Conservation in Action in the Laurel Highlands

Conserving Land

For more than 50 years, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) has protected and conserved more than 57,000 acres of ridges and valleys in the region. While much has been accomplished in the Laurel Highlands, more remains to be done.

WPC developed a ten-year Conservation Action Plan that identifies threats to the Laurel Highlands, and includes strategies to eliminate the sources of those threats so the full array of native plants and animals can thrive. Using this science-driven plan as a foundation, work began in 2006.

The Colcom Foundation, the sole beneficiary of the estate of the late Mrs. Cordelia Scaife May, donated land conservation agreements on five properties formerly owned by Mrs. May to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, ensuring their future protection and conservation. The parcels, totaling 455 acres, are located in Ligonier Township, in close proximity to Loyalhanna Creek, and will provide connectivity to land lying along Chestnut and Laurel ridges. Additionally, a conservation agreement for 81 acres of forested land in Fairfield Township, Westmoreland County, features 1,200 feet along Tubmill Creek, allowing protection and restoration of the low elevation forest corridor.

These agreements will protect the conservation values of these properties to further WPC’s conservation objectives including:

  • Maintaining the contiguous forestland of Chestnut and Laurel ridges
  • Providing protection of the larger Laurel Highlands conservation landscape, which extends from the Conemaugh River south to the Youghiougheny River watershed
  • Protecting water quality in Loyalhanna Creek, Two Mile Run, Laughlintown Run and Four Mile Run

By the end of 2006, WPC reached a land protection milestone in the Ligonier Valley, with 7,112 acres under voluntary conservation agreements.

Conserving and Restoring Water

The upper Loyalhanna Creek

At 107 square miles, the upper Loyalhanna encompasses most of the Ligonier Valley. It contains several streams that have been classified as High Quality Coldwater Fisheries by the PA Department of Environmental Protection, and drains the heavily forested slopes of Chestnut and Laurel ridges. Yet water quality in the upper Loyalhanna is threatened by riparian zone (the land adjacent to the stream) degradation and erosion.

In collaboration with local farmers, the Loyalhanna Watershed Association, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pheasants Forever, WPC’s Freshwater Conservation Program:

  • Completed 12.8 miles of streambank fencing
  • Constructed 20 agricultural crossings
  • Installed 15 watering sources
  • Established 100 acres of warm season grasses on highly erodible lands in the area
  • Continued work with local landowners to implement Best Management Practices on
    area farms

Concurrently, WPC redesigned and protected two badly eroding spots on Mill Creek, supporting the efforts of the Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Finally, WPC aided in the continuation of limestone dosing on Rock Run, a tributary to Linn Run. This natural treatment brought more than five miles of chronically acidic water back to life.

Tubmill Creek

This trout-stocked fishery encompasses 54 square miles of rural landscape, flowing through farms and forests on its way to the Conemaugh River. Threats include sedimentation from dirt roads and agriculture, forest fragmentation and riparian zone degradation.

WPC is working with agricultural producers in the region, as well as the township, to address sediment and nutrient problems in the watershed.


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