Twenty-five years ago this July, a new agency was born -- the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
On July 1, 1995, Governor Tom Ridge signed a bill into law that restructured the Department of Environmental Resources into two cabinet-level agencies -- Conservation and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection.
“Although we had a long history of stewardship through our bureaus, the move made conservation and management of our natural resources a priority; and recognized the importance of our parks and forests to quality of life, tourism, and our economy,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn noted today.
A Solid Foundation
Much of the work for conservation and recreation gathered under the new department has deep roots.
This year also marks the 125th anniversary of the DCNR Bureau of Forestry, which in its original form in 1895 was known as the “Division of Forestry” in the Department of Agriculture; and had several other names and structures over the years.
At the time of its creation, Pennsylvania faced unbridled exploitation of its forests and natural resources, as well as raging wildfires.
The state-level forestry department was created to save what was left and rebuild and heal what we lost.
The first Pennsylvania state park was created on May 30, 1893 when, failing to get federal money, Governor Robert E. Pattison signed Act 130 “for the acquisition of ground at Valley Forge for a public park.”
Valley Forge is now in the National Park System. This act also created a ten-person commission that worked to acquire more land and get facilities constructed.
From one park in 1893, to 121 parks in 2015, DCNR's Bureau of State Parks has blossomed into one of the largest state park systems in the country.
The DCNR Bureau of Geological Survey, also known as the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, is more than 180 years old.
Since 1836, there have been four surveys in the state -- the fourth and current survey being established by legislative mandate in 1919.
Bureau geologists and partners work together to map the surface and subsurface geology of the commonwealth.
Advocates for the creation of the two cabinet level departments from the former DER said more attention was needed for the land management and conservation responsibilities.
Governor Ridge said the move underscored the importance Pennsylvania places on its parks and forests.
“This new law publicly recognizes something we already know -- Pennsylvania’s parks, forests, recreational assets, and tourism attractions are second to none in this nation,” Ridge said.
On this milestone silver anniversary, there are a quarter century of accomplishments to celebrate.
DCNR Accomplishments During the Past 25 Years
“Most people are familiar with our state parks and forests, but many may be surprised to learn DCNR also helps manage gypsy moths and other pests; creates geologic maps; designs buildings for our system; and provides technical assistance and grants to help communities with local parks and recreation, and much more,” Dunn said.
Dunn noted a number of key accomplishments during the past 25 years:
Expanding the state park system to 121 -- one within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian -- and being recognized nationally as the best park system in country
Instituting an ecosystem management approach and becoming the first independently certified public forest in the nation, and the country’s longest continuously certified, well-managed forest
Awarding grants that have assisted all Pennsylvania counties and more than 50 percent of all communities -- urban and rural -- in meeting their recreation and conservation needs
Created and began implementing a statewide Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation plan outlining 123 action steps to make the commonwealth more resilient to potential impacts
Launching the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps and hiring the first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion coordinator to introduce young people of all backgrounds to work in conservation and focus the work to make the department and the lands it manages welcoming to all
Leading the way on Pennsylvania’s goal to plant more than 86,000 acres of streamside buffers for clean water through dedicated staff, partnerships, and grants
Funding a Rivers Conservation program that supports water-based outdoor recreation and water resource conservation activities
Created a conservation landscape program that is recognized as a national model for regional place-based landscape conservation, and supported the work of the state’s 12 Heritage areas
Setting a goal of a trail within 15 minutes of every Pennsylvania, and providing millions of dollars for an interconnected system of regional trails across the commonwealth
Constructed 16 high-performance park and forest buildings and incorporated solar energy and electric vehicles into DCNR practices
Playing a key role in exploring carbon capture and storage in the commonwealth to combat climate change
DCNR in the Next 25 Years
At 25, the notions of responsibility and “settling down” are kicking in. Like many young adults, DCNR has learned by exploring, grown through experimenting, and faced its share of challenges.
It would be hard to imagine, at its start, the current circumstances that we find ourselves in on our 25th anniversary, including the challenges of responding to a pandemic and the resulting turn toward the outdoors for solace and health; recent events that have reinforced the critical need to address racism; and the urgent action needed to change course and adapt to a changing climate.
DCNR is poised to build upon our traditional mission as the stewards of our public lands and advocates for outdoor recreation, to one of leadership on broad environmental issues around land and water; and making the outdoors inclusive and welcoming to all.
Thank you to everyone -- DCNR staff past and present, partners, volunteers, citizens -- who contributed to the first 25 successful years. There’s more ahead.