Let's Talk about the PPA

Ben Ruset

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This morning the PPA released a new call to arms, looking to get people to sign their petition to support the Wharton MAP. And yet again we're greeted with a deluge of hyperbole and disinformation.

Wharton State Forest is not a motor sports park. Stop the illegal activity that destroys habitat and makes access for other users (including forest fire fighters) impossible.

I have yet to see one person claim that Wharton should be a motor sports park. The vast majority of people who reject the proposed MAP also agree that illegal activity needs to be stopped.

They keep trotting out "access for forest fighters" which is absolutely ridiculous. If their goal is to close roads off to traffic then eventually they'll grow over with vegetation. How will forest fighters be able to travel them then? During a fire the forest fire service often will make new roads to get to the fire. They have been doing this since the 1930s! In fact some of the roads that they want to close are roads that the forest fire service themselves made and failed to close off after the fire was out.

This all stems from an incident where a forest service truck allegedly got stuck. They haven't mentioned any specifics about what happened, where it happened, the skill of the driver, etc. There are so many factors that can come to play with a vehicle getting stuck. Blaming it on ORV damage without proof is disingenuous. Remember, these are the same people who released a photo of a spot that the state had dug dirt out of (likely for road repair) and then claimed it was a vernal pool that had been destroyed by off-roaders. Hilariously several environmentalists called them out on this deceit when they posted it on their Facebook page.

The PPA has no qualms about lying to get their way.

NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) staff spent 4 years mapping all the roads, trails and unofficial access points in Wharton State Forest in order to get a handle on the damage occurring there. In August they released an in-depth Motorized Access Plan (M.A.P.) - an essential step in reversing the damage.

Rob Auermuller, the superintendent of Wharton State Forest, kicked off this initiative. Rob is a radical environmentalist with strong ties to the PPA, and it's clear that the PPA had a strong influence in planning the MAP. The MAP was planned in a vacuum, without oversight from superiors in the DEP, input from forest stakeholder groups, legislative oversight, and input from the public. Basically, the MAP does what Rob and the PPA want: to severely curtail access to the forest by making it incredibly difficult to be out there. They feel that the Pine Barrens are best experienced through a solid pane of glass -- look but don't touch.

And lest you think that this is just about motorized vehicles, Rob has made offhand comments about closing off the tributaries of the Mullica, Batsto, and Wading Rivers to kayakers and canoeists. They want people to stay on the "officially opened" rivers and use the crowded "official" launching points. The next restrictions to come might limit your favorite activity.

The M.A.P. designated 225 miles for motorized vehicles and placed sensitive areas and forest fire service road cuts (that were not roads) off limits to vehicular traffic - leaving them open for walking, biking, and horseback riding.

The MAP closed over 50% of the roads and trails in the forest. In some areas they blocked the trails by cutting live trees and dragging the carcasses across the road. All done at the direction of Superintendant Auermuller and with the help of several prominent PPA members. How would someone bike over that? How could a forest fire service vehicle get over that?

Again - they want YOU out of the forest.

Now the DEP has put the M.A.P. on hold and are deciding whether to adopt or scrap the plan!

The DEP has put the MAP on hold because of the massive outcry from the public who are rightly concerned that their ability to access the forest is being severely curtailed. The MAP is on hold while meetings between stakeholder groups, the public, and the DEP are arranged.

The PPA does NOT want you to have a say in this at all. They do not want these meetings to go forward. They want to be the final arbiter over what can and can not happen in the woods. Your opinion is irrelevant, so long as you agree with what they have to say. (And donate money.) A very vocal PPA member recently blogged "When has it become necessary for the Superintendent of the Forest or the Forest Fire Service to consult the public about how to save the forest from abuse and fire prevention?" The answer: when you plan on cutting off public access to over 50% of the roads and trails that have historically been open for decades, if not centuries. Who is that guy to say that you don't have the right to have a say?

They wanted this plan rolled out in secret because they KNEW there would be massive outcry from the public if it was done transparently. Remember - they started closing roads and trails before the MAP was even announced.

We can't afford to see this bad policy replicated in every forest throughout our state.

If you care about New Jersey's State Forests and their plants, wildlife and the rights of citizens to enjoy some parts of the forests without motorbikes, jeeps and trucks please take action today!

What's the bad policy? Getting input from the people who use the forests? Can they really say this with a straight face? They're happy to take your donations, happy to sell you a spot on a canoe ride, but your opinion? "We know what's best for the forest. Stop talking, your opinion isn't wanted." (Only your money.)

The actual bad policy is rolling out a land use plan that massively closes off (or otherwise makes it incredibly difficult) access to the forest in such a way that seems like the only "stakeholder" consulted was the PPA - in secret and behind closed doors.

Does the PPA feel like Wharton State Forest is their exclusive domain? Plenty of people drive their Jeeps and trucks through the woods safely, courteously, and respectfully. Read between the lines: emails like this from the PPA are saying that they want exclusive access to the forest, and anybody who disagrees with them should be shut out. (Don't forget to donate money while you're at it.)

The Damage is Real and it is all on YouTube . . .

Yes, the damage is real. Nobody disputes that. There are people who go and drive their off-road vehicles irresponsibly and cause damage. They will put videos of it up on Youtube. This has not been a secret. The people who do this are the minority of people who drive in Wharton. They're usually driving in areas that have been closed for decades, but still receive traffic because the state has failed to enforce those closuress. How would closing off even more roads make a difference if they've got no plans to increase law enforcement?

And how about this for hypocracy? Here's Albert Horner, a vocal MAP supporter and PPA member, driving his vehicle through a large puddle in the Pine Barrens:


Doesn't look very destructive, does it? That's because it isn't. But according to Al, and others like him, people driving through puddles like that are "laying siege" to the Pine Barrens! The vast majority of people driving through the woods are our there for a nice day of exploring, hunting, geocaching, and paddling and have to get there in normal SUVs, pickup trucks, and Jeeps. The casual drivers in the Pine Barrens are being dis-proportionally punished by the DEP and the PPA with the MAP as initially proposed. But it makes a much more compelling case for the PPA to paint everybody who drives on the roads and trails in the forest in a negative light to push their own selfish agenda.

Or how about this? Here's Mr. Horner again, on the roof of his vehicle lining up what will end up being a beautiful photograph of the Pine Barrens. (Notice that it's the same vehicle as the one in the movie above.) How'd he get that truck there, you ask? By going down the same kinds of roads that he now feels ought to be closed off.

Why the double standard, Al?

Here's the thing. All through this process people have been agreeing with the premise of what the DEP and the PPA have been saying. There's a problem. It's been going on a long time. It's a known problem. A solution needs to be reached.

The difference between the PPA and everyone else is that people want to be able to have input into shaping that solution. There are very reasonable proposals from this website as well as groups such as OpenTrails NJ that want to attempt to reach a compromise. We feel that targeted closures of specific areas determined by a strict scientific criteria followed by increased enforcement is the way forward. We'd like to come to the table and work with environmentalist groups like the PPA as well as all of the other organizations that represent the users of the forest to come up with something that balances protection with allowing access to the forest.

We have a real opportunity here to help create a plan that will preserve the forest for future generations. Everyone else is ready to work together and compromise. Why won't the PPA do the same?
 

smoke_jumper

Piney
Mar 5, 2012
1,288
744
Atco, NJ
self·ish
ˈselfiSH/
adjective
  1. (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure.

    And they call me SELFISH:rolleyes:
 

Ray-El

New Member
Nov 12, 2010
8
17
The PPA is fighting so hard to support the MAP because it was their plan. Even before any part of it was released to the public, they were endorsing it to the media, which means they knew about it before anybody else did. How? Because they were the only ones Rob Auermuller consulted while it was being drafted. And now that they're all under fire from the various municipalities and stakeholder groups that are vocally opposed to the plan, they're coming up with all sorts of nonsense, fake science, hysteria, and false accusations to try to keep the momentum going for the MAP.

In Rob Auermuller's presentation to the municipalities, he states the MAP is almost exactly the same as the map that has existed for Wharton since the 1970s and he claims it's necessary to go back to that map to preserve the area. However, if the map from the 1970s didn't prevent any damage from taking place in the last 45 years, the damage they claim is so severe, then what makes him think that re--releasing the exact same map again is going to be any more effective now than it has been in the previous 45 years? Their mentality is, 'let's come up with new rules and everyone will follow them." However, people driving off the trails, deliberately destroying vegetation, and dumping trash in the woods are already breaking the law. if they don't care about existing laws, what makes Rob and the PPA think they're going to care about a MAP that most of them probably don't know about and will likely never see? These people aren't going to the ranger station and asking for a map of the places where they can have a bonfire and leave a ton of trash behind. The naiveté surrounding this proposal is astounding and it's frightening to think that these are the people who have positioned themselves as the stewards of the Pine Barrens.

Additionally and equally as astounding is Rob's claim in his presentation that they only used fallen trees to block trails. Did he and his friends at the PPA think that nobody would know the difference between a naturally fallen tree and one that was cut with a chainsaw? This is the perfect example of how they see everyone who disagrees with them as some kind of throwback caveman who doesn't have the common sense to see what's going on right before their eyes.

Several members of the PPA like to pass themselves off as environmentalists out to protect an endangered area, but the majority of them are just nature enthusiasts, at best, lacking any kind of credentials to honestly pass themselves off as learned when it comes to what is and isn't going on in the Pine Barrens. They make statements, dropping buzz words and technical phrases, as if they're experts, hoping that nobody is smart enough to see through their nonsense. But their inexperience is evidenced by the total ineffective nature of this MAP plan... a plan that has failed in the past and will fail again because it isn't supported by fact, reality, or common sense.

The desire they have to turn the Pine Barrens into a haven that people can drive into with a Subaru and go walk for 10 miles to hug trees deep in the forest without any issues is a pipe dream. Encouraging people to go into the Pine Barrens, even on the maintained trails in a vehicle that isn't equipped for it (read: that doesn't have 4 wheel drive) is hugely irresponsible. Water and rain do more damage than off-road vehicles in the Pine Barrens, but it's often those off-road vehicles that go into the Pine Barrens to pull people out who got stuck on a "maintained trail" that turned out to be more than a standard vehicle could handle.

Even if the MAP plan goes through as is, the ONLY thing it will accomplish is scaring away law-abiding citizens and then Rob and the PPA are still going to be left with people going places they're not supposed to be going, doing things they're not supposed to be doing. Seriously. The signs they're blocking trails with are plastic and can be driven over very easily by someone determined enough to ignore the MAP.
 

Ben Ruset

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Even if the MAP plan goes through as is, the ONLY thing it will accomplish is scaring away law-abiding citizens and then Rob and the PPA are still going to be left with people going places they're not supposed to be going, doing things they're not supposed to be doing.

Excellent post.

And also, when the MAP inevitably fails, Rob and Friends will then make the argument to enact even further draconian restrictions. I can see a day when they would pave all of the roads the MAP left open and say that if your tire leaves asphalt anywhere then you're breaking the law.
 

Ray-El

New Member
Nov 12, 2010
8
17
I can see a day when they would pave all of the roads the MAP left open and say that if your tire leaves asphalt anywhere then you're breaking the law.


I don't doubt it. And, just like with the trees they cut down, they wouldn't think twice about the impacts of paving those roads. They raise a fuss every time someone else steps on a weed, but are willing to make exceptions to their own rules to suit their own agendas. It's like they have a superhero complex. They want to be perceived as the saviors of the Pine Barrens, even though nothing they're doing is going to make that happen. My fear is that the law-abiding people are going to get fed up with fighting this battle every few years and they're going to find new interests and then nobody is going to be around to prevent the state from selling out Wharton the way they did with that pipeline, leaving the PPA members crying in a puddle of their own tears as it's torn down to make way for the world's largest Walmart.
 

Pinesbucks

Explorer
Apr 15, 2013
282
100
I can see paved roads for sure. Especially with the widening of Washington road. Then they will cry they have no money to repair them. Just look at previous paved roads in the pines. Allen road beaver dam road and Jenkins road. The roads are better off sand. This needs to be stopped here or the pines will be shutoff to everyone.
 

Ben Ruset

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There's already a program to start logging in Wharton State Forest. Where is the PPA's outcry against that?

If they say it's for fire prevention then that's BS. Fire is the #1 thing that the Pine Barrens ecosystem needs to survive and thrive. Preventing fire is harmful for the Pines. Fires should really only be fought when there's a threat to people's homes and buildings.
 
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Ray-El

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Nov 12, 2010
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If they say it's for fire prevention then that's BS. Fire is the #1 thing that the Pine Barrens ecosystem needs to survive and thrive.


Exactly. Which is why I made the point about them trying to pass themselves off as experts when they're not. I got into it with one of the PPA drones because he tried to say that cutting down trees to block trails was the same as clear cutting and that benefits the Pine Barrens. That almost sent me into an apoplectic fit. Clear cutting isn't taking down 5 or 6 trees, it's cutting all of them in a single area and that isn't even remotely the same thing as how the Pine Barrens benefits from fire. To say cutting down trees to block a trail was the same as clear cutting was ignorant in and of itself, but to suggest that the Pine Barrens would somehow benefit from it is utterly stupefying.
 

46er

Piney
Mar 24, 2004
8,837
2,128
Coastal NJ
I also feel that there should be some sort of investigation into just how much influence the PPA has over the Wharton Superintendent. I feel that the close relationship they have is probably a conflict of interest.

Park employees are required to identify any organization/non-profit they belong to for that very reason, conflict of interest.. If I can get to one of these meetings I'll ask to see the Wharton super's.
 

tsqurd

Explorer
Jul 29, 2015
172
119
South Jersey
Park employees are required to identify any organization/non-profit they belong to for that very reason, conflict of interest.. If I can get to one of these meetings I'll ask to see the Wharton super's.

Worth asking, but similar to a PAC, he may not have direct ties to those he supports.
 

Ben Ruset

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Worth asking, but similar to a PAC, he may not have direct ties to those he supports.

PinelandsAdventures-3-CKM-1000px-970x667.jpg
 

Ben Ruset

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In case anybody was wondering, this pic is from the opening of Pinelands Adventures. Carlton Montgomery, the executive director of the PPA, is christening the bow of that canoe. Rob Auermuller is in the back wearing the green sweater and tie.
 
It's a sad state of affairs. The worst part of this whole thing to me is that, at the end of the day, 95% of all the folks in this debate are on the same team - we all love the pine barrens and want to have it protected. You'll never get 100% consensus on what to do, but most people know what the real problems are. The big tent approach is the only one that's going to work, lawbreaking (which is the vast majority of this problem) can't be stopped by any one group of people.
 

Maggie

Scout
Sep 16, 2015
43
23
Three Bridges, NJ
But the law-breaking must be stopped: the question, as always, is how?
In the perfect scenario, everyone would understand that this a very precious but fragile and vulnerable place and would tread lightly. We can try to educate, but we all know this can only do so much.

Assuming that more patrols and enforcement of current rules is probably the answer, how are we going to pay for it? I personally am more than happy for my tax dollars to go for this. But it's just not that simple of course. I can't direct my tax dollars to my preferred causes.

I've never been in favor of any kind of vigilante action or justice...it's crazy and dangerous. WHAT can we do?
 

Teegate

Administrator
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Sep 17, 2002
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Not directed at you Maggie.


Lets discuss fragile and vulnerable and treading lightly. They are all nice words but in reality the woods of today are in better shape than they have been in centuries. Just look at the 1930 aerials and compare them with today. If the environmentalists of today went back in time they would be shocked at the destruction that went on. And lets not even think about the amount of woods that were damaged and or cut for Martha and the like. Lets be honest, the damaged area's by off-road vehicles are small potatoes compared to the past. Since most of you here more than likely don't travel in remote area's of the woods by foot, you can't get a grasp on how vast Wharton is. In the overall scheme of things Wharton is doing just fine. There are problems such as off-roading and chemicals from homes and farms, but for the most part all is well. Don't let the environmentalists make you think that doomsday is coming because it isn't. Forty two years ago when I first visited Wharton, Hampton Road was today's Tuckerton or Quarter Mile. There were holes in the road from 206 to Springers Brook that could swallow a tank. If you don't believe me ask Ted Gordon about that. We have discussed this many times. At the same time currently the Superentendent is using photo's of Hampton Road that show it looking quite well. What a difference 43 years makes. And 43 years from now Quarter Mile will be just a name on a map and the environmentalist will be harping about someplace else as they always do.
 
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