Voluntary Conservation Agreements Protect Globally Significant Watershed

Thu, Jul 17th 2008, 10:18. Filed under News Releases.

Three landowners along French Creek have permanently protected their property for future generations and improved the likelihood that one of the most biologically diverse streams in the northeastern United States will continue to thrive. They accomplished this by entering their land into voluntary conservation agreements with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC).

A voluntary conservation agreement is a permanent deed restriction that limits future development of a property. These agreements are tailored to specific features of the property and the interests of the landowner. The voluntary conservation agreements, which are perpetual and used exclusively for conservation purposes, are held by a qualified conservation organization or public agency.

These three voluntary conservation agreements ensure that almost two miles of French Creek frontage will be permanently protected. Additionally, each voluntary conservation agreement provides special protection for 300 feet immediately adjacent to the creek. This area, called a riparian buffer, has been zoned as “Highest Protection” allowing no activity other than research, education and passive recreation (e.g. hiking, fishing, bird watching) in this area. Riparian buffers provide a variety of ecological services such as improving water quality by filtering runoff, protecting stream banks from eroding, keeping water cool by shading the stream, and by providing habitat for a variety of terrestrial and aquatic life important to these stream ecosystems.

“French Creek represents the very best of our region not only because of its exceptional water quality, but in the way like-minded organizations and individuals came together with a common goal that it remains that way,” said WPC Associate Vice President, Land Conservation and Stewardship, Greg Socha.

"The permanent protection of three more tracts of land bordering French Creek is a win for all who care about the watershed,” said John Tautin, president of French Creek Valley Conservancy. “We are grateful to all of our partners who made it happen: the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pennsylvania Game Commission the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, private donors, and especially the three caring landowners."

The voluntary conservation agreements prohibit subdivision, dredging of French Creek, and timbering within the highest protection area. The properties encompass portions of three counties and include:

47.8 acres in Erie County that hosts almost a mile of frontage along the West Branch of French Creek. The easement agreed to by landowners Jack and Patricia Pfadt protects bottomland and floodplain forests along the creek.

84 acres in Mercer County from landowner Steve Jackson includes one-fifth of a mile of frontage along French Creek. Three associated plant species found on this property are recognized by the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program as Communities of Special Conservation Concern and considered rare in Pennsylvania.

45 acres in Crawford County that fronts both French Creek and Mohawk Run and is adjacent to the Erie National Wildlife Refuge. The owners, Bob and Lesa Cranmer have also agreed to allow public access which includes a trail to the creek for canoe access, as well as parking and primitive camping.

“As a landowner I viewed the program as a way to ‘give back’ for all of the enjoyment I receive from our wonderful Pennsylvania landscape,” said landowner Bob Cranmer. “It is also a vehicle through which I can do my part in passing on a clean, green, environment to my children and future generations. The French Creek watershed is an historic national treasure. I am proud to have helped preserve it, and aided others to enjoy it.”

In addition to support from individual WPC donors, the project received funding from The Nature Conservancy, which has identified French Creek as "one of the last great places in the United States." Funding was provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service through Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) grant I-1-1, administered jointly through the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. LIP provides federal cost-share to acquire voluntary conservation agreements that protect habitats that host species of greatest conservation need, as identified in the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Wildlife Action Plan. (http://www.fish.state.pa.us/promo/grants/swg/00swg.htm). In the French Creek Watershed this especially includes fish and mussels. This program is administered by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

A common interest in protecting one of the most important waterways in the northeast led to the creation in 2007 of the French Creek Joint Venture. The goal of the Joint Venture is to leverage the strengths of the three organizations, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, French Creek Valley Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy, to work with willing private landowners to conserve key floodplain and riparian zones that provide protection for water quality and the many species that thrive in French Creek.

“We are proud to work with our partners and these conservation-minded landowners to protect such an important freshwater resource as French Creek,” said The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Conservation Operations, Todd Sampsell. “The Nature Conservancy works globally on the most important areas for biodiversity, and our work through the French Creek Joint Venture is a great example of how we can leverage local partnerships to dramatically increase the scope and pace of conservation over what could be accomplished by any individual organization.”

For nearly 40 years, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has worked to conserve French Creek and its watershed, one of the most diverse streams in the northeastern U.S. and a globally significant watershed. In November 1969, WPC first protected a rich wetland harboring rare plants along Hubble Run known as Wattsburg Fen Natural Area. WPC continues to accomplish its goals through land purchases and voluntary conservation agreements with private landowners along the creek.

About the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
To date, the Conservancy has protected nearly 225,000 acres of natural lands in Pennsylvania. Now in its 76th year, Pennsylvania’s first conservancy continues to partner with grassroots organizations to protect land, restore watersheds and save natural habitats.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) preserves Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater®, which was designed in 1935 and entrusted to the Conservancy in 1963 by Edgar Kaufmann jr. A symbol of living in harmony with nature, Fallingwater is open to the public and offers a wide variety of educational programs to its more than 135,000 annual visitors.

Each year, WPC plants and maintains community gardens and greening projects throughout Western Pennsylvania. In 2007, WPC partnered with more than 5,300 volunteers and dozens of community organizations to plant 140 gardens in 19 western Pennsylvania counties.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3)
of the Internal Revenue Code, and 100% of your donation is tax-deductable as allowed by law.