Promote Responsible Stewardship of the Commonwealth’s Natural Resources
The major DCNR accomplishments of 2020 to promote responsible stewardship of the commonwealth’s natural resources are listed below.
Riparian Buffers for Water Quality
DCNR awarded $673,700 in buffer grants and an additional $1.2 million in grants supported by federal funds -- equating to funding approximately 210 acres of buffers.
DCNR's Bureau of Forestry also launched the Buffer My Stream outreach campaign, resulting in contacts with more than 180 landowners. DCNR also launched a Lawn Conversion Program in 2020, resulting in approximately 20 acres of installations.
In lieu of the annual Buffer Summit due to COVID-19, webinars produced in its stead received more than 6,000 viewings.
The TreeVitalize program facilitated planting of 2,091 larger-caliper trees in urban/suburban settings and reached 112 total TreeCity USA Communities.
In-person TreeTenders trainings were cancelled due to COVID-19, but Philadelphia held two virtual trainings reaching more than 150 attendees.
Forest Landowner Contact Assistance
To more effectively serve the nearly half-million private forest landowners in the state, the Bureau of Forestry created and implemented a new interactive GIS map that links private forest landowners seeking assistance with forest management with natural resource professionals who can help.
While working in close coordination with Department of Health guidelines and the Bureau of Forestry’s safety team, program staff assisted 1,166 landowners, educated 33,196 landowners, and assisted Natural Resource Conservation Service with 27 management plans in 2020.
South Mountain Climate Change Initiative
A large-scale removal of climate change intolerant chestnut oak was undertaken at the mansion area of Kings Gap Environmental Education Center in conjunction with the Michaux State Forest District. More resilient species will be replanted.
At Caledonia State Park, preliminary design was begun on a project to stabilize and improve recreational access to the Conococheague Creek through the day-use area as part of the South Mountain Climate Change Initiative.
DCNR’s Bureau of Geologic Survey continues to lead colleagues from DCNR, DEP, and DCED in monthly touchpoints to consider technical, regulatory, and economic development issues supportive of carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) in Pennsylvania.
In the past year, DCNR has connected with two potential CCUS projects, including the Keystate Natural Gas Synthesis Plant (Clinton County) and Coal FIRST Initiative (Greene and Washington counties).
In addition, Pennsylvania was the first Mid-Atlantic state to become a signatory to the Regional Carbon Dioxide Transport Infrastructure Action Plan Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which was enacted on October 1.
The Wolf Administration joined this MOU to prepare and implement an action plan for the buildout of regional transport infrastructure to enable large-scale carbon management in the United States.
The shortage of critical minerals (CM) and rare earth elements (REE) is one of the most important issues facing the nation.
In conjunction with several other regional states, the DCNR Bureau of Geologic Survey secured a federal grant through the USGS EarthMRI program to conduct sampling of coal underclays as potential sources for aluminum and lithium.
More than 75 underclay samples were collected for this effort, even while practicing pandemic safety measures.
Year two of the project will see more samples collected, expanding our partnerships and grants toward additional horizons.
The bureau joined two proposal efforts that will characterize and assess major coals, coal-derived waste streams, and organic-rich shales for REE and CM content in the central and northern Appalachian Basin.
Shale Gas Monitoring Reporting
The Bureau of Forestry developed and released the web-based Shale Gas Monitoring Story Map, a new and more accessible format for sharing monitoring data.
The team was lauded by Governor Wolf for continuing its crucial monitoring work during the pandemic. Invasive plants associated with oil and gas earth disturbance activities continue to be an issue.
There has been a decline in activity related to newly constructed oil and gas infrastructure that can be attributed to low natural gas prices and that some lease tracts are fully developed in terms of surface disturbance.
To date, water quality monitoring conducted by the department and its partners has not provided any evidence to suggest that at the monitored sites, shale gas development has impacted water quality.
Natural Gas Activity Management
As of December 2020, the Bureau of Forestry manages 135 state forest, state park, gas storage, and publicly-owned streambed leases for performance and compliance. Associated with those leases are approximately 1,384 wells (conventional and unconventional) capable of natural gas production.
Diligent accounting and auditing by division staff has resulted in more than $400,000 in revenue recoveries in 2020.
Bat Habitat Conservation Plan
The Bureau of Forestry and partners are in the final stage of developing a habitat conservation plan for Indiana and northern long-eared bats on 3.9 million acres of state forest, state park, and state game lands. The plan is required for an incidental take permit issued from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is expected to be issued in January 2021.
The team is working on an implementation strategy and the final stakeholder committee meeting was held virtually due to COVID-19.
Treatment of Eastern Hemlocks
To combat hemlock woolly adelgid, 6,537 hemlocks were treated on 805 acres of DCNR lands. Also, 2,044 beetles were released for biological control.
Forest health staff also assisted other researchers with the goal of developing hemlocks resistant to the hemlock woolly adelgid.
Forest health staff continued researching the spotted lanternfly in 2020. Two scientific studies were published; one will be published imminently, and another is in the process of finalization for submission.
Research topics included seasonal abundance, egg mass spatial distribution, oviposition site selection, infrared thermography, and egg mass sampling.
A sub-grant of $200,000 was received through the Department of Agriculture to help battle the spotted lanternfly.
Approximately 4,100 ailanthus trees were treated, and an additional 52 ailanthus trees are being used as trap trees. Treatments occurred at Delaware Canal, Ridley Creek, Nolde Forest, Washington Crossing, Neshaminy, and Ben Rush state parks.
Aquatic Habitat in State Parks
Aquatic vegetation suppression occurred at 18 parks, targeting 19 waterbodies and 163 sites. The Pennsylvania Class A Noxious Weed, hydrilla, was suppressed in 490 acres of Pymatuning Reservoir.
Aquatic vegetation surveys were completed at 1,040 survey points in seven impoundments. Three impoundments were surveyed over their entire lentic zone.
Early detection and rapid response efforts were initiated to combat invasive species, Pontederia crassipes (water hyacinth) and Pistia stratiotes (water lettuce), found in Presque Isle State Park Lagoons.
Monitoring stations acquiring water quality data have been installed in nine state park lakes. The monitoring station at Gifford Pinchot State Park now integrates telemetric communications to correlate water chemistry parameters to inform swimming beach and drinking water operations.
Additionally, the Bureau of State Parks' ongoing partnership with the Fish and Boat Commission resulted in construction of 15 shoreline deflectors; placement of 225 in-lake fish habitat features; and planting 50 large-caliber shoreline trees at Codorus, M.K. Goddard, Prince Gallitzin, Presque Isle, Pymatuning, and Yellow Creek state parks.
Harmful Algal Blooms
Ten state parks were investigated for suspected cyanobacteria bloom conditions. Four state parks had samples that exceeded recreational advisory thresholds.
Ohiopyle State Park Restoration of Headwaters
Four dams and an unused road crossing that blocked aquatic passage on a wild trout stream were removed at Ohiopyle State Park.
Additionally, the restoration removed an abandoned concrete swimming pool, restoring wetland meadow/pollinator habitat and created several forested wetland pools and repaired a small spring-fed pond used for outdoor education by park staff.
More than 700 native tree and shrub plantings were installed within the newly created wetlands and riparian corridor.
Whipple Dam State Park Lake Dredging
A total of 40,000 cubic yards of accumulated sediment were dredged from Whipple Dam State Park, enhancing recreational opportunities, which will be further enhanced with fishing habitat features.
Beltzville State Park ‘Living Shoreline’
The Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps planted 462 native shrubs along approximately 900 feet of lake shoreline at Beltzville State Park.
This project was designed to act as a living fence to limit geese from accessing a large turf field from the lake. The shrubs also provide shoreline stabilization to reduce erosion from wave forces.
Chronic Wasting Disease Partnership
DCNR continued participation in the statewide Chronic Wasting Disease Task Force. The group is mounting a multi-agency effort to suppress the spread of the disease throughout the state, with special emphasis on public outreach and education.
Disease Management Areas currently affect 22 state parks and 10 state forest districts. DCNR has approximately 48,000 acres currently located within a Chronic Wasting Disease Management Area, which have special rules and regulations. Meetings were held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Wild Plant Sanctuaries
Twenty-two wild plant sanctuaries were monitored for state-listed plant populations, and active management or invasive plant treatments took place in another 14 sanctuaries.
New wild plant sanctuaries were proposed in both Elk and Michaux state forests.
Pennsylvania Plant Conservation Network
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis and the departure of the coordinator, the network hosted five field work days in 2020.
The network continues to support stewardship of rare plants on private lands through the Wild Resource Conservation Program, funding three projects in 2020. Strategic committee meetings continue virtually.
Natural Area Inventories
As part of a continuous inventory rotation, the Bureau of Forestry conducted biological inventories in Tiadaghton, Rothrock, and Tuscarora state forests. Completed inventories included Lebo Run, Bark Cabin, Detweiler Run, Rocky Ridge, and Hemlocks natural areas.
Wild Resource Conservation Program
The Wild Resource Conservation Program shifted its procedures online due to COVID-19 restrictions, requesting written comments from the public and hosting a virtual annual board meeting.
The board funded 14 projects, totaling about $365,000 to aid in the conservation of the commonwealth’s flora and non-game fauna.
High Conservation Value Forests
Following COVID restrictions, baseline data were collected at three High Conservation Value Forests. Drones were used by Bureau of Forestry staff to capture population data of a threatened sedge population and examine habitat for a state-threatened amphibian. Grid surveys for five state and federally endangered mussel species were recorded.
PA Conservation Explorer
The environmental review screening tool, PA Conservation Explorer, had another successful year. The site was visited 88,000 times, with users running 2,581 conservation planning reports.
A total of 25,861 projects were entered and screened, with 20,455 submitted for agency review. The program generated almost $440,000 in revenue in 2020.
Maps and Reports
Bureau of Geological Survey staff geologists used the pandemic shut-down to their advantage for writing. The uninterrupted time away from the office provided a beneficial environment for keeping concentration levels high.
The bureau released seven publications in 2020, and six additional maps and reports are in some stage of review.