"Western Pennsylvania's Forests"

Sustainable Forestry Project Initiated on WPC Property

Bennett Branch Forest was one of the Conservancy’s 75th Anniversary Acquisitions in early 2008. The majority of the 5,340 acres of scenic hardwood forest in Elk and Clearfield counties that make up this property was transferred to the Pa. Bureau of Forestry as a permanent addition to Moshannon State Forest. However, WPC retained a 1,470-acre portion of the land in order to manage the forest resources sustainably and carry out restoration projects.

Bennett Branch Forest is bookmarked by Moshannon State Forest to its south and Elk State Forest to its north. The Bennett Branch of the Sinnemahoning Creek traverses the area. The region has a substantial elk herd, and bear, deer and rattlesnake are common in the area as well.

Bennett Branch Forest
Bennett Branch Forest

As part of a comprehensive sustainable forest management plan, the Conservancy is currently conducting a limited regeneration harvest on 81 acres of this property. In addition to the ecological and recreational benefits provided by Pennsylvania’s nearly 17 million acres of forestland, renewable timber resources are among the largest economic drivers in the state. According to the Pennsylvania Hardwoods Development Council, Pennsylvania’s forest products industry has a direct economic impact of more than $8 billion per year, employing thousands of people.

In addition, active forest management and sustainable forestry can benefit a forest in a variety of ways, including improving habitat and species diversity, enhancing the forest’s ability to regenerate, reducing invasive species, reintroducing native species and protecting against forest pests. It can also facilitate the regeneration of mismanaged forests, preservation of old-growth forests and management of habitat for rare species.

Sustainable forestry is forest management practiced with the benefit of scientific knowledge of the ecology of forests. It seeks to balance the production of forest products, ecological services and other social and cultural considerations to meet the needs of both present and future generations. It guides the management of forests for multiple goals such as economic benefits like forest products and tourism, along with social and ecological goals including recreational opportunities, restoration of degraded forest, maintaining biodiversity and wildlife management.

WPC is partnering with The American Chestnut Foundation to plant
blight-resistant chestnuts and is also planting native hardwoods on
30 acres of a reclaimed surface mine site at WPC’s Bennett Branch
Forest propety in Elk County.
WPC is partnering with The American Chestnut Foundation to plant blight-resistant chestnuts and is also planting native hardwoods on 30 acres of a reclaimed surface mine site at WPC’s Bennett Branch Forest propety in Elk County.

The Bennett Branch Forest harvest is designed to establish new stands of vigorously growing seedlings and saplings that will provide habitat for wildlife species dependent on young forest and, over time, will grow into a mature forest stand.

The harvest is one of the activities prescribed in a detailed plan developed by WPC staff members and a professional forester. After conducting a comprehensive assessment, SmartWood Certified Forestry certified the plan as sustainable. The plan meets all Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification guidelines, ensuring that the forest will continue to provide ecological and social benefits to the region.

The forest inventory completed last year indicates that there are 8.5 million board feet of timber on the property. In keeping with the FSC certification requirement that harvests not exceed the equivalent amount of annual growth, WPC will harvest no more than three to four percent of the property’s timber per year. With this first harvest, a total of 183,000 board feet will be harvested. As part of the management planning process, the Conservancy has set aside approximately 40 percent of the property in various reserve/restoration areas. This harvest is limited to just 81 of the 1,470 acres in keeping with sustainability goals.

Allegheny Wood Products of Marble, Pa. is conducting the harvest. As an FSC “chain-of-custody” certified operation, the wood will maintain its certified label through the milling and raw lumber sale process. The forest will remain open and accessible for low-impact recreational activity including hunting, fishing and hiking. Access to some areas around the forestry work will be limited to provide for the safety for visitors.

In addition to using local contractors for the harvest, WPC will continue to pay property taxes on Bennett Branch Forest. Revenues generated by this project will be reinvested in the stewardship and management of this forest or applied to conserve additional land in Western Pennsylvania.

Other WPC habitat improvement projects are underway in Bennett Branch Forest as well. A watershed assessment is the first phase of wetland and stream restoration work planned for Cherry Run, a tributary of the Bennett Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek that is ecologically degraded from abandoned mine drainage. A grant from the Sinnemahoning Stakeholders Watershed Grant Program is providing the funding for WPC’s Stewardship and Watershed Conservation program staff to undertake this work. A chestnut tree planting is underway as well.