The Allegheny Mountains and the Youghiogheny River are an extension of the Central Appalachians ecoregion starting in West Virginia and Maryland. In Pennsylvania, the region encompasses portions of Fayette, Somerset, Westmoreland and Cambria counties. High gradient streams, sandstone outcrops, limestone caves, and large tracts of intact forestland define this rugged landscape.
Since the 1950s, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has worked to conserve the ridges, streams and valleys of the Laurel Highlands region. Through WPC’s efforts, more than 63,000 acres have been protected, with much of it now managed by the PA Game Commission and the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. More than 7,000 acres of private land in the region has been protected through conservation easements. Within this landscape is WPC’s Bear Run Nature Reserve, host watershed to Fallingwater. The region also encompasses the Ligonier Valley in Westmoreland County, where WPC has an active land protection program.
Using WPC’s conservation blueprint as a guide, we will expand protection of the Laurel Highlands’ rich diversity of plant and animal life, focusing on forestlands, waterways and subterranean communities. Among WPC’s goals are to develop and implement innovative forest protection programs, protect exceptional waterways while restoring impaired water resources, protect key land through conservation easements or acquisition, and collaborate with the public and organizations in the area. A comprehensive management plan for Bear Run Nature Reserve is also being implemented.
- Forest patches: The slopes of Laurel Ridge, Chestnut Ridge, and Mount Davis feature 14 large, unfragmented forests that total 77,000 acres and harbor plants and animals that thrive only in intact forestland
- Aquatics: There are 700 miles of high-quality streams of the region supporting a broad array of aquatic life. WPC’s four priority watersheds – Loyalhanna Creek, Tubmill Creek, Bear Run and Dunbar Creek -- drain over 200 square miles
- 150 occurrences of globally rare species of plants and animals, including the large-flowered marshallia, green salamander, Indiana bat and Allegheny wood rat
- 24 Biological Diversity Areas in this area total more than 100,000 acres and contain significant habitats for rare species and natural communities
- Limestone caves: The unique communities found in caves provide habitat for several rare and endangered species
- Youghiogheny River riparian zone: The “scour zone” of the river supports globally rare plant species
For more information about WPC's conservation initiatives in the Laurel Highlands, contact Mike Kuzemchak, WPC's Laurel Highlands Program Director, at (724) 238-2492 or by email.