Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Land & Water Conservation and Research

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy protects and restores exceptional places to provide our region with clean waters and healthy forests, wildlife and natural areas for the benefit of present and future generations...

In 2008, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy conserved 14,289 acres of our region’s most exceptional places, and we safeguarded our water sources through a range of actions that helped to reduce runoff and contamination and improve water quality. Our land and water conservation work not only benefited people by expanding recreational access to beautiful natural areas and protecting our water supplies, it also enhanced and restored habitat for hundreds of plant and animal species. These efforts were guided by the careful research of our scientists, who help us identify the most critical areas to protect.

WPC Watershed Conservation staff monitor 
fish populations in Little Mahoning Creek.

Watershed Conservation

WPC’s Watershed Conservation Program worked with numerous public- and private-sector partners, in addition to individual volunteers, to carry out its objectives in 2008. The team’s accomplishments included improvements to 156 miles of waterways throughout the region. Projects in 2008 included:

Little Mahoning Creek and its tributaries. WPC and partner organizations protected this valuable coldwater fishery in Indiana County by stabilizing its streambanks to minimize erosion, repairing roads to stop dirt and gravel runoff and planting 500 trees and shrubs on abandoned mine land.

Bear Run. The pristine, 5,000-acre Bear Run Nature Reserve in Fayette County underwent improvements that brought its prized stream and namesake, Bear Run, closer to its native state. WPC’s Watershed Conservation and Land Stewardship staff, together with numerous partners, removed man-made dams by hand, rather than with bulldozers, to protect the surrounding landscape. WPC staff also planted 800 acres of warmseason grasses at Bear Run to help prevent sediment runoff into the stream.

Blackleggs Creek. In Indiana County, this popular trout fishery received 1,000 feet of streambank protection that helped to restore habitat for aquatic life and prevent erosion.

Mill Creek. This stream in Huntingdon County received six multi-log veins – structures that reduce erosion and create habitat for fish and other aquatic life – as well as 100 feet of stabilization structures that help to improve water quality.

Tubmill Creek. This large stream network in Westmoreland county benefited from 23 road-stabilization projects that helped to reduce dirt and gravel runoff, a major threat to this watershed. WPC staff also removed an unnecessary dam, stabilized 500 feet of streambanks, and created 23 fish habitat structures.

French Creek. WPC and our partners worked with numerous landowners along French Creek, a critically important tributary to the Allegheny River, to prevent erosion by installing multi-log veins and mudsills, which stabilize streambanks.

Juniata River. Located in an agricultural region, this tributary to the Susquehanna River was restored and protected through several projects that stopped sources of agricultural runoff and prevented contamination from on-lot septic systems.

Recognizing the strong desire of local communities to protect their own water supplies, WPC also trained more than 200 volunteers in 2008 and worked with high school students to carry out watershed restoration and protection projects.

WPC land acquisitions in 2008 
protected forest habitat for bears.

Land Conservation

A highly productive year for land conservation got underway with the 75th Anniversary Acquisitions, a series of land purchases totaling 11,300 acres that permanently protected land and waterways in several counties and improved public access to natural places. These acquisitions included:

Laurel Hill Creek Forest. 2,300 acres in Somerset County that connect to a large forest block and include more than three miles of frontage on Laurel Hill Creek. This land became part of Forbes State Forest and is open for hunting, fishing, hiking and other activities.

Southern Clarion River Forest. WPC acquired 1,600 acres of land and 1,700 acres of timber rights along a picturesque stretch of the Clarion River south of Cooksburg, all of which was transferred to the Commonwealth as an addition to Clear Creek State Forest. This acquisition not only protected wildlife in the river and near its shores, it also protected the scenic character of this important recreation destination.

Bennett Branch Forest. This 5,300- acre hardwood oak forest includes tributaries to Sinnemahoning Creek and is home to elk, bears, turkey and deer. Most of this property became an addition to Moshannon State Forest. WPC retained 1,470 acres in order to sustainably manage a portion of the forest and restore streams impacted by abandoned mine drainage.

Major land acquisitions in 2008 also included:

928 acres in Cambria County. In the Laurel Ridge area of Cambria County, WPC added this large, forested property to Prince Gallitzin State Forest. 1,300 acres added to Ohiopyle State Park. WPC helped enlarge the protected landscape around Ohiopyle State Park to more than 22,000 acres by purchasing a large parcel from Pressley Ridge, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization focused on youth. The purchase was funded in part through a $1 million donation from the family of B. Kenneth Simon, a businessman who founded All-Pak Inc. and held several patents. Mr. Simon also was a philanthropist and longtime member of WPC. A portion of the forest was named the B.K. Simon Family Forest to commemorate this gift.

An additional 197 acres added to Ohiopyle. WPC helped to protect the scenic land between Ohiopyle and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kentuck Knob by acquiring 197 acres in Fayette County.

In addition to outright acquisitions, WPC conserved additional land in 2008 through conservation easements, voluntary legal agreements with landowners that limit future development while keeping land in private hands. WPC acquired conservation easements on 128 acres in the French Creek watershed in 2008, helping to protect this important tributary to the Allegheny River. In addition, the Conservancy protected a total of 257 acres through agricultural easements in 2008. These agreements ensure that natural lands, farmland and forests will remain intact for generations to come by limiting current and future permitted uses of the land to farming, sustainable forestry or other compatible uses only.

Heron rookeries, or nesting 
places, are tracked by the
Natural Heritage Program.

Science and Research

The Conservancy achieves significant, lasting conservation outcomes by using science to guide our actions. We identify the most important areas to conserve by using the careful, thorough research of the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program (PNHP).

PNHP is a cooperative effort among WPC, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Housed in part within WPC, the program not only helps to guide WPC’s conservation plans, it also makes its research findings available to the public and private sectors in order to guide community decisionmaking about land use.

PNHP’s County Inventory reports provide detailed information about plants and animals – including rare and endangered species – living in a particular area. They are viewed as providing the most definitive and up-to-date information that exists about Pennsylvania’s flora and fauna.

In 2008, WPC staff completed five county inventories in Crawford, Fulton, Lancaster, McKean and Philadelphia counties, bringing the total number of inventories completed by PNHP to 60 across the state. In total, WPC staff worked on 16 county inventories in 2008. Each county inventory takes approximately two years to complete. Also, staff continued to provide natural heritage information for county planning and greenway-development efforts.

In addition to inventory work, PNHP staff members completed several projects in 2008 that advance knowledge about Pennsylvania’s diverse ecosystems, including:

Inventory and mapping for National Park Service. Ecologists completed reports on the plants, insects and animals found within several national parks in Pennsylvania, to help guide park management and protect rare and native species.

Massasauga Habitat Protection Plan. This plan makes recommendations to protect the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, a Pennsylvania endangered species and a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Mussel inventory in the Juniata River basin. Zoologists searched for freshwater mussels, a key indicator of water quality, in 60 locations on the Juniata River and its tributaries. There are more freshwater mussel species in the U.S. than in any other place in the world, and many of them are found in Pennsylvania.

Floodplains community classification for the Ohio River basin. This project involved collection of detailed data about 20 floodplain plant communities, to better understand the plants and wildlife within the state’s floodplain wetlands.