When I pursued my Journalism degree at Temple University, I took a course in political science. I always remembered my instructor telling us that politics were unavoidable because human beings would always be part of the equation. You could strand two people on a desert island together and still have politics. Brigantine, my former home, is a barrier island not a desert island, but the little beach resort has seen its share of local political squalls. In Greenhead Politics, Brigantine author Patrick Costello chronicled his own experience with what he calls “the underbelly of small-town politics.”
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) hosted a series of webinars about the Pine Barrens and its preservation efforts in the region. One of the most insightful I watched was Pipelines, Progress, and Problems, which provided an overview of the complex political landscape of the Pine Barrens and some of the biggest issues facing it. Politicization of the Pine Barrens began when Congress created the Pinelands National Reserve in 1978 and New Jersey passed the Pinelands Protection Act in 1979. Some of today’s issues have their roots in the work done in the 1970s.
Pinelands Commission Appointments
The State of New Jersey Pinelands Commission, the state agency responsible for governing land use in the Pine Barrens, is composed of 15 commissioners. The governor nominates seven commissioners and the seven Pinelands counties appoint seven more. A federal representative from the Department of the Interior also serves as a commissioner. However, according to the PPA, there has not been a federal representative since the last one passed away, and the state Senate, which approves the gubernatorial nominees, has not confirmed the governor’s latest nominations.
Natural Gas Pipelines
The PPA also takes a stand on the issue of natural gas pipelines through the Pine Barrens. It worked to defeat the South Jersey Gas pipeline and opposes construction of the Southern Reliability Link. In April 2021, however, a New Jersey Appellate Court rejected the arguments of the PPA and Sierra Club to halt construction of the Southern Reliability Link.
Off-Road Vehicle Use
No issue seems to stir up more passion than the use of off-road vehicles in the Pine Barrens. According to the PPA, “illegal off-road vehicle use is causing widespread damage to critical Pinelands habitats.” This position causes controversy with members of the off-road and enduro communities who oppose the creation of a public map designating which sand roads and trails can be used by off-road vehicles. Most recently, in May 2021, the state closed six small areas within five Wildlife Management Areas, citing unauthorized off-road vehicle use as one cause.