March 3, 2020

DEP Snapshot: It’s 1977,
Protecting the Pine Barrens Becomes Major Environmental Concern

(20/S008) – It’s home to four state forests, two national rivers, orchids and carnivorous plants aplenty, and the Jersey Devil – but became a topic of watercooler conversations the day after a 2001 television appearance.

Protecting the Pine Barrens

In the third season of “The Sopranos,” the groundbreaking HBO show about a New Jersey mob family, an episode centers on two of the characters who think they’ve killed a Russian mobster and decide to bury him in the woods.

Where do they go? Here’s a hint: The name of the episode is “Pine Barrens.”

As in, New Jersey’s Pine Barrens – more than 1 million acres of land that stretch across seven counties in southern New Jersey.

The tree-covered region’s star turn came on May 6, 2001, when the bumbling “Sopranos” henchmen spend most of the episode lost in the snow-covered woods. (They do survive, eventually rescued by boss Tony Soprano and his trusted capo Bobby Baccala, a surprisingly adept outdoorsman.)

And now, a look at 1977 …

In 1977, protection of the unique ecological, aesthetic and historic values of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens emerged as a major environmental issue. On May 28 of that year, then-Governor Brendan Byrne signed Executive Order 56, establishing the Pinelands Review Committee. The committee – which included among its members the commissioners of the DEP and Department of Community Affairs, and the Secretary of Agriculture – was tasked with reviewing all state plans and activities significantly affecting the Pinelands.

Following the executive order, the DEP set aside $10 million in Green Acres funds for acquisition of land, and proposed groundwater and non-degradation standards for a 760-square-mile region of the central Pine Barrens. A year later, Congress would pass the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978, establishing the Pinelands National Reserve – the first national reserve in the country – encompassing more than a million acres of farms, forests and wetlands.