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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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

SB 1166 and 1168 would allow the PGC and the PA Fish and Boat Commission, respectively, to set their own license fees. If they pass, the agencies would be able to better manage their wildlife conservation programs.

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.

UPDATE: Despite opposition from fishermen, birders, and conservationists, HB 1565 was signed into law by Governor Corbett during the last days of the 2014 legislative session.

A letter published in the Oct. 4, 2014 Altoona Mirror.

Juniata Valley Audubon urges our state legislators to oppose House Bill 1565 which eliminates the requirement to have forested buffers along streams designated as High Quality or Exceptional Value. HB 1565 would be a step backward and would unnecessarily jeopardize the Commonwealth’s most sensitive waters.

Riparian buffers are an essential component of watershed management, providing numerous physical, chemical, and biological benefits that include reduction of non-point source runoff, attenuation of flood flows, and maintenance of stream water temperatures and aquatic habitat.

By their very nature as being designated the “best of the best,” the High Quality and Exceptional Value streams for which buffers currently are required represent a minority of waters. Further limiting its scope, the existing requirement applies only to new development and includes a number of exceptions. Thus, the current scale of required buffers is already relatively minimal statewide.

Riparian buffers are the least expensive, most effective, and lowest maintenance approach to sustaining water quality and reducing the harmful impacts of erosion, sedimentation, and flooding.

By opposing HB 1565 our lawmakers will contribute to the long-term health and maintenance of Pennsylvania’s water resources, the recreational and ecological functions they support, and the downstream communities they serve.

Sincerely,

Laura Jackson
President
Juniata Valley Audubon

An unsigned editorial from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spells out the fundamental wrongness of PA House Bill 1576.

An unsigned editorial from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spells out the fundamental wrongness of PA House Bill 1576:

When it comes to protecting endangered species, whom would you trust? Members of the Legislature, who know squat about conservation but a lot about campaign contributions from special interests, or the wildlife experts employed by state agencies that manage threatened and endangered plants and animals?

If you trust ideologically driven politicians more than the professionals, then House Bill 1576 is for you. The measure, which has 67 cosponsors, treats current regulations and the species they protect as a nuisance to economic progress.

Read the rest.

3

A new study in the Journal of Raptor Research attempts to tally bald eagle and golden eagle deaths at wind energy facilities nationwide, as the AP reports:

Wind energy facilities have killed at least 67 golden and bald eagles in the last five years, but the figure could be much higher, according to a new scientific study by government biologists.

The research represents one of the first tallies of eagle deaths attributed to the nation's growing wind energy industry, which has been a pillar of President Barack Obama's plans to reduce the pollution blamed for global warming. Wind power releases no air pollution.

But at a minimum, the scientists wrote, wind farms in 10 states have killed at least 85 eagles since 1997, with most deaths occurring between 2008 and 2012, as the industry was greatly expanding. Most deaths — 79 — were golden eagles that struck wind turbines. One of the eagles counted in the study was electrocuted by a power line.

The vice president of the American Bird Conservancy, Mike Parr, said the tally was "an alarming and concerning finding."

A trade group, the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement that the figure was much lower than other causes of eagle deaths. The group said it was working with the government and conservation groups to find ways to reduce eagle casualties.

Still, the scientists said their figure is likely to be "substantially" underestimated, since companies report eagle deaths voluntarily and only a fraction of those included in their total were discovered during searches for dead birds by wind-energy companies. The study also excluded the deadliest place in the country for eagles, a cluster of wind farms in a northern California area known as Altamont Pass. Wind farms built there decades ago kill more than 60 per year.

The research affirms an AP investigation in May, which revealed dozens of eagle deaths from wind energy facilities and described how the Obama administration was failing to fine or prosecute wind energy companies, even though each death is a violation of federal law.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which employs the six researchers, has said it is investigating 18 bird-death cases involving wind-power facilities, and seven have been referred to the Justice Department. The authors noted the study's findings do not necessarily reflect the views of the agency, although some of their data was obtained from staff.

Wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet's wingspan. Though the blades appear to move slowly, they can reach speeds up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.

Wind farms in two states, California and Wyoming, were responsible for 58 deaths, followed by facilities in Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Utah, Texas, Maryland and Iowa.

In all, 32 facilities were implicated. One in Wyoming was responsible for a dozen golden eagle deaths, the most at a single facility.

The research was published in the Journal of Raptor Research.

See also Chris Clarke's summary of the findings at his ReWire column for the California-based KCET.org: "California Leads Nation in Wind Turbine Eagle Deaths."

Approximately a couple dozen land-owners on Jacks Mt. have signed leases permitting the building of turbines and access roads on their properties. ... Our society must develop sources of clean energy, including the use of wind – but turbines should be in places where they will do more good than harm.

JVAS member Greg Grove's letter to the Huntingdon Daily News:

To the Editor, Daily News;

A recent article in the The Daily News (August 30, 2013) described the possible placement of wind turbines on Jack’s Mt. in an entirely positive light. However, there is another very alarming side to this story.

Approximately a couple dozen land-owners on Jacks Mt. have signed leases permitting the building of turbines and access roads on their properties in the following townships: Union, Menno, Oliver, Granville, and Wayne. In addition, at least three properties have also been leased on Stone Mt. in Brady Township, Huntingdon County.

Our society must develop sources of clean energy, including the use of wind – but turbines should be in places where they will do more good than harm. Wind turbines are massive structures, towering 400 feet or more into the air, much higher the towers that support electric power lines.

The sharply peaked ridgelines of Jacks and Stone are far too narrow for the towers. Not mentioned in the Daily News article is that the construction of the towers and access roads will require removal of a significant portion of the mountain top, perhaps as much as 100 feet (or more) of elevation in some places. That is not a typo – imagine our ridges with 100 feet blasted off the top: environmental destruction on a huge scale.

Along with the sheer destruction, what effect will this have on water supplies? The water on which we depend in the valleys comes in large part from the slopes of Jacks and Stone Mts. Nor do we know the effects of the proposed mountaintop removal on wildlife. For example, each fall and spring, thousands of raptors, including several hundred Bald and Golden Eagles migrate along the two ridges, using the power of the wind deflected up slope to save energy as they move between winter and summer ranges. Turbines extending over 400 above the ridge top, with blade speeds (at the tips) of well over 100 mph will likely kill some as happens at other wind projects. Besides raptors, uncounted thousands of other birds as well as bats fly along the ridges, susceptible to the turning blades.

Economic benefit is cited as a reason to welcome wind farms. How much of a boon may occur remains to be seen. Balance that against the fact that our region derives much income from tourism (everything from sight-seers to hunters). Ridges with their tops blasted away are not likely to enhance the experience of visitors from outside the region. Among other aspects, Jacks is nationally known for hang-gliding appeal, drawing many people to the area. Cut the mountain down and put up towers with spinning blades – that attraction will probably disappear.

Our region would realize no particular benefits from the electricity generated; it would simply go into the national grid. The companies, which are not American, are constructing wind projects in Pennsylvania because a significant portion of their costs is government-subsidized. Pennsylvania’s wind profile is of borderline value for generating electricity–without the subsidies, it is unlikely turbines would be constructed in Pennsylvania.

Township supervisors should be made aware of the issues arising from the building of turbines on Jacks and Stone. They cannot prevent the placement of turbines or of people leasing their land to turbine companies. But they can craft ordinances that put some legal restrictions on the siting of turbines, affording at least some protection for neighboring property owners from turbine noise, shadow flicker, and accidents.

An organization called SOAR (Save Our Allegheny Ridges) has been formed to inform the public and township officials about the negative aspects of wind turbines in our mountains. (http://saveouralleghenyridges.org/). There is also a Facebook group called Friends of Jacks Mountain that provides updates on the situation on Jacks and Stone for those who wish more information.

Greg Grove
Huntingdon

Anti-conservation lawmakers are taking aim at Pennsylvania's endangered and threatened species. Pennsylvania HB 1576 and SB 1047 would diminish the Pennsylvania Game Commission's and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's ability to protect endangered and threatened species in our state.

The Altoona Mirror has just published a letter from JVAS Conservation Chair Stan Kotala which expresses the view of the whole JVAS board:

Anti-conservation lawmakers are taking aim at Pennsylvania's endangered and threatened species.

Pennsylvania HB 1576 and SB 1047 would diminish the Pennsylvania Game Commission's and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's ability to protect endangered and threatened species in our state.

The commonwealth has a long and proud tradition of independent fish and game agencies. Politicians shouldn't mess with it.

These bills would send the Commission's endangered and threatened species lists to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC), an agency dominated by the legislature, for additional scrutiny.

The IRRC does not have scientific expertise or standards to evaluate species listing proposals. Proponents of the bill claim that this is just like asking for a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. That claim is absurd. Second opinions on a diagnosis are rendered by another physician, not by political appointees with no science background.

These agencies' biologists are better judges of the threats to wildlife than political appointees would be. The agencies make decisions regarding proposals for protecting rare, threatened, or endangered species in an open, transparent manner.

As if we needed more reasons to oppose these bills, their passage would likely mean the loss in up to $27 million in federal wildlife restoration funds, representing up to a third of the budgets of the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission.

These federal funds would be lost because managing threatened and endangered species in the fashion proposed by this bill would demonstrate our state's incompetence in wildlife management.

In addition, these bills could encourage more federal involvement in species protection. One of the criteria utilized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in determining whether to pursue listing of a species is the sufficiency of state resource protection laws. By curtailing the authority of the Commissions, this proposed legislation could prompt a more active federal role in species protection.

Juniata Valley Audubon asks that conservationists oppose Pennsylvania HB 1576 and SB 1047.