SOLUTIONS: Passions and the Pinelands

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While people pretty much around the world are getting a taste of what global warming actually feels like this summer, there are a number private New Jersey citizens and groups that are taking steps to preserve local environments and counter the fossil-fuel-created warming that is threatening so much.

For anyone who read John McPhee’s 1968 book The Pine Barrens, which focuses on the titular area’s complex history, geography, environment and culture will not be a surprise. Ten years after its publishing, the U.S. Congress established the Pinelands National Reserve, which was the nation’s first national reserve. It has since been designated a United Nations Biosphere Reserve.

This reserve is not a modest, local park, but is the largest surviving wilderness along the Eastern Seaboard, from Maine to Florida. Its 1.16 million acres comprise 22 percent of New Jersey; it is larger than Yosemite National Park and approximately the size of Grand Canyon National Park. Its Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer stores enough fresh water to cover New Jersey 10 feet deep. The Pinelands is 35 percent wetlands, and two of its river systems have been included in the National Wild and Scenic River Systems. Its preserved acres are home to rare, endangered species, in some cases found nowhere else. Approximately 22 million people live within 60 miles of the reserve. Overseeing all of this is New Jersey’s Pinelands Commission which has established rules for land-use, development, and natural resource protection.

With the commission’s oversight, it would seem that the Pinelands are well protected. It is, after all, the daily source of drinking for millions, as well as for their economic well-being and quality of life. And yet, despite this, it is threatened by overuse through development, inappropriate use, pollution and now climate change and sea level rise.

Fortunately, individuals and groups have chosen to devote much time and effort into publicizing and preserving this treasure. Central to this effort is the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA,) the only private, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving New Jersey’s Pineland and its resources.

Created by the coming together of a number of national and regional environmental organizations, its purpose is to promote public awareness of the Pinelands’ value, and to acquire land and development rights for or by public conservation agencies. The PPA understands also that it must mobilize individuals and strong alliances for preservation – potentially the strongest emanating from our new, more-aware governor and his appointees. The PPA also sees that support needs to come from enhanced public understanding of the issues and solutions. A professional staff and scientific advisers continue to work for preservation, frequently by fending off the wide range of threats, and where necessary, using litigation.

Among allied organizations is the Princeton Photography Club, which has proved itself to be invaluable in documenting environments for the PPA, the D&R Greenway Land Trust and many others. The Photography Club’s photos can both inform and inspire the public to become involved through its documenting the beauty of the land and waterscapes and the challenges facing them. In addition, the PPC’s photos publicize local events, and are the subjects of its own and other’s gallery shows.

How did some of the members discover   interests in photography and the Pinelands? Sheila and Carl Geisler retired from their careers, moved to New Jersey, and began to explore photography. The D&R reached out to them offering exhibition space, and by chance the couple took a D&R sponsored trip through the Pinelands. That this huge reserved existed in New Jersey, the most densely populated state, stunned them and motivated them to become involved. Not long after joining, Carl was offered, and accepted, the presidency, and both have been important since, not only to the PPC but to the PPA.  A friend and colleague, Laura Hawkins joined both groups when she found she was environmentally driven.

Expanding upon the efforts of these three friends and colleagues, it is to be hoped that many others will join in, motivated by a passion to both save and photograph the rich, irreplaceable bounty that is the Pinelands.