Virtual Flight Over Elk Timberlands
Tighten your seatbelt as you settle into a small plane and see the view.
One of the largest wild elk herds east of the Mississippi River roams the hills and valleys of northern Pennsylvania. Here in the heart of the Pennsylvania Elk Range, the nearly 10,000 acre Elk Timberlands property forms part of the largest unbroken forest between New York City and Chicago.
Pennsylvania’s woodlands are known worldwide for their black cherry, which thrives at Elk Timberlands within a rich mix of sugar maple, northern red oak and white ash. Along with elk, myriad other wide-ranging animals inhabit this sprawling forest — from black bears, bobcats and fishers to migratory songbirds and raptors.
The rarity alone of such large, diverse forests in the eastern United States warrants Elk Timberlands’ status as a top conservation priority. The larger the forest system, the more resilient it becomes to major disturbances such as wind events like tornadoes, hurricanes, and outbreaks of insects and diseases. Moreover, intact forests help protect our communities from flooding, filter our air, and keep our streams cool and clean.
Elk Timberlands is part of an important ecological connection across an even larger forested landscape. To the west lies the half-million-acre Allegheny National Forest, and to the east, state forest and game lands encompass another 1.5 million acres. Plus, the clean, cold streams coursing through this landscape comprise the headwaters of the Susquehanna and Ohio River basins.
Pennsylvania’s northern woods, including Elk Timberlands, provide critical habitat for migratory songbirds and birds of prey such as the Northern goshawk, Cooper’s hawk and Northern saw-whet owl. The wood thrush and cerulean warbler — both rapidly declining species — require such deep forests for nesting. Nearly 20 percent of the world’s scarlet tanagers breed in Pennsylvania forests.
In what will be one of Pennsylvania’s largest private land conservation deals, the Conservancy has acquired an option to protect 9,650 acres of the Elk Timberlands with a permanent working forest easement. This form of conservation easement prevents development, while allowing for sustainable timber harvests. The Conservancy has one year in which to raise the approximately $5 million necessary to complete the purchase.
The easement will be purchased from landowner Conservation Forestry, LLC, a conservation-minded timber investment company. Among the easement’s key provisions are preserving forested corridors along streams, providing public recreational opportunities, and requiring management to Forest Stewardship Council standards to guarantee that timber is harvested sustainably.
Pennsylvania State Director Bill Kunze describes this project as a win-win for the community, conservation and the forest industry that has long been central to Pennsylvania’s economy and culture. “By joining with a conservation-minded timber investment company, we help support the local timber economy and jobs, provide recreational access and protect the land against future development.”
Kunze said the agreement continues the excellent forest management practices in place on the land, and helps achieve the Conservancy’s mission by protecting an excellent example of Pennsylvania’s diverse forests and habitat for black bear, brook trout and the largest elk herd east of the Mississippi River.
When the easement has been purchased, Elk Timberlands will be open to the public and will offer some of Pennsylvania’s premier outdoor recreation experiences. The sight of elk grazing in a meadow, and their eerie bugling during mating season, will thrill wildlife watchers.
Hundreds of other forest denizens — woodland mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects — will also delight birders and other nature enthusiasts. Opportunities for hunting and fishing also abound. The wild mountain streams, for example, challenge anglers to hook a native brook trout or wild brown trout.
The Conservancy must raise approximately $5 million during the next year in order to purchase the easement and protect this beautiful place. You can help by donating!February 01, 2012