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by Laura Jackson, President

It was an easy decision for the Board of Juniata Valley Audubon Society to present our 2017 Conservation Award to the Stephen Gerhart family who live a few miles south of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Although the Gerharts are not Audubon members, they embody the environmental ethics that characterize many Audubon members: love of the land; conservation of bird and other wildlife habitats; and the fortitude to stand up to big corporations that destroy forests without the landowner’s permission.

Two women holding an award plaque next to a pond
Elise and Ellen Gerhart represent the Gerhart family, which received the 2017 Conservation Award from Juniata Valley Audubon Society on April 22, 2017. This Award, received on Earth Day is bittersweet, since Sunoco has cut trees on their land for a new gas pipeline that places their home within the 1,000-foot blast radius. (photo: Mike Jackson)

The Gerharts placed their 27-acre forested property in the Forest Stewardship Program about ten years ago, a Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry program that helps landowners develop goals so their forest is sustainable and healthy for people and wildlife. It is a program intended to create a legacy for the Gerharts — or it did until two years ago, when the Gerharts got a knock on their door from a land agent, informing them that Sunoco Logistics planned to construct the Mariner East II pipeline under their property, including under their pond and through the forested wetlands. The Gerharts refused to take the money offered by Sunoco and to this day steadfastly refuse to accept any payment.

When I visited the Gerharts on Earth Day, Ellen showed us how Sunoco - without the Gerharts’ permission - cut trees in the riparian area of the stream and on the steep slopes adjacent to the wetlands. Sunoco claimed the trees were cut because the space was needed for a work area, but it is hard to imagine how workers would be able to use equipment on such a steep slope without extensive earth movement. The DEP file clearly states that, “support sites such as pipe/contractor yards, are to be sited on previously disturbed areas.”

Ellen straddles the small stream that flows above the pond, in an area that used to be forested. Although the stream was designated as a “Waterbody Crossing,” workers cut all the trees right to the edge of the stream, as well as the forested wetlands. (photo: Laura Jackson)

The Gerhart family is just one of hundreds of families in Pennsylvania faced with property destruction and safety concerns caused by Sunoco’s plans to construct about 306 miles of pipeline across Pennsylvania. On February 13, 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approved the Chapter 105 and 102 pipeline permits for the project officially known as the PA Pipeline Project/Mariner East II. Almost 30,000 comments were sent to the DEP during the public participation process prior to that decision. Many of those comments were from landowners who were concerned about their family’s safety, since many miles of the pipeline will be located very close to schools and homes.

According to the DEP file, the Pipeline Project will transport up to 700,000 barrels per day of natural gas liquids (propane, butane and ethane) from the Utica and Marcellus Shale formations in Ohio and western Pennsylvania for both domestic and international markets using two new pipelines that are mostly found in the existing right of way corridor for the current Mariner East pipeline system. The Project will supply propane at various exit routes across Pennsylvania and terminate in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania where fuels will be exported for international markets. The fact that domestic markets are included allowed Sunoco to obtain eminent domain, so affected families felt hopeless, and accepted the money offered by Sunoco.

What sets the Gerharts apart from many of the affected landowners is their continued resistance — they are still saying “NO.” Using similar tactics seen in western states to protect the redwoods and sequoias, Elise sat in a tree for two weeks in 2016, while nearby trees were cut all around her. Her mother, Ellen, who was not afraid to confront the workers face to face, was arrested and jailed for three days. Elise was criminally charged later. Fortunately, the disorderly conduct and contempt of court charges were eventually dropped against Ellen, Elise, and activist Alex Lotorto.

Elise Gerhart was arrested last year because Sunoco could not cut a tree she was sitting in. Both of these trees were saved because of “tree sitters.” (photo: Mike Jackson)

Sunoco claims the project disturbance will total 273 acres in Huntingdon County, causing extensive forest fragmentation. Although the three acres of disturbance at the Gerhart property doesn’t seem like much, it is symbolic of a greater concern: that of social injustice impacting rural families where the value of land and forests is worth far more than a few development dollars. Sunoco touts the potential for jobs and economic development opportunities, but rural landowners know that the environmental footprint of energy development grows bigger each year: pipelines, electric transmission lines, wind turbine projects, fracking wells, industrial solar projects — all of these energy-related development projects will continue to expand while open space contracts. Cities like Philadelphia plan to benefit from the pipeline project, but it is at the expense of rural forests and families.

Juniata Valley Audubon Society applauds the Gerhart family for trying to protect their property from industrial development.

UPDATE: Read the Altoona Mirror's coverage: "Corps rejects resort proposal at Raystown Lake"

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GOOD NEWS! No development on Hawn's Bridge Peninsula for now... but the possibility remains that it could be developed when the Master Plan is updated. See details below:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District Press Release No. 17-007

For immediate release: April 21, 2017

Contact: Cynthia Mitchell, Baltimore District; 410-962-7522; cynthia.mitchell@usace.army.mil

Army Corps issues decision addressing recreational development proposal on Raystown Lake Project

RAYSTOWN LAKE, Pennsylvania - After a rigorous review process in accordance with federal policy and regulations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), Baltimore District, has determined they cannot further consider authorization of Lancer Resources, L.P. (Lancer) recreational development's proposal in the Hawn's Bridge area of the Raystown Lake Project because it is not consistent with the current Raystown Lake Master Plan (MP).

The current MP for Raystown Lake dates back to 1994 and placed an emphasis on protecting the southeast shore, which includes the Hawn's Bridge area. Existing Corps policy reflects that the effective lifespan of a MP is 15- 25 years. Additionally, legislation contained in the recent Water Infrastructure Improvement of the Nation Act (WIIN), Section 1309, signed into law December 2016, requires the MP for the Raystown Lake be updated.

Col. Ed Chamberlayne, commander, Baltimore District, stated that re-entering the MP process would allow the Corps to address any proposed development. "We will immediately seek funding, personnel, and other resources to begin the master plan update," said Chamberlayne. "The update will include public input at appropriate times and preparation of corresponding National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation."

Once funds are made available, the process to complete updates to the MP could take between 18-24 months.

JVAS will be sure to assist in providing input as the plan revision process proceeds.

Note: Ian Gardner was inspired to organize the CACAO 2017 Expedition after participating in our Birding for Conservation trip to Honduras in February, 2016. This initiative is the first research project under the auspices of the newest JVAS Committee: Partners in Neotropical Bird Conservation. Contact Laura Jackson if you would like to get involved in conservation and education projects focusing on migratory birds.

Cacao is the Honduran colloquial name for the threatened Red-throated Caracara, a species of raptor that has nearly disappeared from Central America in the past few decades. It is also the acronym for a small but passionate cooperative of multi-national conservationists. We planned to spend three weeks this past January in Honduras on a research expedition to two locations in the remote eastern portion of the country, Reserva Biologica Rus Rus in Gracias a Dios and Parque Nacional Botaderos in Olancho. Our goals were to work with local conservation pioneers and preserves to survey and promote the wide diversity of bird life in these special yet threatened regions. We were able to meet our funding goal for the trip thanks to the support of many individuals and several Audubon Society chapters like JVAS.

We knew beforehand that these federal lands, Reserva Biologica Rus Rus and Parque Nacional Botaderos, were protected by title alone. During our expedition we learned why. Both areas are remote, at least a very rough 4 hour drive from the closest ICF facility (Instituto de Conservacion Forestal). But they also host an incredible diversity of flora and fauna, particularly birds.

A reddish-orange and brown bird perched on a barbed-wire fence.
The male Vermilion Flycatcher is brightly colored and often perches in conspicuous places as it scans for insect prey. Habitat destruction is the greatest threat to this colorful species.

We recorded over 280 bird species in the dimorphic landscape of Rus Rus. This area is comprised of two distinct ecosystems: expansive pine savanna and dense gallery* forest. Each contains a unique suite of species that is constantly evolving, so researchers are recording more species with each visit. Our expedition recorded range expansions for over 20 species and found such notables as Harpy Eagle, Crane Hawk, Jabiru, Black Rail, Green Ibis, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Scaled Pigeon, Northern Potoo, Yellow Tyrannulet, Aplomado Falcon, and Snowy Cotinga.

In Olancho, we surveyed miles of mountain trails in the central highlands and recorded over 200 species. Our top target was the pine forest denizen Red-throated Caracara, which we missed, but we were told of many recent encounters. We did see several other target birds such as Ocellated Quail, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Golden-winged Warbler, Golden-cheeked Warbler, and Red Crossbill. We also surveyed the lowland portion of Isidro Zuniga’s Las Orquideas Nature Preserve, where we documented a Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, a hummingbird with an isolated population that can only be found in this small region of Honduras.

Protected forests in eastern Honduras also face serious threats from natural resource extraction companies and cattle ranchers. Mining and Hydropower projects destroy hundreds of hectares and divert miles of rivers in Olancho. Cattle ranchers are recent migrants to the Rus Rus region and are illegally grabbing land to clearcut for cattle pastures. However, a determined community of environmentalists is standing up. These activists are literally risking life and limb to protect the forests, as you read in last year’s article about the late Berta Caceres. Fortunately we never faced any threats during this expedition and were able to talk with local communities and learn about these pressing conservation issues from their perspectives.
__________

* Gallery forests are forests that form as corridors along rivers or wetlands and project into landscapes that have fewer trees, such as grasslands or deserts.

A drive through nearly any part of rural Pennsylvania makes clear why agriculture is touted as the number one industry in the state. Thousands of farms large and small cover the landscape, and many have been run by the same families for generations. As it becomes increasingly difficult to make a living on a small family farm, a new concept in farming has emerged in recent decades. Now well-entrenched in southeastern PA and many neighboring states, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have become a common sight (and smell) for anyone passing through those areas. Basically, a CAFO is defined as a highly-mechanized feeding operation designed to raise the maximum number of animals as quickly as possible at the lowest cost. A farming operation is designated as a CAFO based on the type and number of animals involved. For instance, a large CAFO for poultry is anything over 125,000 chickens, while for hogs it is anything over 2,500 pigs. The concept is spreading rapidly.

There is currently a proposal for the construction and operation of a 501 ft. by 81 ft. CAFO barn to hold and grow 4,800 pigs from feeder to market size in Catherine Township, Blair County. This will be located on Hemlock Lane just off Rt. 22 about four miles north of Williamsburg, and will be the first of its kind in Blair County.

View of fields and woods with a wooded ridge in the background.
This is the site for the proposed CAFO in Blair County, along Rt. 22 in Catharine Township.

While the decision to build a CAFO may pose a financial risk to the owners, it will result in long-term health, financial and life quality impacts to hundreds of their neighbors. Those of us who grew up or live in farming areas are accustomed to the smells of farming activity, especially the spreading of cow manure on fields and the odor from barns. It is part of country life. The odor from pig manure is notoriously worse than that from cows, however, and the proposed facility will generate at least 1.4 million gallons of manure annually to be stored onsite and spread twice a year on about 300 acres of farm fields scattered near the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River from Canoe Creek State Park nearly to Water Street. Dead animals will be composted on site above ground on a concrete slab. Huge fans will operate 24/7 to vent the barn and the manure storage chamber beneath it. The odor from a CAFO for 4,800 pigs (dead and alive) will be like nothing we could imagine from traditional farming practices.

The adverse impacts on property use, recreational activities, water quality and human health will be significant, but is understated or dismissed in a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) prepared by the US Department of Agriculture Farm Services Agency in 2016. Access to the studies and plans cited in the EA was restricted. Concerns about the potential negative effects of the proposal have led a group of local citizens to form the Canoe Valley Conservation Coalition (CVCC), with the initial goal of obtaining a thorough and transparent assessment of the significant environmental impacts that may occur during the construction and operation of this project. CVCC, with assistance from the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP), is also looking at legal action to stop or delay the project.

A great deal of information on CAFOs is available online from reputable sources, including universities and a publication by the National Association of Local Boards of Health. A Google search of the subject will reveal hundreds of references on impacts to human health and the environment. The SRAP website at srap.org is a good starting place if you want to learn more.

If you are concerned about the CAFO to Blair County, contact me, Bruce Rodgers, at canoevalley@embarqmail.com.

If you are concerned about the four CAFOs proposed for Bedford County, contact Laura Jackson at mljackson2@embarqmail.com.

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According to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

§ 27. Natural resources and the public estate.
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people. (May 18, 1971, P.L.769, J.R.3)

Unfortunately, this right of the people is under assault from both fracking and pipeline construction. The project with which my family and I have the most experience is the Mariner East 2 and 3 Pipeline Projects, aka the Pennsylvania Pipeline Project. Sunoco Logistics (SL), the owner/operator of both the existing Mariner East 1 and the proposed Mariner East 2 and 3, is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, based out of Dallas, TX. Mariner East 2 and 3 would be a set of two 24-inch pipelines which would begin in Scio, Ohio and end at the Marcus Hook refinery near Philadelphia. These pipelines would cross 350 miles, and 17 counties, in Pennsylvania, and carry approximately 770,000 barrels of natural gas liquids daily across Pennsylvania.

The product that would be carried by ME2/3 is a highly pressurized combination of propane, ethane, and butane. These odorless, colorless, and highly volatile gases are compressed into liquid form for transportation. Should there be a break or a leak in the pipeline, these NGLs would convert back to their gaseous states. These gases are heavier than the air, meaning that they would not just disperse into the atmosphere, but would flow to the lowest point. The high volatility and size of the pipes have the potential to create a blast radius of 3 miles.

So, this is the pipeline and company that my family has been fighting in Huntingdon County since February of 2015. After thirty years of teaching special education students, I was looking forward to spending time with my family, gardening, sewing, reading, etc., all the things that I love and now would have more time to enjoy. Sadly, that would not be the case. Two years ago, in February of 2015, we were notified that Sunoco Logistics would be putting part of the Mariner East 2/3 through approximately 3 acres of our property. Unfortunately, these three acres include our pond, streams, wetlands, and a steep, forested slope next to the pond. We turned down their offer and refused to sign an easement agreement.

In August 2015, we were notified that Sunoco Logistics had filed for eminent domain in the Huntingdon County Court. Sunoco Logistics argued that, by virtue of a public convenience certificate issued in the 1930s for the Mariner East 1, they had already been granted public utility status. This was despite the fact that the ME1 was originally designed to carry petroleum products from east to west, and now both the ME1 and the ME2 would be carrying natural gas liquids (NGL) west to east---a totally different product transported in a totally different direction. Sunoco Logistics also argued that this pipeline project would provide both a public benefit and numerous jobs for Pennsylvania citizens.

In January 2016, Huntingdon County judge George Zanic granted Sunoco Logistics’ request for eminent domain. This ruling was immediately appealed and is currently in Commonwealth Court. Despite the fact that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had not yet issued water crossing and soil erosion management permits, the favorable eminent domain ruling gave SL permission to survey and ultimately clear-cut on our property, although they could not begin any construction until DEP issued water-crossing and soil erosion permits.

In March 2016, Sunoco Logistics requested, and was granted, an injunction prohibiting us from interfering with SL’s surveying and clear-cutting. The company claimed that they would “suffer irreparable harm” if they could not clear-cut by March 31. They cited the Migratory Bird Act and the brown bat nesting season as reasons why they could not clear-cut after that date. On March 29, Sunoco Logistics, accompanied by the Huntingdon County sheriff’s department, began clear-cutting trees around the pond, wetlands, streams, and hillside. A group of about 12 observers were there to document the cutting. There were also 3 people who had established themselves in “tree-sits”. At one point, sheriff’s deputies arrested two of the observers and charged them with “summary disorderly conduct, misdemeanor disorderly conduct, and indirect contempt of court.” During their arraignment on these minor charges, they had their bails set at $200,00 and $100,000. The next day, while trying to draw the deputies’ attention to the fact that the tree clearers were cutting too close to one of the sitter’s trees, I was arrested on the same charges. I was released on $5,000 bail. The tree cutting crew left at mid-day on the 30th and did not return.

A woman standing on a stump in the middle of a clearcut.
Elise Gerhart, Ellen’s daughter, surveying the trees that Sunoco cut in March, 2016, without their permission.

In April 2016, the Sunoco tree crew returned to finish clear-cutting, even though it was more than a week after the date cited in their injunction. I was again arrested. This time I spent 3 days in the Centre County Correctional Facility because Huntingdon County has no accommodations for female prisoners. I was held on “suicide watch” because I refused to answer intake questions. I was denied phone calls to either my family or my lawyer. I was finally released on $5000 bail.

From April 2016 to December 2016, those of us who refused to take the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition plea (primarily used for those facing DUI or drug charges) had to appear in Huntingdon County court for various hearings. Finally a trial date was set for December 9, 2016. Three days prior to trial, DA Smith announced that all charges would be dropped, because the “disorderly conduct” occurred on private property and they couldn’t prosecute.

What has been the most frustrating part of all of this is the failure of various agencies, in particular, DEP, to actually protect the environment. From the beginning of this ordeal, we asked DEP, DCNR, Fish and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers, and Governor Wolf to uphold the environmental protection guaranteed in the Pennsylvania Constitution.

In its three permit application attempts to DEP, Sunoco failed to rectify numerous deficiencies on just our 3 acres, let alone the rest of the 350 miles of proposed pipeline. We hired an independent environmental consultant who found that Sunoco had listed only half of the streams and one-seventh of the wetlands area that would be impacted by the installation of the pipeline. Sunoco mislabeled our forested wetlands as emergent wetlands. They also failed to do an onsite analysis of soil composition, an onsite inventory of flora (including tree species), or an onsite inventory of fauna on their first two permit application attempts, and still mislabeled species. No one from DEP came to verify Sunoco’s analyses for the permits until after the initial tree-clearing had taken place, despite several requests from us.

Sunoco continues to file permit applications that contain unresolved deficiency issues. It is currently on its third attempt to have DEP grant the permits which would allow construction to begin. Unlike the previous two applications, it appears that DEP is not going to allow public hearings or public comment on the matter, although the agency has had at least four meetings with Sunoco in the past two months. This is a clear bias in favor of Sunoco Logistics. Once DEP issues permits, Sunoco can begin construction, even though several eminent domain cases, including ours, are still pending in Commonwealth Court.

What can do you? Contact:

Governor Tom Wolf
Phone - 717-787-2500
Fax - 717-772-8284
Twitter - @GovernorTomWolf

Secretary O'Donnell
Phone - 717-783-3004
Email - pmcdo...@pa.gov
Twitter - @SecMcDonnell

Talking points:

  1. We demand a public participation process be established for Sunoco Logistics' resubmitted application for 105 and 102 permits for Mariner East II.
  2. The public is being disenfranchised while Sunoco has advance information about DEP actions.
  3. The process is being manipulated to Sunoco's advantage at the expense of private landowners.
  4. We want a comment period of at least 60 days, hearings scheduled across the state, and an inclement weather plan so the most people can be heard.
  5. The public has a right to review and comment on matters that impact us as adversely as the Mariner East does.
  6. We don't need any more pipelines. Do the right thing. Deny the 105 and 102 permits.

For contact, more info and updates visit the Juniata Watershed People Before Pipelines page on Facebook. For help with our legal battle, visit our page on the Energy Justice website.

UPDATE as of February 21:

We are very disappointed that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is not living up to its name. DEP issued Chapter 102 and 105 permits to Sunoco Logistics for its Mariner East 2 project on Monday, February 13, for water crossings and soil erosion control management. Permits were issued despite inaccuracies and deficiencies. DEP officials met with Sunoco on at least four occasions to review the latest applications, yet refused to set up public hearings or extend the public comment period.

The fight is not over. Clean Air Council, Mountain Watershed Association, and Delaware River Keepers have filed a suit in Commonwealth Court to stop this project. West Goshen Township has denied permission for the pipeline based on violations of municipal codes. Several eminent domain cases, including ours, are still in appeal. The Army Corps of Engineers has not yet issued all necessary approvals for the project.

Unfortunately, Mariner East 2 is not the only pipeline planned for Pennsylvania. The Atlantic Sunrise and the Penn East in the eastern part of the state were also granted permits. Shell Corporation is planning the 93-mile Falcon pipeline in western Pennsylvania to supply its ethane cracker plant now under construction. People are still suffering from drinking water pollution caused by fracking. Government officials need to hear, loud and clear, that the citizens of Pennsylvania oppose this.

Heller Caves Biological Diversity Area
Heller Caves Biological Diversity Area

Extinction is forever, but environmental victories... not so much. Five years after we thought we'd won the Heller Caves fight, the same company, Catharine Properties, plans to apply for a permit to construct a quarry impacting 100 acres in the same area along the Lower Trail. The property is owned by Clifford Wise, who also owns Catharine Properties, as well as Gulf Trading & Transport, LLC. Mr. Wise and other company officials; their engineer, Michelle Merrow; and DEP’s Chief of Technical Services in Ebensburg, Rock Martin, were present at a special meeting held by Catharine Township Supervisors on February 7. About 75 concerned citizens attended the meeting to find out exactly what Mr. Wise intends to do on his property.

Although we received very few details about the proposed mining operation, what we did hear was enough to convince many that the environmental degradation caused by a quarry in such a sensitive habitat far outweighed any economic benefits. A quarry so close to the Lower Trail would create a tremendous amount of noise, dust, heavy truck traffic, and would potentially destroy the critical habitat for a small invertebrate called a springtail, which has been found in the cave system. This species of springtail has been found nowhere else on Earth and has been proposed for listing on the Endangered Species List.

Heller Caves, located in the Heller Caves Biological Diversity Area, adjacent to the Lower Trail, not only contains this rare species of springtail, but also serves as important habitat for rare bat species. The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), which protects our birds and the bats, requested protection for the Caves and the surrounding forested habitat, but their recommendations were ignored by DEP when the first permit was granted.

Fortunately, a new chief is now head of the DEP Mining Office in Ebensburg. Chief Martin assured the audience that this time DEP would adhere to the PGC recommendations. He also stated it typically takes DEP from four to six months to analyze applications and that the application has not yet been submitted.

What can you do to help?

  1. Attend Catharine Twp. meetings: 3rd Thursday of each month at 7 pm
    Meetings are held at the Municipal Building at 1229 Recreation Drive, Williamsburg, Pa.
  2. Contact Laura Jackson to get updated information - jacksonlaura73@gmail.com

I had not been to Florida for 33 years, so I was excited to visit the Sunshine State in early October. As I flew over the Orlando area, I was surprised to see so much water. The landscape was dominated by wetlands and lakes, development, and small pockets of woodlands.

Aerial view of Orlando
Aerial view of Orlando

Of course, more water was on its way — Hurricane Matthew was gaining strength and heading toward Florida. That gave an edge to the trip that I really didn’t like, but there I was, ready for a conservation adventure.

Aerial view with a storm at the edge of the sea.
Florida averages 300 sunny days a year, but it also gets a lot of rain.

I was invited to attend the 9th Annual Private Lands Partners Day, held in Sebring, Florida. The Partners for Conservation (PFC) encourages conservation on private lands by collaborating with landowners, federal agencies like the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and conservation organizations like Audubon, National Wildlife Federation, and many others. The PFC brings people of diverse backgrounds to the table to develop conservation action plans for species of concern. I was invited because of the habitat work accomplished on our property to benefit Golden-winged Warblers.

Golden-winged Warbler in the hand.
D. J. McNeil took this photo of a Golden-winged Warbler while conducting research on this rapidly declining species.

I was surprised to meet cattle ranchers and cowboys at the conference. I had no idea that Florida’s cattle industry is one of the largest in the United States. What was even more surprising is what I saw when we spent a whole day touring several cattle ranches:

  • Vast expanses of undeveloped, open land — tens of thousands of acres.
  • Water-holding practices — to keep water on the land so it can flow more slowly to the Everglades. These ranches sit at the headwaters of the Everglades.
  • Swaths of forests full of native trees, ferns, and palmettos.
  • Huge flocks of birds: Wood Storks, Glossy and White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, Sandhill Cranes, Egrets, Wild turkeys... I was in birder’s paradise!
Roseate Spoonbills in flight.
I was only able to photograph two of a small flock of Roseate Spoonbills that flew from a small pond on one of the cattle ranches that we toured.
A small alligator floating in the water.
This small alligator was much easier to photograph than the birds.

One ranching family keeps 40 percent of its land undeveloped, even though there are intense development pressures on these ranchers. Thank goodness many of them have a strong stewardship ethic to conserve the natural resources and many have put their ranches in conservation easements. A conservation easement allows the family to retain ownership of the ranch, but it can’t be developed. This preserves the land, the wildlife, and Florida’s history.

Saw palmettos with a moss-covered live oak in the background.
Research has shown that the saw palmetto (in the foreground with a live oak tree behind it) provides critical habitat for the Florida panther and the Florida black bear. The cattle ranchers manage for cattle, bears, and panthers.

These huge ranches were astounding and much different from the farms and woodlots that we have in Pennsylvania, but we did share a love of the land and a desire to protect it from development. If you own undeveloped property, I encourage you to consider getting a conservation easement. We have donated an easement on our property to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. We want our forest to continue as an important habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Brown cow with a white head.
The Braford breed was developed on the Adams Ranch when Hereford bulls were crossed with Brahman cows. The Adams Ranch maintains wild places for wildlife, even though it is one of the largest cow-calf ranches in the U.S.

I had to leave Florida a day early, thanks to Hurricane Matthew, but I won’t wait 33 years before I go back - with bird book and binoculars in hand.

Trees and water with a sunset sky.
The old saying maintains that, “Red at night sailor’s delight,” but Hurricane Matthew struck the next day.

Reprinted from the Sept-Oct issue of the Gnatcatcher.

JVAS member Alice Fleischer takes a look at the rocky outcropping of Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.
JVAS member Alice Fleischer takes a look at the rocky outcropping of Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.

It was a surprisingly pleasant day in late June when we kayaked to Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula in Lake Raystown. We deliberately picked a weekday adventure, to avoid much of the big boat traffic, but we still had to negotiate a few big waves from motor boats. We put in at Snyder’s Run Boat Launch and leisurely paddled along the shoreline. There were just five of us: my husband Mike and me, JVAS member Alice Fleischer, Dr. Eric Burkhart, and his summer intern, Teal Jordan.

We paddled slowly, observing both native and invasive plants that were growing along the water’s edge and into the forest that surrounds most of Raystown Dam. It was a beautiful morning, calm and peaceful, except for the occasional roar of big boats or jet skis. Dr. Burkhart, an expert in wild plant conservation and invasive plants at Penn State, was intently scanning the shoreline, identifying plants that were growing near the water’s edge, or even in shallow water.

Our intent was not just a casual outing; we were heading toward Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula, about an hour’s paddle away on the other side of the lake. Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula is a wild, forested tongue of land that juts out into the lake, at the base of Terrace Mountain. It contains rare shale barrens areas with associated rare plants and insects. We wanted to explore the Peninsula, to learn more about this unusual shale barrens community before it might disappear. The Peninsula is under threat due to a proposed development project.

This map shows the developer’s plan to transform a native forest with rare habitats into a resort and marina.
This map shows the developer’s plan to transform a native forest with rare habitats into a resort and marina.

For now, we were concentrating on making a list of animals and plants that we found on the peninsula. The rocky outcroppings were beautiful and sparsely vegetated. The extreme conditions mean that very few plants are adapted to withstand the arid, steep slopes. However, we were dismayed to see a number of non-native invasive species gaining a foothold: Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), and Japanese Stilt Grass (Microstegium vimineum) were a few species that definitely did not belong there.

False Foxglove is a beautiful native flower.
False Foxglove is a beautiful native flower.

On the other hand, we were fascinated by the diversity of native plant species growing on the shale slopes and in the upland forest. Several native species were new to me: False Foxglove’s (Aureolaria laevigata or A. virginica) beautiful yellow spires were in full bloom, aromatic Common Dittany (Cunila origanoides) was a new mint for my life list of native plants, and I had never seen Creeping Bush Clover (Lespedeza repens) before. There was also a healthy forest on the Peninsula - some big Black Oak (Quercus velutina) and Chestnut Oak (Q. montana) were mixed in with a good diversity of other tree species, including Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana).

While we did not identify any of the rare shale plants or insects, our short study of the Peninsula gave us an appreciation for shale barrens habitat, as well as a renewed vow to try to save it from development. Please sign the JVAS Petition to protect the Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.

We're sponsoring a petition to protect the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula Natural Heritage Area along Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County.

"DISTURBANCES THAT CAN LEAD TO THE INTRODUCTION OF EXOTIC AND AGGRESSIVE SPECIES ARE ONE OF THE LARGEST THREATS"
Huntingdon County Natural Inventory statement on the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula, a Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Area

A developer has proposed constructing restaurants, cabins, campgrounds, a marina and other facilities and buildings on public land on an undeveloped peninsula at Raystown Lake.

Sadly, for Raystown's public land and for the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula Natural Heritage Area, the proposed development is EVEN WORSE than what we had imagined.

Public lands ranging from the top of Terrace Mountain to the tip of the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula in Raystown Lake would be impacted severely by the proposed construction of restaurants, cabins, campgrounds, a marina, and associated buildings.

This land is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is now in its natural state. The Hawn's Bridge Peninsula is of such high ecological significance that it is designated as a Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Area "of exceptional value".

The Hawn's Bridge Peninsula is part of the Raystown Dam Natural Heritage Area (Biological Diversity Area) identified in the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory [PDF]. The Inventory identifies such areas as "containing plants or animals of special concern at state or federal levels, exemplary natural communities, or exceptional native diversity."

The area in which a marina and other facilities are proposed includes red cedar-mixed hardwood rich shale woodland and Virginia pine-mixed hardwood shale woodland communities. These rare habitats support two plant species endemic to shale barrens: the shale barrens evening primrose (Oenothera argillocola) (PA Threatened) and Kate's mountain clover (Trifolium virginicum) (PA Endangered). Several invertebrate species associated with shale barrens and the surrounding xeric forest also are found there. These include the southern pine looper moth (Caripeta aretaria), the promiscuous angle (Semiothisa promisuata), and a noctuid moth (Properigea sp.).

According to the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory (p. 148), "The shale barren communities and associated plant species depend upon the harsh conditions found on these steep, dry slopes where competition from other species is low. Disturbances that can lead to the introduction of exotic and aggressive species are one of the largest threats." The establishment of campgrounds, cabins, restaurants, and a marina and associated facilities on the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula would certainly cause the types of disturbances which the Inventory warns against.

In addition, the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula is clearly visible from the Hawn's Overlook and from the Allegrippis Trails. From an aesthetic viewpoint, converting the forested peninsula to an entertainment-oriented facility with a marina would create an eyesore.

Send comments to: CNAB-CC@usace.army.mil

Please also sign the JVAS Petition to protect the Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.