Kittatinny Meeting Draws Diverse and Local Audience

Close to 40 people participated in The Kittatinny Ridge Coalition Annual Meeting on November 3rd at the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Education Building in Kempton, Pennsylvania.  For most of the day, representatives from state agencies, local government, and non-profit conservation groups, were given insightful reports about landscape conservation efforts at the national and regional level as well as highlights from Coalition partners over the last year.  Supported by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the event kicked-off with a presentation by Brian Carlstrom, Deputy Associate Director for the National Park Service’s Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Program, discussing the Large Landscape Conservation program that was created in 2010.  This discussion set the stage for Coalition consultant, Ginny Kreitler discussing three regional landscape initiatives – the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperative, and the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership.  Owing to the fact that the Ridge intersects with all of the initiatives, it provides a unique opportunity for initiative leaders to collaborate and tailor programs specifically to the Ridge.

After informing the group about how the Kittatinny is part of national and regional landscape initiatives, Jeanne Barrett Ortiz, Program Manager, Landscape Conservation for Audubon Pennsylvania highlighted the Coalition’s work in 2016. Attendees were given an opportunity to highlight additional accomplishments that contributed to the conservation success along the Ridge over the past year.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Brooks Mountcastle discussed the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Municipal Mini Grant Program that townships are taking advantage of to protect the scenic, historical, environmental, aesthetic, and cultural values of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.   Townships are looking at zoning that will address the threat of water and mineral extraction, wind turbines, cellular towers, and solar facilities.  A number of townships are interested in exploring the creation of an Official Map that helps townships with planning and open space considerations.  For more information, visit ATC’s website.

Laurie Goodrich, Director for Long-Term Monitoring at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (HMS), reminded the audience about how important suitable habitat and prey are for the long-term survivability of Broad-winged Hawks, currently listed as a Species of Concern in Pennsylvania.  Broad-wings are long time residents of the Ridge. While loss of habitat is believed to be the main reason for the decline of Broad-winged Hawks, more study is needed to better assess what is causing the decline. Researchers are learning some surprising information about Broad-winged hawk parenting behavior and they are gaining additional insight into the diets of these magnificent raptors.   Researchers from HMS and East Stroudsburg University are conducting a three year study that includes observing Broad-winged Hawk nests and a very exciting program of fitting hawks with satellite tags to track and understand their fall migration from the Kittatinny Ridge to Central and South America.  Maps following the hawks can be viewed at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary’s website.

Even though it was tasked to complete 30 stream assessments, Trout Unlimited has completed an amazing 41 stream assessments in the Delaware River watershed. Under this study,  Trout Unlimited will study the presence or absence of naturally-reproducing trout populations, map streams that have wild trout present, and educate local groups regarding wild trout stream listings and stream upgrades.

Dan Kunkle, Executive Director with Lehigh Gap Nature Center, and Joren Husic, student, are monitoring the ecological recovery of a woodland following an accidental fire that consumed over 400 acres along the Ridge.   Dan and Joren described study area, protocols, and survey work.

John Rogers, Principal, Keystone Conservation Trust, who for the last several years has been determining the value of nature from an economic standpoint, gave attendees a natural resource economics lesson.  Nature provides a wealth of services such as clean air, clean water, recreation, and quality of life, but when you factor all of it in, how much does it cost and what are the taxpayer savings?  With the completion of the Dauphin County Return on Environment Report by the end of this year, John and local partners will have completed six studies of counties or townships along the Kittatinny Ridge over the last several years.  Studies indicate, that natural system services, on average, are worth over $284 million per year; air pollution reduction is worth over $119 per year; outdoor recreation is worth over $356 million per year; and changes in property value are 17% for urban areas, 5% for suburban areas, and 1% for rural areas.  The Return on Environment reports have the potential to reap huge dividends for officials and taxpayers. Decision makers can now see the value that natural resources provide and, in the absence of their services, what it would cost taxpayers to replace them.

Two land and water conservation case studies, related to Return on Environment, were presented.  Stephen Repasch, Executive Director of Bethlehem Water Authority discussed how the Authority is applying the Working Woodlands Program to its two reservoir properties under easement to The Nature Conservancy.  In addition to managing timber, last year, the Authority generated revenue by selling carbon credits to Fortune 500 Companies such as Walt Disney Corporation.  The money generated is plowed back into water infrastructure improvements.

Moving south along the Ridge toward Harrisburg, Capital Region Water’s (CRW) Sustainability Manager, Tanya Dierolf held the audience’s attention with her report on the successful involvement of CRW, The Nature Conservancy, Fort Indiantown Gap’s Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program, and the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation securing an 8200 acre conservation easement of the DeHart Watershed property to The Nature Conservancy.  Protecting the land around the DeHart Reservoir is critical for wildlife habitat and providing Harrisburg with a clean and plentiful drinking water source, while significantly saving ratepayer dollars.  Treating water from the Susquehanna River, the City’s secondary water source is more expensive because of water treatment and energy costs. This easement ensures the protection of the surrounding buffering lands of the DeHart property whose thousands of acres help to cleanse and filter the water before it enters the reservoir.

Judging from the breadth of representation at the Annual Meeting, not to mention the inspiring presentation topics and discussion, Coalition members are energized, excited, and poised to advance the Coalition’s message and goals along the Kittatinny Ridge moving into 2017.

A special thank you to Annie Trexler, Volunteer Manager and Membership Assistant with Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, who provided great support service and wonderful accommodations.