Conservation news

Lenca Farms logo

Juniata Valley Audubon Society has partnered with Lenca Farms to bring you the highest quality shade-grown coffee direct from Honduras. The coffee farmers retain the forest canopy above the small coffee trees and use organic practices so the farms support many species of native birds, as well as wintering Neotropical migrants. Research by Cornell University shows that this type of coffee farm provides important habitat and food for many birds.

Lenca Farms Coffee is a medium roast with flavors of chocolate and cardamom. Because it is high elevation, it is low in caffeine. You will find the coffee to be very rich and smooth.

How to Order

12 oz. bags are $9.75 + shipping at Abednego Coffee. Be sure to buy the Honduran coffee.

More about the coffee producers

Lenca Farms is small group of coffee farmers in the high mountainous region of Marcala, in southwest Honduras. The farmers produce shade-grown coffee using organic practices, thus producing specialty coffee of the highest quality. Many species of Neotropical songbirds spend part of the winter in these shade coffee farms, as JVAS members have been able to verify for themselves.

Juniata Valley Audubon Society members documented Neotropical migrants, including Golden-winged Warblers, at Lenca Farms in January, 2016.

One of the farmers, Emilio Garcia, is a fourth generation coffee grower who started importing the Lenca Farms coffee into the US in 2013. Lenca Farms offers direct trade with US roasters and guarantees that their specialty-grade coffee comes "From Our Farms to Your Door." Since the coffee harvest is from January to March, the green coffee is brought to the US in early summer, ensuring high-quality fresh coffee.

Emilio Garcia (L) and Jeff Myers (R) with a bag of green coffee direct from Honduras.

About the Roasters

Emilio Garcia is a partner with Jeff Myers, who started Abednego Coffee Roasters in 2008 in Chambersburg with the purpose that "we would make the world a better place." Emilio Garcia and Jeff Myers offer the highest quality coffee that is air roasted in small batches, ensuring our customers get freshly roasted coffee. They support sustainable coffee production through direct trade from small coffee growers. They also donate supplies and food to schools in Honduras, since they know that learning empowers children to rise above poverty.

The drab plumage of this Magnolia Warbler, wintering in Honduras, is offset by the flashy tail. (photo by Laura Jackson)
Honduras is an important wintering habitat for Golden-winged Warblers. (photo by Mike Jackson at Bald Eagle State Park in PA.)

Juniata Valley Audubon Society's Policy regarding wind development states that,

Industrial wind development on forested ridges creates a suite of ecological problems that outweigh the benefits of a renewable energy source.  Since many birds and bats use our ridges as migratory pathways, tall towers with spinning blades cause almost certain mortality.  In addition, large clearings for turbines and an extensive network of roads through forests create forest fragmentation, which is also a negative impact on forest birds and bats.  For these reasons, as well as many more, the Juniata Valley Audubon Society opposes industrial wind development on forested ridges.

Specifically, if the first of two wind turbine applications proposed by Atlantic Wind, LLC are approved, up to 37 industrial wind turbines would be constructed, impacting three forested mountains in the Wild Creek Watershed: Stony, Pohopoco, and Call Mountains. These turbines, with their associated turbine pads and wide road clearings, will cause extensive forest fragmentation resulting in up to 292 acres of cleared forest.

If the second application is approved, the project will contain 28 turbines in linear rows impacting Pohopoco and Call Mountains, with up to 203 acres of forest being cleared. We know that roads and clearings through forests invite invasive plant species, more avian predators, and more ATVs. None of these are beneficial to forests and their inhabitants.

Wild Creek Watershed produces some of the cleanest water in the nation and is designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as an Exceptional Value Watershed. It is the undeveloped forest that makes this water so clean. Additionally, this water sustains thousands of people and businesses in the Bethlehem area.

Not only do the extensive tracts of forests provide clean water, they also provide homes and sustenance to a number of birds that are species of special concern in Pennsylvania: the Osprey, Broad-winged Hawk, Whip-poor-will, Brown Creeper, Wood Thrush, and Golden-winged Warbler breed in the Wild Creek Watershed. Birds that depend on vast forested acreage are also found in this watershed. In addition to the Wood Thrush, Pennsylvania has a global responsibility to provide large areas of unfragmented forest for the Scarlet Tanager since more than 19% of the population breeds in Pennsylvania.

The Wild Creek Watershed is located in the Appalachian Raptor Migration Corridor and partly within the Kittatinny-Shawangunk National Migration Corridor. Raptors use the watershed as stopover sites during migration.

The forests found in the Wild Creek Watershed are some of the most rare and unique habitats in the world. The habitat areas are called Yellow Run Barrens, Pitch Pine Barrens, Hell Creek Barrens, and Pine Run Woods. The term, "barrens," is often misleading as people think it is an area bare of trees and other vegetation. These barrens are actually lush with vegetation, but the trees are stunted and don't grow as tall as in other forests. Yellow Run Barrens contains a scrub oak-heath-pitch pine natural community that is unique in Pennsylvania and should be maintained through prescribed fire. Pitch Pine Barrens is also unique and rare in the state. Hell Creek Barrens contains a Pennsylvania endangered and globally rare plant species of concern, while Pine Run Woods is a maple, oak forest and scrub oak Shrubland Natural Community.

In 2005, when The Nature Conservancy completed a Natural Areas Inventory of Carbon County [PDF], they noted that no threats or disturbances were present in the Wild Creek Watershed because the Bethlehem Authority protected almost the entire watershed.

The Nature Conservancy recommended,

Continued protection will not only serve to protect these important municipal water supplies into the future, but also provide critical open space and wildlife habitat. It will serve to benefit the bird species of special concern [Osprey] and, perhaps, attract additional nesting pairs to the lake. The plant species of concern would be harmed by a loss of overstory and reduction in water quality at this site.

Sadly, in 2013, the Bethlehem Authority leased thousands of acres in the Wild Creek Watershed to Atlantic Wind, LLC. If the project is built, most of the watershed will become an industrial zone for energy production.

Juniata Valley Audubon Society supports properly sited wind projects, but an industrial wind project in the Wild Creek Watershed is clearly inappropriate. We urge the Bethlehem Authority to focus on the generation of clean water and the protection of special habitats and species by protecting the forest.

A recent study, "Return on Environment," which was partly funded by Audubon Pennsylvania, shows the importance of undeveloped forests in Carbon County. To quote:

WE CAN’T AFFORD NOT TO PROTECT CARBON COUNTY’S OPEN SPACE
The first rule of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else. Whatever we do to natural habitats— good or bad, big or small—ripples through the economy. Simply stated, the loss of open space costs more than we know. Losing natural resources, like trees and good water quality, is a significant strategic choice. Natural systems provide a form of insurance or risk management. They work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and have been doing so for the last 10,000 years, free of charge.

Sincerely,

Catie Farr, President
Juniata Valley Audubon Society

Submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers by Laura Jackson, Vice President, on behalf of the Juniata Valley Audubon Society.

Map of the Lake Raystown area from the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory
Map of the Lake Raystown area from the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory

To Whom it May Concern:

Please accept this letter as a formal comment submitted by the Juniata Valley Audubon Society, a chapter of the National Audubon Society, with over 300 members residing in Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon, Mifflin, and Centre Counties in central Pennsylvania. We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments to be considered in the development of the Raystown Lake Master Plan Revision.

Juniata Valley Audubon Society (JVAS) recognizes the diverse recreational resources offered by the Raystown Lake, its economic development potential, the importance of the flood control, and its clean hydropower. More importantly, however, we value the significant amount of relatively undisturbed habitat: approximately 18,000 acres (84%) of the Raystown Lake Project is forested. Since Terrace Mountain provides a forested backdrop to much of the eastern lake shore, we know that sustainable forest management is key to maintaining not only the viewscape, but the quality of water in Raystown Lake. We commend the US Army Corps of Engineers on their work to maintain this important habitat, so vital to maintaining clean water and healthy fish and wildlife.

Furthermore, we applaud the Corps' efforts to establish a Bat Conservation Area on Terrace Mountain in the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula area to maintain roosting and foraging habitat for northern long-eared bats and Indiana bats, as well as other forest dwelling bat species. JVAS supports managing these areas to mimic old growth conditions, which will create better habitat for roosting bats.

Another type of habitat quite different from the forested expanses are the rare shale barrens that occur in the Raystown Lake Project Area. We understand that the shale barren communities in Bedford and Huntingdon counties are one of the most unusual, and also most endangered, ecosystems in Pennsylvania. They are few in number and small in acreage, but contain endemic plant species found only in this habitat. The eleven shale barrens in the Raystown Lake Project are each significantly important since they vary in geographical and environmental features, as well as types of flora and fauna. We appreciate the Corps' dedication to protecting them by designating them as "Natural Areas," which will be preserved in their natural state.

We ask that the Corps continue to protect the shale barrens as designated Natural Areas by placing total restriction of any development in the area, and protecting the steep slopes and fragile environment of the barrens areas from disturbance, except for scientific investigation. Especially important is the restriction of foot travel on the slope and prohibition of watercraft docking at the base of the cliffs.

We are concerned, however, that the 9-acre shale barrens on the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula is under threat from future development. In the 1994 Master Plan, the Corps pledged complete protection and did not agree to any development on the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula. We know that the current Master Plan update is considering changing the use of this area. In keeping with the Corp's pledge to protect one of Pennsylvania's rarest and most endangered habitats, we would like to emphasize that this complete protection will only occur if the entire Hawn's Bridge Peninsula is protected from development. The 1994 master plan emphasized protection of the eastern shore, which includes the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula. We feel the eastern shore and Terrace Mountain should remain protected.

The Shale Barrens are also designated as part of the Raystown Biological Diversity Area (BDA), a Natural Heritage Area documented by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory. Within the strata of BDAs, Huntingdon County recognizes Hawn's Bridge Peninsula to be the highest ranking: an "Exceptional Biological Diversity Area." See map at end of letter.

Our request to protect Hawn's Bridge Peninsula from development is supported by many local residents, including the Coalition to Protect Hawn's Peninsula. It is important to note that our request to protect Hawn's Bridge Peninsula is also aligned with the Huntingdon County Comprehensive Plan, 2007 Supplement. Sadly, the businesses and organizations that are promoting development of Hawn's Bridge Peninsula are at odds with the Comprehensive Plan.

Although it is not regulatory, the Comprehensive Plan is an important guiding document for Huntingdon County as it contains, "A Vision for the 21st Century." The Elements of the Vision include, "protection of farmland, forest land, natural resources, and the environment," while emphasizing new development "in and around existing boroughs and villages." It further emphasizes developing "greenways along rivers and ridges."

This vision is further detailed in this excerpt, " The vast majority of land in the County will remain in productive private rural land uses such as agriculture, forestry, and recreation. A system of “Greenways” will be established along mountain ridges, streams, and rivers to protect water quality, to provide habitat for wildlife, to enhance recreational opportunities, and to protect scenic beauty. "

One policy supported in this Vision does include, "the development of a year-round, full-service resort at Raystown Lake." However, we ask that such development should not be along mountain ridges such as Terrace Mountain, or impact rare habitats like shale barrens. Such a resort at Raystown Lake should be on Army Corps property where development already occurs, not in an exceptional Biological Diversity Area like Hawn's Bridge Peninsula.

In conclusion, Juniata Valley Audubon Society supports the protection of the eastern shore of Raystown Lake, specifically the endangered shale barrens which include the one located on Hawn's Bridge Peninsula. We request that Hawn's Bridge Peninsula be reclassified as an Environmentally Sensitive Area and that Terrace Mountain remain as a Low Density Recreation Area in the new Master Plan.

Sincerely,

Laura Jackson, Vice-President

We encourage everyone to provide comments to the US Army Corps of Engineers as they revise their master plan for Raystown Lake. Submit via their website or by mail. Here's some sample text; please use as much or as little as you like, and put into your own words if possible.

To whom it may concern:

The ecological evidence provided in the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory demands that the Hawn’s Bridge peninsula be designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area in the Master Plan Revision.

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. The Inventory characterizes such areas as "containing plants or animals of special concern at state or federal levels, exemplary natural communities, or exceptional native diversity." The Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory was administered by the Huntingdon County Planning Commission and identifies and maps Huntingdon County’s most significant natural places. The study investigated plant and animal species and natural communities that are unique or uncommon in the county. It also explored areas important for general wildlife habitat and scientific study. The inventory is a tool for informed and responsible decision-making.

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, "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 a marina and associated amenities 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.

Furthermore, Terrace Mountain, adjacent to the Hawn’s Bridge peninsula, should be designated as Low Density Recreation because it contains a Bat Conservation Area, the Terrace Mountain Trail, and steep topography that is unsuitable for development. Visitors to Raystown Lake value the wild nature of the eastern side of the lake. Development should be confined to the western side of the lake, which already has infrastructure to support it.

Therefore, for ecological and aesthetic reasons, I strongly support the designation of the Hawn's Bridge peninsula as an Environmentally Sensitive Area and the designation of Terrace Mountain as a Low Density Recreation area.

Sincerely,

[Your name and address]

Bird Habitat yard sign

Juniata Valley Audubon Society is pleased to promote the Bird Habitat Recognition Program. A yard sign like the one above and a Habitat Discount card are included with your $25 donation to PA Audubon. Be sure to list Juniata Valley Audubon Society as the Audubon Chapter in your area.

  • No property size limits
  • Sign (see above) is included with registration! (9" x 12", Metal)
  • Homes, schools, businesses, parks, and public land can join
  • Help us promote Healthy Yards that are easy on birds, babies and bank accounts
  • Habitat Discount Card will help you save money at businesses across the state

Download the Property Application and mail to Audubon PA - Bird Habitat or complete the form online at www.pa.audubon.org/get-involved/bird-habitat-recognition-program-0.

Your Bird Habitat could qualify for a special award! Juniata Valley Audubon Society will award a certificate and $25 to one outstanding Bird Habitat in each of the following counties: Bedford, Blair, Centre, Cambria, and Huntingdon. To apply, contact JVAS VP Laura Jackson at jacksonlaura73@gmail.com or call 814-652-9268. Remember, enter the Bird Habitat Program first.

Improving the quality of land for wildlife is the single most constructive step we can take to assist wild bird populations.
Stephen Kress, Audubon Biologist

1 Comment

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"

***

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.

3 Comments

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.