Advocates say it will lead to better management of New Jersey state forests, which cover approximately 42 percent of the state, or an estimated 1.8 million acres, according to the most recent survey in 2010.

Critics argue it is a violation of the public trust, possibly opening up nearly 600,000 acres of state-owned forests bought with taxpayer money to commercial logging, a step they say may imperil drinking water supplies for millions of residents and threaten critical habitat to endangered and threatened species.

Few issues have so deeply split the state’s environmental community as a bill (A-1775) revived in the current legislative session that is identical to one killed in the lame-duck session this past January as a result of a conditional veto by Gov. Chris Christie. The bill’s sponsor is Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), widely viewed by environmentalists as one of the few champions of their cause in the Legislature.

Neither side questions the need to address a wide range of problems affecting New Jersey’s woodlands. Those threats range from illegal development, intrusive species that crowd out native plants, an overpopulation of deer, and a decline in habitat for protected species.

How best to deal with those issues remains a continuing source of controversy, one that seems to be also engulfing legislators, given that some of them expressed misgivings about the bill even while voting to release it yesterday from the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

From NJ Spotlight: