Controversial legislation sponsored by Senators Bob Smith and Donald Norcross that would establish a forestry stewardship program for New Jersey state-owned lands and open the way for commercial logging efforts was approved Monday by the General Assembly and now heads to the Governor’s desk.

“Environmental management of many of our forests has been nonexistent and the results have been detrimental to our state’s vegetation, wildlife and water quality,” said Smith, D-Middlesex and Somerset. “Overgrowth, dead or aging trees have grown too thick and have blocked out sunlight, prohibiting new growth from taking root on our forests’ floors. Nature typically regulates its forest growth and habitat diversity with fire, wind and disease, but allowing these natural happenings to occur could be harmful to the residential communities bordering our state’s forests. We must find new and innovative ways to promote forest health. This program is the right thing to do.”

Environmental groups are divided on the bill, with The New Jersey Audubon Society and several others supporting it while the New Jersey Sierra Club and New Jersey Environmental Federation oppose it.

“We clearly need to manage our public forests better than we are doing,” said David Pringle, campaign director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation. “But I’m concerned with the details. There are no enforcement mechanisms in the bill, so commercial logging interests could say all the right things and do all the wrong things with no consequences to them, but with terrible consequences for New Jersey’s environment.”

The bill, S-1085, would direct the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to develop a comprehensive forestry stewardship program that provides for sustainable forest management activities to preserve forest resources and enhance the benefits provided by the forest.