Author Archives: Laura Jackson

cartoon of Christmas-y birds with stockings

The JVAS Blair County Christmas Bird Count (CBC), centered on Culp, will be held on Saturday, December 16, 2017 with a Tally Dinner (aka “tally rally”) to be held at The Dream Restaurant, starting at 5 P.M. The pay-your-own dinner is open to all, so you can attend even if you can’t help with the CBC. The Dream is located at 1500 Allegheny St., Hollidaysburg, PA.

Please contact Christmas Bird Count Coordinator Laura Jackson no later than Saturday, Dec. 9 to reserve your place at the Tally Dinner. Call 814-652-9268 or email jacksonlaura73@gmail.com.

We hope YOU will be a counter this year! We are always in need of more participants, so check with birder friends and invite them to participate, too. Participation is free. In addition to field surveys, we need feeder watchers. If you live in the count circle (within 7.5 miles of Culp), you are encouraged to record the birds you see on your property or at your feeder.

Counters will be assigned a section of the circle to cover, so if you have a favorite area, be sure to sign up early. Register by calling Laura Jackson. You will receive a map showing which part of the circle to cover, a species checklist, and pointers on any bird hot spots that might be in your part of the circle. We will assign the count areas in early December, so if you have a favorite area that you want to cover, contact Laura before December 10.

Also, we hope you will attend the Sunday, Dec. 3 Pre-CBC Workshop to help us organize the event. We will meet at 2:00 pm in Penn State Altoona's Hawthorn Building. Call Laura if you plan to attend.

There are 3 other Christmas Bird Counts in our area that need participants:
Huntingdon Co. CBC is centered on Donation, PA.
Contact compiler Deb Grove: 814-643-3295 or dsg4@psu.edu
Bedford Co. CBC on Saturday, December 30, is centered on Manns Choice, PA.
Contact compilers Mike and Laura Jackson: 814-652-9268 or jacksonlaura73@gmail.com
Raystown CBC: Contact compiler Greg Grove for more details: gwg2@psu.edu

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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.

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.

PAGame Commission logoA vote on SB 1166 and SB 1168 will most likely occur within the next week. These bills would allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, respectively, to set their own license fees. If these bills pass, the agencies would be able to better manage their wildlife conservation programs. As you may know, the PGC has recently eliminated biology aide positions due to lack of funding. Some of these aides were an important part of bird conservation work in the PGC. The agencies haven’t had a license increase in years because legislators don’t want to vote for a fee increase, and that hurts the birds!

Please contact your state Senator and ask him/her to vote FOR SB 1166 and SB 1168. You can find your legislator here.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's special logo to mark its 150th anniversary.In case you wonder why JVAS is so concerned about this issue, Scott Weidensaul has provided more reasons why birders should support these two bills. Scott recently posted this on the PA Birds Listserv:

The PGC hasn't had a license fee increase since 1997, primarily because the General Assembly has been holding it hostage to force lower antlerless (doe) license allocations, thus permitting an increase in the state's deer population. We have decades of research that shows, very clearly, how whitetail overbrowsing has badly damaged PA's forests, and especially populations of forest birds (like least flycatchers and wood thrushes) that depend on a dense understory for nesting habitat. The science is clear: We have too many deer, but the Legislature has been able to use the commission's lack of legal authority to set license fees as a cudgel to keep deer numbers higher than they should be. This bill could be a first step toward correcting that issue.

And as Laura pointed out, the PGC's current fiscal crisis has resulted in significant cuts in staff and programs, with the ax very heavily on nongame programs. One can argue about whether the agency puts an appropriate emphasis on nongame wildlife even under the best of circumstances, but these days birds are really taking it on the chin. And birders; the commission has said it may need to close Middle Creek to the public as a cost-saving measure.

Both agencies — the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission — need a more stable income stream to manage the wildlife they are mandated to protect for our benefit. These bills would remove a significant element of politics from the mixture, and deserve our support. Whether or not you're a license-buyer, please contact your state senator immediately at the link above, and ask them to support SB 1166 and 1168.

Registrations due by April 12!

April 19, 2016: JVAS Spring Banquet

“The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) Bird Research Projects”
Presented by Doug Gross, PGC Bird Biologist

Silent Auction 5:30 PM Dinner 6 PM at Hoss’s Steak & Sea House
110 Patch Way Rd. Duncansville, PA 16635

The PGC has done some remarkable work to help birds like the Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Sandhill Crane, Golden-winged Warbler, and many others increase their populations in Pennsylvania. Join us as we celebrate another year of commitment to bird conservation by both the PGC and Juniata Valley Audubon Society.

A "silent auction" also will be held to raise funds for conservation efforts supported by the JVAS. Members are asked to bring new or gently used nature-related items to donate for the silent auction. Please bring the items before 5:00 PM at the banquet. Books, artwork, pottery, native plants — anything related to nature will be auctioned. Bring your checkbook or cash to support this important fund-raiser!

We will order off the menu, so payment in advance is not required. However, we ask that you email or call JVAS Hospitality Chair Marcia Bonta by April 12, as we need to let Hoss’s know how many plan to attend. Please call Marcia at 814-684-3113 or email: marciabonta@hotmail.com

The 1st annual Earth Day Birding Classic at Penn State Altoona will be held on April 22 and 23, 2016. Registration is free. The goal is for teams in six different categories to count as many species of birds as possible in the 24-hour-period beginning at noon on April 22. This non-profit event is co-sponsored by the Environmental Studies program at Penn State Altoona and Juniata Valley Audubon Society. Pledges that team members garner will support bird conservation and education in central Pennsylvania. Teams of 3 or more (2 or more for Senior citizens) will count birds in Blair and surrounding counties, and prizes will be awarded during the closing ceremony. The opening and closing ceremonies will take place at the Slep Center on the Penn State Altoona campus immediately prior to and following the event. Registration deadline is April 15 – to register and for more information, please contact Catherine Kilgus at catiegk5059@gmail.com.

→ Download the Registration Form

→ Download the Pledge Sheet

→ Download the Rules & Guidelines — or see below.
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