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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Speaking Out to Protect the Allegheny NF

On Tuesday evening I was up in Kane, PA attending and delivering comments at a public meeting on the future management of the Allegheny National Forest. Every ten years (although its been 20 for the Allegheny), the U.S. Forest Service must take a look at its current management plan for a National Forest and decide whether or not it needs revision. For the Allegheny, the USFS created 4 potential plans and are currently taking public comments to help decide between them.

This is a very difficult decision for those living in and around the Allegheny NF. The local population has long been dependent on timber and oil & gas drilling in the NF for their income, but the most prosperous of these times seem to be behind them. Instead, people are beginning to hope that increased recreation and tourism in the forest will create a stable economy. The problem is, however, that so many years of logging and drilling have left a forest that may not be very exciting or wild...and I experienced that feeling firsthand.

When my coworker Craig Culp and I arrived in Kane we met Kirk Johnson from Friends of Allegheny Wilderness. Kirk agreed to show us around a bit and we drove out to an area called the Tionesta Research Natural Area, where a large section of old-growth forest still stands. On the way we passed a few of the over 9,000 active oil and gas wells in the forest (over 9,000! And that's not counting the 20,000 (!) decommissioned wells and nearly 1,000 new wells scheduled for the coming year). There was a little rig sitting right on the edge of the old-growth, and we could hear it humming loudly from hundreds of yards away, down near the stream.

Oil and Gas Company equipment near Tionesa old-growth forest in Allegheny NF

I spoke as a representative of this website and discussed information on the birdlife in the forest. Here's what I said (very nervously...I haven't spoke in public, let alone a couple hundred strangers, since college):

(after introducing myself) I would like to share some information about birdlife in the Allegheny National Forest.

Throughout the year over 300 species of birds can be found in the Allegheny NF, including [I was making educated guesses here] 37 species of warbler, 16 raptors, 7 owls, 31 species of waterfowl and numerous species of sparrow, oriole, video, junco, chickadee, eagles, wading birds and blackbirds. Many of these birds, found commonly in the Allegheny, occur only rarely in other areas.

One of these species is the blackburnian warbler, a striking black and orange bird. Blackburnian warblers depend on thick, mixed-growth hardwood forests for their habitat. Ornithologists have found that the density of blackburnian warblers in the Tionesta old-growth forest, one of only two old-growth stands remaining in the forest, is more than 10x greater than their density in the surrounding, younger forest.

Another rare species is the cerulean warbler, one of the scarcest warblers in North America. One of America's largest populations of cerulean warblers lives in the northern section of the Allegheny NF and the adjacent Allegheny SP in New York.

The Allegheny NF also provides the southeasternmost border in the range of the Northern Goshawk, one of the scarcest birds of prey in America. The goshawk depends on dense, mixed-growth forests for its breeding and feeding.

Finally, the Allegheny Reservoir and Buzzard Swamp serve as important stopovers for waterfowl and passerines in the Atlantic flyway between the Great Lakes and the southern Atlantic coast.

These waterfowl, blackburnian warblers, cerulean warblers and northern goshawks are currently found reliably in the Allegheny, and they are birds that people will come to see. But only if their habitat is protected.

I support Plan Alternative D with the addition of the Citizen's Wilderness Proposal to provide for long-term security of these bird species.

It was short and sweet (I only took up about 2 of my allowed 5 minutes), but I think I got my point across: you won't get tourism unless you leave some areas protected.

On the whole the meeting went well, as locals with different viewpoints all spoke about their connections with the forest and what they thought the best way to manage it was. There seemed to be three groups represented: those affiliated with the logging industry who opposed any increase in wilderness protection, members of the snowmobile/atv community who support wilderness protection as well as increased recreational vehicle use, and, third, passionate environmentalists who support the maximum wilderness protection.

The Allegheny is very beautiful, but it needs a lot of protection and time to get back into a shape that people will want to visit. Click here for more information on the revision plans for the Allegheny National Forest, and contact Friends of Allegheny Wilderness to find out how you can support designating more wilderness areas in the forest.

How did a DC birder end up in Kane,PA?
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