Look for the Label: Jersey Grown Wood

April 20, 2011

Today’s blog post comes from grantee New Jersey Audubon. Founded in 1897, NJ Audubon has long been a leading advocate for conservation in our region. To remain true to its mission of fostering environmental awareness and a conservation ethic among New Jersey’s citizens, NJ Audubon is working with a number of partners to engage the people and communities that live and work within the landscapes they seek to conserve and to recognize the important role that local economies play in the long-term sustainability of conservation.

By Troy Ettel
Director of Conservation and Stewardship
New Jersey Audubon

I’ve been following the recent guest series by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and their partners dedicated to local, fresh food and its important implications for social justice. This is a major theme in our work at NJ Audubon as well.

New Jersey Audubon logoOver the past seven years at NJ Audubon, our work to develop stewardship plans throughout New Jersey, whether in Highlands forests, South Jersey pines, or within the agricultural landscapes that define the Garden State, has really brought home the importance of economic realities to the sustainability of conservation. In particular, the quality of life and opportunities for people that live in the regions that we are striving to protect are an incredibly important part of the equation. We’ve seen that there are direct parallels with the “Buy Fresh/Buy Local” initiative for fresh, local food to cultivate similar unique opportunities that connect local consumers with local producers for an even wider range of products.

Seeing the connection and importance of local producers playing a role in the implementation of conservation projects, NJ Audubon decided to become more directly involved in connecting agricultural producers with consumer markets. NJ Audubon trademarked its own brand – S.A.V.E.™ – which stands for Support Agricultural Viability and the Environment. After decades in the trenches fighting against the types of land uses that we do not like, we felt it was time to start highlighting those that we do. Thus, the emergence of S.A.V.E. – a brand that connects farmers to consumers with a conscience – those interested not only in the origins of their products but also in knowing that supporting the environment is as easy as purchasing a product. In 2008, we started with Jersey Grown birdseed which I will talk more about next week. Now the brand is broadening.

Schairer Sawmill in New Jersey

NJ Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher with the sawmill operator Paul Shairer looking at freshly milled Atlantic white cedar lumber

Yesterday at a press conference in Egg Harbor City, Atlantic County, NJ, Douglas Fisher the NJ Secretary of Agriculture joined NJ Audubon and Lynn Fleming, NJ State Forester in announcing an expansion of the Department’s highly successful Jersey Grown/Jersey Fresh program to allow, for the first time, products made from 100% NJ wood to be labeled “Made with Jersey Grown Wood.” The first products to be certified under this label expansion are birdhouses and birdfeeders offered by NJ Audubon.

“Consumers who see the ‘Made with Jersey Grown Wood’ logo on products will immediately know they are supporting New Jersey businesses,” said New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher. “We are happy to partner with NJ Audubon on the expansion of the Jersey Grown program to first, sunflower bird seed, and now, wood. We urge everyone to ask for Jersey Grown at participating nurseries, garden centers, feed stores and specialty shops.”

Nj Audubon Jersey Grown Wood birdfeeders

NJ Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher, NJ State Forester Lynn Fleming, and Troy Ettel inspecting the new “Made with Jersey Grown Wood” bird houses and feeders

Our birdhouses and feeders are made of Atlantic white cedar sustainably harvested under forest stewardship plans approved by the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection. The lumber is sawn at Schairer Brothers Sawmill in Egg Harbor City. Founded in 1936, Schairer Brothers is one of the few sawmills left in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, providing lumber to local markets mostly within a 50-mile radius. Owner Paul Schairer is a third generation mill operator, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who first began milling wood in the 1920s and operated the family mill while his sons served in World War II. Paul sees a place for his small, family-owned sawmill both to preserve New Jersey’s forests and to serve the local market. He mentions that he used to provide wood to a local furniture-making business, but lost the contract when the furniture maker began buying lumber sourced from China. He also is frustrated by the lack of management around him that is contributing to a decline in the region’s forests – from invading insects such as the southern pine beetle and gypsy moth, to a poorly understood decline in Atlantic white cedar. “We need management on some parcels,” Paul says. “The woods are not healthy. Without management we have stressed trees.”

Atlantic white cedar is an important, native ecosystem that harbors many rare plants and animals in New Jersey – but despite the presence of tens of thousands of acres of cedar forests on public land it is declining. Restoration of cedar is one of the highest conservation priorities in South Jersey; it is also has one of the highest per acre restoration costs. To date, cedar restoration has been funded almost entirely by grants from the federal government. However, considering the current debate surrounding the national debt and severe cuts to many of the programs that have been allowing this important work to occur, we should be deeply concerned about the sustainability of government-dependent conservation. If an economic incentive existed to properly manage and maintain not only white cedar forests, but forests throughout the state, implantation of approved Forest Stewardship Plans would allow sustainable harvest while also helping achieve goals for forest restoration and management.

State Forester Lynn Fleming, who oversees the NJ State Forest Service, the agency within NJ DEP responsible for approving Forest Stewardship Plans, agrees, “The ‘Made with Jersey Grown Wood’ label advocates quality products produced by our state’s local forests. Fortuitously, the introduction of the label coincides with the International Year of Forests, which celebrates sustainable forestry all over the world.”

NJ Audubon agrees, and supports local, family-owned businesses that provide forest and farm products for local use, support the local economies of New Jersey’s communities, and help secure the future of New Jersey’s forests and farmland. When preservation of natural resources makes economic as well as ecological sense, our job is a lot easier.

Initial funding for these initiatives was provided by the Conservation Innovation Grant program from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of USDA.

For more information about the program please visit www.njaudubon.org

Troy Ettel has served as the Director of Conservation and Stewardship with the New Jersey Audubon Society since 2003. In this capacity, he works directly with partners to develop stewardship projects that are centered on minimizing the threats and negative impacts on native ecosystems throughout New Jersey. Troy serves on a number of appointed councils and advisory committees in NJ including the Pinelands Forest Advisory Committee, NJ Forest Stewardship Committee, and Governor’s Invasive Species Council. He is also the co-chair of the Raritan Piedmont Wildlife Habitat Partnership.

This series continues next Wednesday

Images courtesy NJ Audubon