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Promote Responsible Stewardship of the Commonwealth's Natural Resources

The major DCNR accomplishments of 2017 to promote responsible stewardship of the commonwealth’s natural resources are listed below.

Forest, Land, and Water Conservation

Native Plant Regulations Update

DCNR is moving through the process of updating regulations applying to the conservation of native wild plants in Pennsylvania.

The mission of DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry includes protecting and managing native wild flora resources. Proposed updates to the native wild plant list include:

  • Nine plants are being added
  • Nine plants are moving from a lower classification to a higher one
  • Two plants are being downgraded
  • 31 plants are being removed from the list
  • Scientific name changes are occurring for 79 species

Research and Collection Permits

Research was conducted by 35 universities, in addition to numerous public agencies, nonprofit groups, and private citizens. These studies on diverse lake, stream, wetland, early seral, and forest habitats in state parks are closely tied to the Bureau of State Parks’ ongoing restoration and enhancement efforts.

During 2017, almost 100 research and collection permits for scientific research ranged from investigating geology and soils to water and air quality. Significant attention was focused on plant populations and forest health.

A wide range of animal life was investigated, including:

  • Amphibians
  • Birds
  • Earthworms
  • Fish
  • Insects
  • Mammals
  • Mollusks
  • Reptiles
  • Sponges

Natural Resource Management

Natural Gas Development

Near the end of 2017, approximately 636 shale gas wells on state forest lands, or wells under lease and unitized with publicly-owned streambeds, were capable of producing natural gas to generate royalties to the state.

Approximately 12 percent of state forest lands are currently included in commonwealth oil and gas lease agreements on fee lands. Oil and gas leases issued for publicly-owned streambeds generated $2.3 million in bonus bid revenue and $4.2 million in royalty revenue to the commonwealth during 2017.

Forest Management Certification

Pennsylvania state forests are certified by Scientific Certification Systems under Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC) standards.

The Bureau of Forestry’s annual surveillance audit for FSC certification took place September 19-21, 2017, in Sproul, Moshannon, and Gallitzin state forests. Auditors evaluated a series of timber harvests, High Conservation Value Forest areas, and recreation sites for compliance.

The final report is pending; however, the bureau expects to maintain its FSC certification. This was the last of a series of “surveillance” audits before the bureau seeks re-certification next year via a comprehensive audit.

Piping Plovers

A piping plover walks on the beach at Presque Isle State Park.
Presque Isle State Park was home to two pairs of endangered Great Lakes piping plovers, nesting at the Erie County state park for the first time since the mid-1950s. The nesting pairs highlight success of both the species-specific management objectives in the park, and cooperative partnerships that made it happen.

Combined efforts came from DCNR and:

  • Audubon Pennsylvania
  • Cleveland Museum of Natural History
  • Pennsylvania Game Commission
  • Presque Isle Audubon
  • Regional Science Consortium
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Prescribed Fire Applied

Five state parks utilized prescribed fire to:

  • Improve ecosystems
  • Provide early successional habitat for wildlife
  • Reduce hazardous fuel

Prescribed fire was used for the first time at Marsh Creek, Keystone, and Laurel Hill state parks, as well as continued at French Creek and Jennings.

Healthy Habitat and Forests

Bureau of State Parks’ Resource Management and Field Services have improved the heterogeneity of forest age classes and species compositions across large landscapes, increasing structural and biological diversity critical to supporting diverse and abundant wildlife.

Two salvage and forest stand improvement sales were initiated and three concluded during 2017.  The salvage operations are an effort to restore diversity and obtain the highest end-use for timber that needed to be removed.

Scientific and Technical Services

Partners in Geologic Study

DCNR’s Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey was a partner in a one-year geologic study conducted by the Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium in the Pennsylvania-Ohio-West Virginia region.

The tri-state research team identified potential reservoirs for secure storage of petroleum hydrocarbons that could support the growth of petrochemical industries in the region, leading to thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in business investment in the region.

Safe and Effective Gypsy Moth Treatment

During May 2017, 46,358 acres of forest lands in Pennsylvania were treated to minimize impact from gypsy moth infestations. Post-treatment evaluations reflected a 100 percent success rate based on bureau program guidelines.

Land ownership included DCNR (state forests and parks), Pennsylvania Game Commission, Army Corps of Engineers, and private residential.

Hemlock Trees Treated

Combatting the wooly adelgid, 26,405 hemlock trees were treated on 5,519 acres of DCNR lands. Soil injection was the primary treatment method.

Water Well Data

Nearly 7,500 records of new water wells were gathered directly from drillers in the WebDriller database. Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey staff and interns added 18,000 water-well records to the Pennsylvania Groundwater Information System (PaGWIS).

As an illustration of the level of use of groundwater data provided by DCNR, there were 6,430 reported pageviews of PaGWIS between September 1 and Dececember 15, 2017.

Geologic Focus on Centre and Clinton Counties

The Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey released geologic maps and reports covering more than 165 square miles in Centre and Clinton counties. The geologic information is relevant to conservation and development of water and mineral resources, supporting sustainable growth in the region.

PA Conservation Explorer Tool Proving Successful

The PA Conservation Explorer Tool -- assisting businesses, local governments, and citizens with conservation planning, and improving the environmental review process for threatened and endangered species -- is going strong after its first year.

The Bureau of Forestry is working with the Pa. Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission on potentially incorporating State Wildlife Action Plan data and guidance to the tool, resulting in another upgrade.

TreeVitalize®

TreeVitalize® is a DCNR public-private partnership effort helping citizens understand:

  • The benefits of planting trees
  • The importance of keeping existing trees in the community healthy
  • The value of sufficient tree canopy

During 2017, DCNR provided grant funding for 23 TreeVitalize planting projects throughout the state. Grant amounts ranged from $1,575 to $14,425, providing funding for more than 1,100 trees to be planted in 14 counties.

Expand Water Restoration and Protection

Streamside Forest Buffers

Secretary Dunn work with youth to plant streamside forest buffers.
During 2017, DCNR continued expanding resources to help address local water quality and Chesapeake Bay nutrient reduction requirements through installing riparian forest buffers along streams.

Grants for stream buffers included:

  • A pilot round of $750,000 announced at beginning of year
  • Five grants for urban riparian buffers during November
  • Nine grants announced during December

The launch of PENNVEST-funded grants providing an additional $1 million in investments in buffers for each of three years.

Pennsylvania projects will receive close to half of the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded for 2017, including a $750,000 grant to DCNR to plant trees along streams to improve water quality.

Water Quality and Aquatic Habitat

DCNR continues to advance its water quality program in state parks waterways and impoundments through:

  • Vegetation surveys
  • Continuous high-frequency monitoring
  • Whole lake assessments
  • Bathymetric mapping
  • Nuisance and invasive aquatic vegetation suppression

The Bureau of State Parks and Pa. Fish and Boat Commission worked together to:

  • Complete seven projects to stabilize shorelines
  • Expand recreational access
  • Enhance fish habitat at six state park lakes: Sinnemahoning, Yellow Creek, Pymatuning, Prince Gallitzin, Marsh Creek, and Shawnee. Also, 20 lakes also were treated for nuisance an invasive aquatic vegetation.

The Bureau of Forestry implemented a project on Mountain Creek in Cumberland County on the Michaux State Forest, with a Department of Environmental Protection permit in hand, dropping large woody material into the stream to improve habitat. The cost was considerably less than doing the same project using the typical artificial engineered structures.

Michaux Stream Restoration

Tom's Run flows through the Michaux State Forest.
During October 2017, the department highlighted a project to restore Tom’s Run in the Michaux State Forest in Cumberland County to its historic location, lessening the impacts of heavy storm events and improving native brook trout habitat.