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Sparta Mountain WMA – Stewardship Plan

Sparta Mountain WMA – Stewardship Plan

Stewardship Plan

Sparta Mountain WMA

Sparta Mountain WMA has been part of the Central Hardwoods Ecosystem with oaks and hickories dominating the forests for the past 10,000 years. These forests were perpetuated by fires, hurricanes, and droughts, as evidenced by concentrations of both charcoal and oak pollen in the soils in that timeframe. In the late 1800s, Sparta Mountain was drastically changed by the mining operations – bedrock was blasted away, soils were moved, a railroad was built, and essentially all the trees were cut down to make charcoal.

Today, with the suppression of fire and lack of forest management, the oak forests in northern New Jersey are slowly converting to northern hardwoods as maple, birch, and beech trees now grow in the shade of the oaks that began growing about 100 years ago. Another effect of fire suppression and lack of forest management is the lack of regenerating forests, also known as young forests or early successional forests. These shrubby areas within the forest are used by a large diversity of wildlife and are home to many songbirds, including the endangered Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera).

The 2017 Sparta Mountain Forest Stewardship Plan contains multiple goals and objectives. Some include creating openings in the forest canopy that are large enough to regenerate oaks and restore young forest habitat while others include maintaining maturing forest for old-growth stands. While there are scattered trees over 120 years old, there are no old growth forests in Sparta Mountain WMA.

Most of the implementation done thus far on Sparta Mountain WMA involved opening the forest canopy to restore young forest habitat for wildlife. This can only be done through cutting a lot of trees, which then allows enough sunlight for new trees, especially those that can’t tolerate shade, to grow in addition to native grasses, shrubs, and blackberries. This restoration work may seem counter-intuitive, but it has demonstrated an amazing positive impact on the birds in the area. Within a few years, the average number of bird species using the managed areas during the breeding season more than doubles, and the bird species of concern (rare and declining birds in New Jersey) more than triples the average number of bird species detected before management was done. Creating young forest habitat will also increase diversity of forest structure and age class within the entire WMA, which will help the forests of Sparta Mountain be more resilient in the face of the threats of climate change and invasive pests.

Response of bird species to active forest management on Sparta Mountain WMA from before treatment to eight (8) growing seasons after treatment.
Solid lines = all bird species (blue) and bird species of concern (red) in managed areas
Dashed lines = all bird species (green) and bird species of concern (lavender) detected in passively managed shrubby wetlands (control).

Vegetation Response to Active Management

Actively managed area on Sparta Mountain WMA 3 years and 2 months after management was completed.
Deer exclosure fencing
Deer fence within an actively managed young forest site on Sparta Mountain WMA. Note the similarities of plants inside (right) and outside (left) the fence.

More Information:

Sparta Mountain WMA Forest Stewardship Home Page

Sparta Mountain WMA Forest Stewardship Plan Updates

Sparta Mountain WMA Habitat Management Video

2017 Approved Sparta Mountain WMA Forest Stewardship Plan (pdf, 38.6mb)

2021 Addendum to the 2017 Forest Stewardship Plan (pdf, 300kb)

or contact Sharon Petzinger at

frequently asked questions

Partially. While the Green Acres Program uses public taxpayer dollars to purchase lands, the program is significantly funded through the Corporate Business Tax Act (C.54:10A-1 et seq.) and grants. Over $2 million in grants from the Forest Legacy Program was provided to Green Acres for the purchase of Sparta Mountain WMA. This program is funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which invests a small percentage of federal offshore drilling fees toward the conservation of important land, water, and recreation areas for all Americans. Some of Sparta Mountain WMA was also purchased through a grant from the Victoria Foundation to advance the preservation, restoration and stewardship of open spaces and of watersheds in New Jersey.
Forestry activities implemented as part of an approved forest stewardship or forest management plan are allowed to occur on public and private lands via permit-by-rule. Furthermore, lands purchased with monies from the Forest Legacy Program, such as Sparta Mountain WMA, are mandated to have a multi-resource management plan, such as a forest stewardship plan, that aligns with the purpose of the Program. Traditional forest uses, including timber management, hunting, fishing, and hiking, are consistent with the purposes of the Forest Legacy Program.
Since forest management activities first began in 2011 (through 3/31/22), the NJ DEP Fish and Wildlife has received $11,450 from timber harvests on Sparta Mountain WMA and spent over $60,000, in addition to staff time, on the planning, implementation, and oversight of forest management on Sparta Mountain WMA. These projects are about creating habitat for wildlife, not about making money. Claims about these habitat management projects being a smokescreen for cutting the biggest trees to make money are not true.
No. The NJ DEP received over $3.8 million related to Sparta Mountain, but it was for land acquisition, not cutting trees or forest management. The Green Acres Program received multiple grants totaling just over $2 million through the Forest Legacy Program, administered by the US Forest Service to conserve environmentally important forest areas threatened by conversion to non-forest uses, that became part of Sparta Mountain WMA. Another $1.8 million in Forest Legacy dollars was granted to the Green Acres Program to purchase land called Sparta Mountain South, which is part of Hopatcong State Park.
NJ Audubon owns Edison Bog and associated wetlands, called Sparta Mountain Sanctuary, which is surrounded by Sparta Mountain WMA. Because of this, the NJ DEP Fish and Wildlife is working closely with NJ Audubon to ensure management on either property aligns with the goals of both parties. All contracts related to the removal and/or sale of timber on Sparta Mountain WMA are issued solely by the NJ DEP. NJ Audubon does not have the authority to manage or log anything on Sparta Mountain WMA without a directive from the NJ DEP, and vice-versa.
The NJ DEP Fish and Wildlife enters a contract with the person/organization cutting the trees on Sparta Mountain WMA, not the mill where the wood is processed nor the organization where the processed wood is sold. Therefore, the wood specified within the contract is under the ownership of the person/organization named in the contract, and where it goes once it is removed from Sparta Mountain WMA is at the sole discretion of the person/organization who owns the wood. Based on conversations with various contractors, however, the majority of timber has been sent to mills in Pennsylvania.
Defending against climate change is a multi-faceted and complicated endeavor – there is no one best solution in managing, or choosing to not manage, forests for climate change because each solution has trade-offs. This is why the NJ DEP is promoting the need for balance and diversity when fighting against climate change, particularly a diversity of forest compositions, ages, and structures through a diverse array of management strategies.

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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 420
Trenton, NJ 08625
Last Update: August 2nd, 2022