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Governor Brendan T. Byrne Issues: The Pinelands

Stretching across southern New Jersey is a vast expanse of protected forest known as the Pinelands. Encompassing nearly 25% of the total land mass in the state, the Pinelands includes portions of seven counties (Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Ocean) and over 50 municipalities. When Brendan Byrne became governor in 1974, protecting the Pinelands was not a major issue, nor was it something that Byrne himself was advocating. As development of the area increased rapidly, however, and motivated in part by John McPhee’s book The Pine Barrens, Byrne became a champion of protecting the area.

On May 28, 1977, Byrne issued Executive Order #56, creating a Pinelands Review Committee to begin planning future development in the area. Two years later, Byrne followed with a second executive order (#71), halting all development in the region until the legislature enacted a permanent plan. This action is widely viewed as one of the farthest reaches of executive power ever taken by an American governor. All development in the Pinelands ceased until the legislature passed legislation protecting the Pinelands in June of 1979.

By the end of his second term Byrne declared the Pinelands Preservation Act the single most important accomplishment of his administration, and the issue that is most central to his legacy as governor. Below is more information about the history, politics and people who together protected one of New Jersey’s greatest treasures.

1) An overview of the history of the Pinelands Preservation Act.

2) A transcript from a forum on the Pinelands Preservation Act held at the Eagleton Institute of Politics on October 15, 1987. Attendees include Governor Brendan T. Byrne, prominent members of his adminstration, and Rutgers faculty.

3) A link to John McPhee’s book, The Pine Barrens. An excerpt is available here.