From the highest point in the Pine Barrens - the fire tower on Apple Pie Hill in Wharton State Forest - the region stretches out like an unbroken sea of green. Pine-covered plains extend nearly as far as the eye can see, with the distant skylines of Philadelphia and Atlantic City visible on clear days.
The Pinelands National Reserve covers over a million acres, including 800,000 acres of forest and 60,000 acres of farmland. Its forests are home to many rare animals and dozens of rare plants, including some found nowhere else on Earth.
What’s beneath this sea of pines is extraordinary: the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, a shallow underground reservoir holding 17 trillion gallons of clean, fresh water. The aquifer provides more than 35 billion gallons of water per year to residents, farmers, businesses, and industry in southern New Jersey.
It’s no accident that the Pine Barrens comprise the largest surviving open space along the Eastern Seaboard south of Maine’s great forests.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, citizens, scientists and elected officials realized the need to take swift action to protect this unique treasure. The National Parks and Recreation Act and New Jersey’s Pinelands Protection Act were enacted in 1978 and 1979, respectively.
These ground-breaking laws established an innovative system of regional planning, with all development governed by a Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) and a mandate to protect the region's natural resources. A central goal is to safeguard the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer by protecting the forests that collect and cleanse rainfall.
A 15-member Pinelands Commission oversees and implements the Comprehensive Management Plan, which designates conservation and growth zones and applies stringent environmental standards.
Today the Pine Barrens face many threats, including underground gas pipeline proposals, contamination of the aquifer by nitrogen runoff in developed areas, saltwater intrusion into the aquifer from pumping too much freshwater, and the destruction of forests and habitats by illegal or improper off-road vehicle use. An overriding threat today is the diminished independence of the Pinelands Commission under the Christie administration.
In January, New Jersey will have a new governor. That governor must take action to ensure the integrity of the Pine Barrens and the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer. Here are a few critical actions for the next administration:
The Pine Barrens is not only a New Jersey treasure but also a global treasure – designated a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Biosphere Reserve – and the waters of the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer are a priceless resource for this state we’re in.
To learn more about the Pine Barrens and what makes them special, visit the Pinelands Preservation Alliance website at www.pinelandsalliance.org or the state Pinelands Commission at www.state.nj.us/pinelands.
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