Promote Responsible Stewardship of the Commonwealth’s Natural Resources
The major DCNR accomplishments of 2019 to promote responsible stewardship of the commonwealth’s natural resources are listed below.
Forest, Land, and Water Conservation
Laurel Highlands Project
The DCNR Bureau of State Parks and partners were awarded a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant to restore multiple forest age classes and habitat complexity for key bird species in large forest blocks in two state parks (Laurel Ridge and Ohiopyle) in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania.
This acreage serves as an anchor in a network of forested lands in the region. The project will draft comprehensive forest management plans for more than 33,000 acres of forest and implement habitat management practices that benefit golden-winged warbler, cerulean warbler and wood thrush while also monitoring population responses.
The grant will inform and support the goal to manage for resiliency and diversity in plant communities and successional stages providing quality and sustained wildlife and fish habitat.
Ohiopyle State Park received a U.S. Forest Service grant awarded through the Southern Laurel Highlands Plant and Pest Partnership for the restoration of more than 350 acres of invasive species to restore habitat and ecological function connecting two existing projects on the park.
Conservation Easement Purchased
A total of 3,742 acres in Pike County was purchased as part of the Northeast Connection Forest Legacy Project.
PA Plant Conservation Network
Organizational structure, steering committee, and stakeholder groups were established for the network, which coordinated 11 field work days and received 20 grant requests totaling more than $300,000.
Bat Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)
The Bureau of Forestry partnered with the Game Commission, Bureau of State Parks, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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.
Research and Collection Permits
A total of 112 Research and Collection Permits were issued. Research was conducted by 42 universities and numerous public agencies, nonprofit groups, and private citizens.
These studies on the diverse lake, stream, wetland, early seral, and forest habitats in state parks are closely tied to state park ongoing restoration and enhancement efforts.
In 2019, 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 insects, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.
Natural Resource Management
Natural Gas Activity Management
While there is a moratorium on new gas leases, DCNR Staff manage and monitor existing leases and split mineral estate gas development sites and pipelines in accordance with the best management practices developed by DCNR.
In December of 2019, there were approximately 1,414 wells capable of production on leases issued by the department for state forest and river lands.
Most planned drilling of new wells and construction have been postponed until gas prices recover.
Expand Water Restoration and Protection
Aquatic vegetation suppression occurred at 19 parks and a total of 159 sites. In coordination with university, county, federal, and other state entities the Pennsylvania Class A Noxious Weed, hydrilla, was suppressed in 675 acres of Pymatuning Reservoir.
Aquatic vegetation surveys were completed at 850 survey points in 15 impoundments. The presence of hydrilla was confirmed in Delaware Canal and Memorial Lake state parks.
Launch Stewards, working out of nine parks, educated 5,302 of visitors on the importance of cleaning recreational gear to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive organisms.
Cyanobacteria Bloom / Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring
Eleven parks experienced suspected cyanobacteria bloom conditions. Six parks had samples that exceeded recreational advisory thresholds and nine had samples exceeding dog advisory thresholds.
In cooperation with the Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Zone Management Program, design is completed for a living shoreline restoration project along the Delaware River at Neshaminy State Park. The project will protect valuable intertidal-zone resources, improve aquatic and riparian habitat, and enhance visitor access.
The Haskins Dam removal project, designed in 2018, was completed at Nockamixon State Park in Bucks County, restoring free-flowing conditions to a reach of Tohickon Creek.
Scientific and Technical Services
Correctional Institution Arboriculture Training Program
Hailed by a Wolf Administration official as “a fabulous example of silo-breaking in state government,” DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry continued to partner with the state Department of Corrections to give nine programs to 110 inmates -- totaling 264 hours of training -- at Rockview and Huntingdon state correctional institutions.
The program is designed to provide reentry skills inmates can tap after discharge, and grow the number of workers planting and maintaining trees.
Chronic Wasting Disease Partnership
DCNR continued support of the multi-agency effort to suppress the spread of CWD throughout the state, with special emphasis on public outreach and education.
Disease Management Areas currently affect 18 state parks and 10 state forest districts.
PA Conservation Explorer
The environmental review screening tool, PA Conservation Explorer, had another successful year. The site was visited 89,000 times (up 2 percent over 2018), with users running 3,231 conservation planning reports.
A total of 27,539 projects were entered and screened, with 21,421 submitted for agency review.
Tick-Borne Disease Collaboration
Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program staff have been collaborating with researchers from Indiana University of Pennsylvania who are investigating the presence and extent of tick-borne pathogens in Pennsylvania, providing small mammal specimens collected throughout central Pennsylvania to be analyzed for the presence of the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease), Anaplasma phagocytophilum (Anaplasmosis), and Babesia microti (Babesiosis).
Safe, Effective Gypsy Moth Treatment
During May 2019, 1,490 acres of private forestlands in Lackawanna County were treated to minimize impact from gypsy moth infestations with 100 percent reported success rate based on program guidelines.
Hemlock Trees Treated
Combatting the hemlock woolly adelgid, 3,712 hemlock trees were treated via soil injection on 495 acres of DCNR lands. Also, 1,606 beetles were released for biological control.
First discovered in Pennsylvania in Berks County in 2014, the spotted lanternfly has spread rapidly to other counties in the state’s southeast portion.
It has the potential to greatly impact certain crops and hardwoods while reducing the quality of life for people living in heavily infested areas. DCNR is conducting research on spotted lanternfly, and had two papers published in scientific journals regarding portions of this research.
These make the second and third professional refereed publications from Dr. Houping Liu regarding spotted lanternfly research in the last two years. Spotted lanternfly studies will continue next year.
DCNR’s Bureau of Geological Survey, with the support of a team of state, federal, private, and academic professionals, has initiated a program to create and maintain complete, modernized, authoritative surface water mapping for Pennsylvania.
The new system will be integrated with high-precision elevation data derived from QL2 lidar, replacing the current 40-year-old hydrographic data.
It will enable modeling of water flow, quantity, and quality for better public health, safety, and sustainable use of this rich resource. The hydrography team is working closely with the USGS to demonstrate the future of hydrographic mapping and data management.
In late 2018, DCNR assembled $2.15 million from state sources which leveraged an additional $1.2 million from federal sources through a USGS competitive grant program to obtain new QL2 lidar for 23 counties.
Collection and processing of lidar data obtained under the grant has proceeded on schedule through 2019. Continued collaboration this year yielded federal commitments approaching $3 million to complete QL2 coverage of the state.
The total lidar update will enable better modeling of flood risk, assessment of landslides and other rapid surface change, measurement of development and natural resource trends, and never-before analytics to increase efficiency in operations and public safety.
Name Change for the Survey
To better reflect services it performs and eliminate confusion, the former Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey changed its name to Bureau of Geological Survey.
The TreeVitalize program to expand trees in communities facilitated the planting of 3,800 trees, trained 522 TreeTenders in tree planting and care, and reached 115 total TreeCity USA Communities.
The Bureau of Geologic Survey released three more lake-depth maps for state park lakes: Prompton, Hickory Run, and Gouldsboro.
The survey also supported DCNR operations by siting new water-supply wells for Cook Forest State Park, Mira Lloyd Dock Research Conservation Center, Moshannon State Forest, Prince Gallitzin State Park, and Pymatuning State Park.
Bureau staff presented a talk and tour on the geology of waterfalls at the 75th anniversary celebration of Ricketts Glen State Park.
Income-Producing Buffer Program
DCNR awarded close to $1 million in grant investments for planting trees and income-producing species along streams. Stream buffers help keep nutrients and sediments from the land from impacting water quality.
All projects include multi-functional buffers, containing species such as nut trees, berries, and willows in buffer zones so that the landowner can sell these products, and realize some income from land dedicated to buffers.
Kings Gap Forest
With help of staff from Michaux Forest District and the Bureau of Forestry, the Bureau of State Parks initiated a forest stand improvement this fall at Kings Gap Environmental Education Center in Cumberland County.
The improvement will allow for climate resilient hardwoods to regenerate on the top of the mountain following two-years of chestnut oak mortality Kings Gap was experiencing.
The forest stand assessment will help guide future management decisions including a likely prescribed burn, which would also benefit the threatened Short-leaf Pine that occurs within the park.
Rare Plant Meadows
Four diabase meadows hosting four rare plants were improved at Gifford Pinchot State Park with the help of the local Harrisburg Outdoor Corps crew, Friends Group, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) biologists and state park staff.
Woody vegetation including autumn olive, multiflora rose and red cedar were removed. This year, one of the rare plants, Eastern Coneflower flowered for the first time in the history of WPC’s monitoring of the meadows.
Further management will continue with invasive annual suppression and prescribed burn rotation.
Land and Water Conservation and Restoration
Over the period of 2014-2019, DCNR has conserved more than 27,000 acres of land, including headwater protection lands (such as the Letort Spring Run acquisition); and important landscape connectivity of properties and lands important for open space and wildlife.
A total of 4,745 acres was conserved in 2019. All land conservation projects will help with climate resilience and mitigation.