I am not a politician. I am not a scientist. I am not a botanist nor a biologist nor an ornithologist. I am not an expert in history, neither natural nor human. I am not an ecologist nor a professional conservationist. I drive a hybrid, but I also travel by air. I try not to use chemical fertilizers or pesticides or weed killers in my garden, but I also have no intention of pulling out poison ivy by hand. I compost and recycle, but I use my garbage disposal. In other words, I am a regular citizen, with all the contradictions that entails.
When I first moved to South Jersey in 1981, I had never heard of the Pine Barrens. I knew nothing about Elizabeth White and her cultivation of the first commercially viable blueberries. I had never heard tales of the Jersey Devil. I had never visited Atsion Lake or Batsto or driven on a sugar sand road or seen the Caranza Memorial or climbed the fire tower on top Apple Pie Hill. Wharton to me was the name of a graduate school of business in West Philadelphia.
I then read John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens and so began my fascination with this incredible treasure in our backyards.
I am not naïve enough to think the Pine Barrens we know and enjoy are the same ones that existed when the Leni Lenape were the only human inhabitants of the area. Forests were clear cut to provide timber to fire the forges that produced cannon balls for Washington’s army and decorative fireplace surrounds for the industrialists who owned those forges. Rivers were dammed to create the lakes that provided the water power for mills. Cranberry bogs were dug and houses were built – small cabins for the workers in company towns and huge mansions for their bosses.
But in November, 1978, the US Congress through the National Parks and Recreation Act, created the Pinelands National Reserve. Only three months later, in February, 1979, the Pinelands Commission was established, followed in June by Governor Brendan Byrne’s signing of the Pinelands Protection Act. By January, 1981, both Governor Byrne and the US Secretary of the Interior approved the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan. In 1988, the United Nations formally recognized the uniqueness of the Pine Barrens by designating the area a Biosphere Reserve.
Because of the vision and the political will of Governor Byrne and others like him, we are able to enjoy the natural beauty of the Pine Barrens. If not for those actions almost forty years ago, we would now be sitting in the midst of a sprawling urban enclave, complete with a supersonic airport, shopping malls, a city, and miles of concrete and asphalt.
We cannot undo the mistakes of the past centuries – the destruction of the original old-growth forests, the damming of the rivers, the creation of factories and farms – whether they were done through ignorance or greed or even the need to survive. But you, as the officially appointed stewards of the Pinelands National Reserve, can prevent the repeat of these errors. You have within your power the ability to prevent the degradation of the land and the dismantling of the intentions of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan by voting NO to the installment of a natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands. Please vote your conscience, not expediency.