French Creek is a 1,250 square mile watershed sitting at the headwaters of the Upper Ohio basin. French Creek is situated in southwestern New York and northwestern Pennsylvania. It is arguably the most ecologically significant waterway in Pennsylvania, containing more species of fish and freshwater mussels than any other comparably sized stream in the Commonwealth and possibly the northeastern United States.
French Creek contains myriad state listed fish and mussel species of special concern, as well as two federally endangered freshwater mussel species, known as the Northern riffleshell (Epioblasma torulosa rangiana) and the Clubshell mussel (Pleurobema clava). Historically, the Ohio River drainage (including the Allegheny River system) was one of the most biologically diverse river systems in the nation with respect to aquatic species. Many watersheds within this basin supported levels of biodiversity equal to or greater than French Creek. In the last 100 years, human impacts to these watersheds have resulted in the loss of many species, thereby leaving French Creek as the best representative of historical biodiversity in the Pennsylvania portion of the Ohio River basin.
French Creek contains more species of fish and freshwater mussels (Unionidae) than any other similar-sized stream in the northeast United States.
WPC and French Creek
WPC has been involved in French Creek since the late 1960’s. Land protection efforts ramped up in the 1990’s and continue to date. In 1995, WPC was a founding member of the French Creek Project and provided scientific and planning expertise to the effort. WPC’s work in French Creek has produced a thorough understanding of the status of living resources in this area. To view the French Creek Watershed Conservation Plan and three state of the stream reports for French Creek written by WPC, click here.
WPC is active in land protection in the watershed, and in stream restoration projects out of our Pittsburgh and Indiana offices, respectively. WPC’s activity in French Creek has a strong partnership component to it. In the land arena, WPC, the French Creek Valley Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy formally collaborate to build capacity at the community level to secure conservation easements. Through the Freshwater Conservation Program, WPC has the ability and expertise available to manage water project priorities throughout the region. Currently, the Freshwater Conservation Program is actively working with private landowners to address sediment inputs throughout the watershed. Through this work, WPC has been able to secure state and federal partnerships and has the ability to leverage funds to continue watershed restoration in years to come.
WPC has acquisition expertise (in fee and easement) and planning expertise (landscape level, site level management planning, a completed current River Conservation plan on file with DCNR, and joint planning experience with state and federal agencies in the watershed); multi-decade scientific expertise of the area; inventory, assessment, and landscape analysis; and restoration project implementation (riparian area).
WPC currently stewards more than 2,000 acres in French Creek. WPC has protected over 3,147 acres to-date in French Creek including:
- Owns 83 percent of Lake Pleasant watershed
- Protected critical wetlands including Lowville and Wattsburg Fens (Lowville Fen is located within West Branch French Creek Conservation Area, a WPC Featured Property)
- Owns streamside land protecting freshwater mussel habitat at Utica and Venango riffles
- Protected acres to public lands, e.g. State Game Lands No. 13 (Conneaut Marsh)
Forest Protection Priorities
Protecting and maintaining water quality in French Creek will largely be a function of a robust land protection program implemented by WPC and partners. Riparian forests, floodplains, and steep slopes need protection. French Creek is emerging as an area of increasing importance for bird life, as evidenced by the presence of four Audubon Society Important Bird Areas. Conservation of forests in the watershed and a restoration effort to increase connectivity between fragmented riparian and non-riparian forests is an important strategy. Focus areas are as follows:
Priority Reach of Mainstem:
- floodplain restoration from 5 km upstream of Wattsburg to mouth of West Branch
- from mouth of South Branch to a few kilometers below the mouth of Muddy Creek
- mouth of Little Conneauttee Creek to a few kilometers above Saegertown
- mouth of Woodcock Creek to mouth of Cussewago Creek
- just below Meadville to mouth of Conneaut Outlet
- islands below Cochranton to mouth of Patchel Run
Priority Subbasins – high water volume and biodiversity contributors to mainstem with limited amounts of existing protection (e.g. public lands):
- Major priority tributaries
- West Branch French Creek (located within a WPC Featured Property)
- Hubble Run
- South Branch French Creek
- LeBoeuf Creek (lower)
- Little Conneauttee Creek
- Cussewago Creek
- Critical tributaries – relative to biodiversity hotspots
- Various small streams and unnamed tributarie
Unique Biodiversity Areas - specific areas are identified on the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s Conservation Blueprint and are not restated here. These areas include:
- Natural communities – exemplary, viable e.g. Lake Pleasant, important wetland types: calcareous fens
- Species of Special Concern – Global Rank 1 – Global Rank 3 species in particular; concentrations
Protecting and maintaining water quality in French Creek will largely be a function of a robust land protection program implemented by WPC and partners. Riparian forests, floodplains, and steep slopes need protection. On-the-ground projects restoring stream banks adversely impacted by poor agriculture operations will be an important strategy for decades to come. The federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and many other state and federal agriculture programs can leverage funding for this work. Over the next five years, WPC has set a goal of 30 additional miles of stream restoration. Freshwater targets include:
- Mainstem between its confluence with West Branch, French Creek and confluence with Muddy Creek
- Mainstem riffles at Utica and Venango (highly buffered)
- LeBoeuf Creek
- Muddy Creek
- Cussewago Creek
- French Creek wetlands (including glacial lakes), riparian forests, and floodplains