WPC Develops a Conservation Plan for Bear Run Nature Reserve

Bear Run Nature Reserve is a place where habitat is protected for native plants and animals, and sustains important ecological connections in a landscape patchwork of farmland, development, and commercial forest in Fayette County. In an effort to most effectively steward its largest land holding, the Conservancy spent the last two years completing a long-range planning effort focused on enhancing the conservation value of Bear Run Nature Reserve. WPC staff, with the input of an advisory committee of local community members and a technical committee of natural resource management professionals, drafted this comprehensive conservation plan.

The Bear Run Nature Reserve Conservation Plan will be a guide for further protecting and restoring the reserve’s ecological assets, the native hardwood and hemlock forests and high quality streams that support a variety of native plants and animals. Initial steps in the process included an inventory and analysis of natural and cultural resources in the reserve and the larger landscape. Focusing conservation efforts on the Bear Run and Laurel Run watersheds, as well as identifying connections with other large forested tracts, WPC will further engage the local community and foster awareness of the significance of local natural resources and the importance of conservation.

The plan prescribes management aimed at abating threats to natural communities and improving the function of the reserve as a piece of the network of conserved land in the Laurel Highlands. Streams in the reserve will continue to be monitored and identified threats to aquatic habitats, such as abandoned mine drainage and polluted runoff, will be addressed. Over time, the reserve’s forest will develop old growth characteristics and restored ecological processes that are integral to a “legacy forest,” a portrait of this region’s natural heritage. Rare and endangered plant species like the single-headed pussytoes (Antennaria solitaria) and the buffalo nut (Pyrularia pubera) thrive at Bear Run Nature Reserve, and WPC ranks preservation of the reserve’s ecological diversity and natural beauty as a high priority.

Effective management of the reserve requires a commitment of time and funding. Sarah Pears, WPC’s Land Stewardship Assistant said, “We have a great group of Land Stewards who have been monitoring the reserve, and we’ll be working with them to tackle projects like trail maintenance, invasive species control and tree planting. We’re also recruiting volunteer groups from universities and other organizations to spend some time working with us on the reserve.” In addition to an investment of volunteer time, WPC will secure funding to implement specific management called for in the conservation plan, including monitoring aquatic habitats, restoring the conifer plantations to native hardwood forest, and researching the effects of acid deposition on the streams and forest at the reserve.

WPC released a first draft of the conservation plan at a public workshop last fall. The conservancy accepted public comments on the draft for a month following the workshop. WPC staff will continue to gather information and design management through the spring months. The final plan will be released this summer.

For more information about the plan, call the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s Sarah Pears at 724-329-1441, extension 1016 or e-mail her at spears@paconserve.org.

A weathered sandstone formation near Lick Run at the Reserve.

Pennsylvania’s state flower, the mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), grows in abundance at the Bear Run Nature Reserve. It can be seen along the Arbutus and Rhododendron Trails.

Prescribed Management:

  • Restore the agricultural fields and conifer plantations to native forest habitat
  • Continue to monitor stream habitat quality
  • Monitor the white-tailed deer population and impacts on forest vegetation
  • Redesign and maintain the trail system and campsites to minimize ecological damage
  • Initiate invasive plant control strategies during the 2007 growing season
  • Protect land adjacent to the reserve by encouraging conservation management on neighboring properties

The 5,061-acre Bear Run Nature Reserve protects:

  • 9.3 total stream miles, including 3.5 miles of Exceptional Value stream
  • 70% of the Bear Run watershed, 80% of the Laurel Run watershed, and portions of seven other small drainages
  • Eight species of special concern
  • Two Biological Diversity Areas
  • A portion of an Important Bird Area designated by the National Audubon Society

The clear, cascading waters of Bear Run; a Pennsylvania Scenic River and an Exceptional Value Stream.


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