Building a conservation blueprint for Pennsylvania

Key Features

• Medium gradient streams of the Potomac drainage host aquatic species not found elsewhere

• Long forested mountain ridges; forests include oak-hickory-hard pine communities

• Aspects of regional geology and soils (shale, etc.) support important endemic habitats

Conservation Targets

• Seven Biological Diversity Areas, totaling 28,000 acres of important habitats

• 33 occurrences of globally rare plants, invertebrates and vertebrates including harperella and Allegheny stonecrop

• 17 occurrences of important natural communities, including shale barrens

• Seven forest blocks totaling 154,300 acres

• 151 miles of the best representative stream ecosystems


Pennsylvania and Maryland chapters of The Nature Conservancy
Ridge and Valley Streamkeepers


Laurel Highlands

The Allegheny Mountains and the northward flowing Youghiogheny River are an extension of an ecoregion starting in West Virginia and Maryland. In Pennsylvania, portions of Fayette, Somerset, Westmoreland and Cambria counties contain four mountain ridges that define these highlands: Chestnut, Laurel, Negro and Allegheny. High gradient streams, sandstone outcrops and intact forest patches further define this rugged landscape.

Since the 1950s, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has worked to conserve the ridges, streams and valleys of the Laurel Highlands region. Stretching from the Conemaugh River to the Mason-Dixon Line, the Laurel Highlands are known for their diversity of plant and animal life, extensive forestlands, recreational opportunities and scenic beauty. Through WPC’s efforts, more than 51,000 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 6,000 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.

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While much has been accomplished in the Laurel Highlands, much more remains to be done. Using the conservation blueprint as a guide, WPC will expand protection of the Laurel Highlands’ rich diversity of plant and animal life, focusing on forestlands, waterways and subterranean communities. As part of these efforts, WPC will address issues that adversely affect the biodiversity of the Laurel Highlands, including forest fragmentation, sedimentation of waterways, invasive species and acid deposition. Among WPC’s goals in the area 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 other organizations in the area. A comprehensive management plan for Bear Run Nature Reserve is under development.

View the next conservation priority area: Great Lakes - Lake Erie Shoreline and Conneaut Creek







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