Richard Stockton College will take a more aggressive role in managing about 1,500 acres of woods that surround the Galloway Township campus under a forest management plan approved by the state Pinelands Commission this month.

The plan was included in the college’s master plan, which was approved by the Pinelands Commission in September 2010. The forest management plan maintains the unique nature of the pinelands while also addressing wildlife populations, invasive species, fire safety and recreation.

Rummy Pandit, interim associate vice president of operations, said with the growth of the campus it was also important to take care of the land surrounding the college. While Stockton’s environmental sciences program has used the pinelands for research, the new plan will be a more comprehensive effort to manage the forest that surrounds the college, he said.

“Trees get old and fall down,” Pandit said. “That suffocates the undergrowth. We can manage better so the forest can thrive and avoid fire hazards.”

Nancy Wittenberg, executive director of the Pinelands Commission, said the college’s plan is an opportunity to do research that could benefit all of the pinelands and the state forests.

“It is a pretty big deal,” she said. “You need active forestry for fire safety, to maintain the ecology and monitor invasive species.”

Building in the Pinelands is very difficult, Wittenberg said, and the Pinelands Commission has been working closely with the college to make sure the expansion meets all Pinelands regulations and the forestry project complements the college’s growth.

“I’m not going to tell you they’re perfect,” she said. “Nothing is easy in the Pinelands. Something a maintenance worker doesn’t think is a big deal really is a problem. But they are working on it, and we are pleased.”

Fred Akers, river administrator of the Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association, has worked on projects at Stockton. He said he has been concerned about the expansion, but the college has bought some additional land to preserve, and he has no major problems with the management plan.

“It’s what they should have been doing all along,” he said. He said he hopes the college lets the faculty take an active role in the plan rather than hiring consultants.

Stockton’s plan was developed by Marathon Engineering and Environmental Services Inc.; certified forester Bob Williams, vice president of forest operations for Land Dimensions Engineering; and George Zimmerman, professor of environmental studies at Stockton.

Zimmerman said in a statement that many state forests are in poor shape because they haven’t been managed. Those forests are in danger from catastrophic fire and aren’t as diverse and resilient as they could be, Zimmerman said.

One major threat is the southern pine beetle, and a priority will be protecting the college campus from the bug.

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241