Judy Jakobsen has been named the first female executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, nearly 30 years after she was hired by the state agency.
Jakobsen, 65, of Selden, succeeds John Pavacic, who retired in January after 11 years. Jakobsen has been interim executive director since Pavacic stepped down.
The commission was founded in 1993 as part of a state law aimed at stemming overdevelopment in the pine barrens, which cover 106,000 acres in parts of Brookhaven, Southampton and Riverhead towns.
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Jakobsen, who has been with the Westhampton Beach-based commission since its inception, says these days the forest faces other types of threats, such as illegal dumping, wildfires and climate change, including the proliferation of invasive species. Here are excerpts from that interview.
What kind of invasive species are you seeing that are troubling?
"A large issue has been the southern pine beetle infestation, which has had a dramatic impact on the pitch pine species, and the commission staff has worked very closely with [the state Department of Environmental Conservation] on management and helping out with suppression techniques to prevent further spread and kind of isolate the southern pine beetle. … These things are coming more into our area because things are staying warmer now. It’s warmer now, they’re able to travel and have that interest in traveling further north. These are from down south. We have other issues now with the spotted lantern fly. It’s not here yet, but that’s a terrible invasive insect that right now, it was from Pennsylvania and now they’ve found it on Staten Island."
Are you concerned that the pine barrens are vulnerable to wildfires?
"Oh, absolutely. It’s more a matter of when than if. … We’ve been doing suppression fires [to reduce vegetation that causes wildfires to spread]. … More and more people are moving adjacent to these woodland areas, putting them in greater risk if there is a wildfire for them to be impacted."
Are you worried that something like the wildfires on the West Coast could happen here?
"We’re different here. … We don’t have canyons and things like that that they have there, but we still have had significant wildfires like in '95 and then in 2012 … It may not be like out west, [but] there’s still significant wildfire potential."
Has the commission gotten illegal dumping under control, or what can be done better?
"Illegal dumping is always going to be an issue that is going to be difficult to control. We have enforcement officers who work closely with, not only the [park] rangers, but the towns and our law enforcement council and we also have a camera surveillance program. … I think we’re working hard to try to keep up with it. But I think it’s going to be more and more difficult with towns starting to not accept construction and demolition [material at landfills] anymore. So you’re probably going to see more dumping as a result of that."
New leader's background
Judy Jakobsen, the new executive director of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, was among the agency's first hires. Here are details of her life and career.
- Grew up: Rockville Centre.
- Education: Nassau Community College, bachelors in environmental science from Southampton College, masters in environmental science from CW Post.
- Resident of: Selden.
- Age: 65.
- Experience: Environmental analyst with the Suffolk County Water Authority. Recruited in 1993 to join the Central Pine Barrens Commission. Deputy director from 2017 to 2021. Interim executive director since January.
- Salary: $130,000