Today, as throughout our history, human beings depend on the health and vitality of the Pine Barrens’ ecosystems. Wander through the region’s forests and you will find a surprising variety of scenery, habitats and species in this island of biodiversity within the most crowded part of North America. You will find the largest surviving open space on the eastern seaboard between the northern forests of Maine and the Everglades of Florida. Ghost towns, historic sites and legends such as the Jersey Devil preserve the Pinelands’ unique culture, telling the many stories of how humans have used and depended on the natural world around them.
One of the most important features of the Pine Barrens is its water. Embedded in the sands that make up the surface geology here is a vast body of water called the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer system. The Kirkwood-Cohansey supplies all the region’s streams and wetlands with their water. It also supplies a deeper, connected aquifer called the Atlantic City 800-Foot Sands aquifer, and some of its water seeps into even deeper “confined aquifers.” The Kirkwood-Cohansey and Atlantic City 800-Foot Sands aquifers serve the water supply needs of about one million New Jersey residents, plus the vacation economy of the Shore and Atlantic City.
The New Jersey Pinelands
The “Pinelands” is an area of 1.1 million acres within the Pine Barrens ecosystem that is designated by law for special growth management rules. It is one of America’s foremost efforts to control growth so that people and the rest of nature can live compatibly, preserving vast stretches of forest, rare species of plants and wildlife, and vulnerable aquifers.
The Pinelands now includes the largest surviving open space on the eastern seaboard between the northern forests of Maine and the Everglades of Florida.
But the Pinelands is not just open space and aquifers – it is also dozens of small cities, suburbs and rural villages. The mission of Pinelands protection is to make our human presence and exploitation of natural resources compatible with saving the unique ecology of this region.
Pinelands Commission and Comprehensive Management Plan
Special federal and state laws in the late 1970s created the Pinelands Commission and the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan.
The New Jersey Pinelands Commission is an independent state agency overseen by a 15-member board of unpaid volunteer Commissioners. The Commission is charged with writing and implementing the Comprehensive Management Plan so as to protect the region’s natural resources while permitting compatible development in identified growth areas. The Commission has the power to override all local land use and development regulations, and municipalities are required by law to conform their local master plans and zoning ordinances to the regional plan.
Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan map.
Adopted by the Pinelands Commission in 1980, the Comprehensive Management Plan or “CMP” regulates where development can take place by creating conservation and growth zones and applying stringent environmental standards to all development. The goal is to protect the Pinelands’ natural resources while allowing agriculture and urban/suburban development that is compatible with the overriding environmental protection goal.
Protecting the Pinelands is an enormous challenge. As land around the Pinelands, and land in the Pinelands’ growth zones, is developed, the pressure only grows to make changes or exceptions to the rules against development of the conservation zones. Even when enforced to the letter, today’s rules are not strong enough to save the Pine Barrens from the cumulative impacts of development. In many areas, new and better policies are needed to make the Pinelands the protection ideal succeed over the long run.