In this lush forest basin, black bears roam the deep forests while timber rattlesnakes and eastern massasaugas warm themselves on creekside rocks. Hellbenders hide in streambeds that sustain 28 species of freshwater mussels and rare, colorful fish such as the Tippecanoe darter. Shy American bitterns boom from the marsh reeds while juvenile bald eagles soar overhead.
These species and many more thrive in the upper basin because the forest-freshwater ecosystem is largely still intact. While mature forests provide breeding habitat they also stabilize soils and shade tributaries, which results in pristine water quality and excellent wildlife diversity.
Why We Work Here
The Upper Allegheny Basin is one of North America’s hotspots for freshwater and forest biodiversity. The upper Allegheny River and its tributaries, particularly French Creek and Cassadaga Creek, harbor the richest array of mussels and fish in the Northeast. Moreover, the basin includes Allegany State Park in New York and Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, which boast sizeable and exemplary stands of old-growth forest.
- Fragmentation from roads and development, unsustainable forestry practices, and mineral extraction
- Poorly managed floodplains which alter the river’s hydrology, pollute streams, and spread invasive species
- Unsustainable agricultural practices that cause run-off and pollution
Working with partners, landowners, and area businesses in the basin, The Nature Conservancy is working to promote practices that will mitigate environmental threats before crucial linkages in this fragile ecosystem are broken. This includes:
- Working with farmers to promote best management practices in the watershed
- Working with the timber industry and private forest owners to encourage sustainable forest management
- Acquiring land and conservation easements to protect sensitive habitats and prevent fragmentation of native forests
- Partnering with state and federal agencies to promote sound management of our public lands and expand public holdings
- Testing freshwater mussel reintroduction strategies
- Partnering with landowners and local communities to protect and restore floodplains
The Nature Conservancy is currently leading a working group of diverse partners through the process of identifying important conservation targets in the basin, evaluating threats to them, and developing and implementing conservation strategies. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is providing critical funding through its State Wildlife Grants program.
In 2005, we sponsored a one-day Allegheny Biodiversity Symposium where researchers, land managers, and natural resource practitioners exchanged information and ideas on how to protect the basin.
With financial support from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, we’ve recently completed a comprehensive inventory of the freshwater mussels that inhabit the New York portion of the Upper Allegheny River.
We recently shared our comprehensive database of ecological information with the U.S. Forest Service, which used the data to help guide its land-use planning and management on Allegheny National Forest.
Our partners in conservation include: NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Pennsylvania Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, French Creek Valley Conservancy, Crawford County Conservation District, Allegheny College, Creek Connections, Lenna Foundation, NYS Natural Heritage Program, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Erie National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey Leetown Science Center.
Green Sided Darter
Darters are among the most vividly colored, behaviorally complex, and ecologically important fishes found in New York.
The Nature Conservancy's mussel inventory in the Allegheny River Basin revealed the presence of a federally endangered species–the clubshell mussel–that was thought to have vanished from New York State.
Large, intact forests produce oxygen and filter pollutants. A forest reserve, where timber harvesting and development is prohibited, should be big enough to withstand catastrophic events and support viable populations of forest-dependent species. Science tells us that in New York, a forest reserve should be a minimum of 10,000 acres.