If a tree falls in the forest and no one in Trenton is there to hear it, does it make a sound? As the New Jersey Legislature is poised to vote on its first-ever binding laws on management of the state’s forests, Todd Wyckoff might best be described as the government’s chief listener. He was named this spring as the new State Forester, tasked with overseeing the rules as steward of the land and all trees growing on it, including those in urban areas.
A Moorestown native, Wyckoff studied forestry in the land of big trees, at the University of Montana, then spent several years in the Rockies and Alaska with hotshot crews, the U.S. Forest Service’s elite firefighting corps. He returned to New Jersey in 2003, joined the Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Parks, Forests & Historic Sites, and has been here ever since.
In two decades working with his wooded charges, Wyckoff says he’s watched the landscape evolve amid a host of ecological challenges, from the greenhouse effect to the 2014 arrival of an insidious pest called the emerald ash borer. Without preventive measures, the beetle’s larvae can ravage nearly 100 percent of the ash trees they reach in three years. With 25 million ash in New Jersey, mostly concentrated in the state’s northern and western areas, this invasive species poses a far greater threat than the spotted lanternfly.
“Seeing what this insect can do is just one example. We’re trying to create diverse, resilient ecosystems that can withstand all the forces on them,” says Wyckoff. “The goal is a balanced approach that limits the opportunity for catastrophic carbon emission levels. There’s no one-stop shopping to manage these forests.”
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