land, driving onerous government regulations and lawsuits to fight with cranberry growers and others and just aquire land to rope off and leave alone as wilderness. There are some people within the environmental movement who see a problem and wish to reform it. In the spirit of Aldo Leopold, conservationists are working with ranchers, fishermen and other land owners for the mutual benefit of their livelihoods and the environment. Conservationists are also pointing out that to protect the environment, one has to do more than just aquire it. It must be wisely managed.


When I first started reading this next article about Steve McCormick, head of the Nature Conservancy, he reminded me of Aldo Leopold, a conservationist who, unlike the leaders in the Sierra Club, is close to the land. http://www.sacbee.com/static/archive/news/projects/environment/20011229.html

In this article, a conservationist disillusioned with the environmental movement calls the Sierra Club CLUB SIERRA.

What the Pine Barrens needs is responsible management driven by conservationists in the vein of Aldo Leopold and land owners with a conservation ethic, unfettered by the regulations and lawsuits from opportunistic environmentalists and ambitious politicians.