From forested mountain ranges and lush valleys to fertile farmland and twisting rivers, there are spectacular natural places throughout Pennsylvania. Residents and tourists alike reap the benefits of these places and are passionate about protecting them. Growing Greener investments have been instrumental in supporting the conservation efforts of local communities and organizations, and have allowed state agencies to manage Pennsylvania’s land, water, and wildlife in a responsible manner.
Loss of Open Space
Pennsylvania’s natural places face many of the same development pressures that threaten productive farmland. Populations in metropolitan areas increase, and sprawling residential and commercial developments are built to accommodate an expanding population and consumer base. All too often these developments are poorly-designed, with little consideration of the environmental damage caused by shortsighted land use policies. Between 1992 and 2011, the amount of land used for development in Pennsylvania increased by 133%, and thousands more acres are lost each year. Stream corridors are ditched or buried, causing problems related to runoff and erosion. Wetland habitats are destroyed, which throws valuable ecosystems out of balance. Forest systems are fragmented and targeted for energy development, threatening their wildlife populations and economic productivity as working timber lands. Without the continued efforts of vigilant conservationists, many of Pennsylvania’s most valuable natural areas will vanish.
High Demand for Conservation Easements
Conservation in partnership with local communities and land trusts has proven to be an effective way to protect natural places and make communities livable and economically-competitive. As a result, the demand for land conservation investments remains incredibly high. Over the last 20 years, local land trusts have requested almost $700 million; in 2015 alone, $34 million was requested through 63 applications.
The Bureau of Forestry’s list of priority land and water acquisitions includes projects from twelve counties, totaling 45,000 acres. Many include lakes and streams as well as open lands, form strategic connectors between other parcels, or augment existing state forests. The price to acquire and protect these special places is over $65 million.
Over 15,000 miles of streams in Pennsylvania are so polluted that they are unfit for fishing and swimming. A major source of this pollution is acid drainage seeping from abandoned coal mines—Pennsylvania has more acres of abandoned mine lands than any other state. The cost to clean up these hazardous sites has been estimated as high as $15 billion. The agriculture industry, specifically larger and more industrialized farming enterprises, also damages watersheds. Runoff from these farms can contain traces of the chemical fertilizers and pesticides used to treat crops, as well as the waste from livestock. Pennsylvania’s 9,000 abandoned oil and gas wells present another problem—left unplugged, they can contaminate the water, soil, and air. Due to a lack of resources, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has plugged less than 100 wells each year.
Historic Places at Risk
Development endangers buildings and other sites of historic and cultural value. In Philadelphia, Jewelers Row—the nation’s oldest diamond district—is scheduled for demolition to make way for luxury condos. Similar situations have played out in urban neighborhoods across Pennsylvania. Rural areas, which are home to historic buildings, sites, and archaeological treasures, are also threatened. When places are not officially identified for preservation, there is often little that communities can do to prevent their destruction.
GROWING GREENER ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Helping Land Trusts Preserve Open Space
Grants funded by Growing Greener have helped land trusts permanently preserve large swaths of beautiful natural landscapes across Pennsylvania. In the decade between 2006 and 2016, land trusts protected 223,000 acres, an average of 61 per day. These grants leverage local investment and support for land conservation, in many cases two to three dollars for every grant dollar awarded. In one successful project, Natural Lands Trust combined a Growing Greener grant with money from local municipalities and a charitable organization to purchase a conservation easement on 360 acres of the Paradise Farm Property in Chester County. The parcel was labelled a “Wildlife Diversity Corridor,” and also provided fishing opportunities and public access to a trail corridor.
Wild Resource Conservation Program
Growing Greener supports the Wild Resource Conservation Program, which promotes scientific inquiry and conservation education. For over 25 years, grants from the program have helped scientists research and conserve non-game wildlife, native wild flora and their habitats, and teach the public about the value of these natural resources.
THE POTENTIAL OF GROWING GREENER
Empowering Land Trusts
New Growing Greener funding would help the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) award more grants to land trusts and other local partners that are highly effective in their conservation work. State investments in conservation would make it possible for land trusts and other conservation organizations to leverage private funds, thereby strengthening and expanding their efforts and increasing their overall conservation impact.
Supporting Research and Education
Growing Greener would ensure that the Wild Resource Conservation Program continues protecting important species of wildlife while educating the public about environmental stewardship. This education is critical for children in particular, since they represent the next generation that will enjoy Pennsylvania’s natural spaces and one day manage them.
Ensuring Healthy Watersheds
Growing Greener investments would aid the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) with targeted small dam removals, instream habitat restoration, and riparian buffer work in specific watersheds that have water quality, wildlife, and recreational benefits. PFBC would also complete more fish habitat improvements in lakes to improve aquatic life populations.
Maintaining State Forests
DCNR would use Growing Greener funds to acquire and conserve forest land to prevent further fragmentation and parcelization, ensuring that the ecological benefits provided by Pennsylvania’s millions of tree-covered acres are not lost. More contiguous forest land managed in accordance with DCNR’s award-winning forestry practices means cleaner air, healthier waterways, and more diverse wildlife populations. Where appropriate, DCNR would allow continued access for sustainable timber harvesting, which contributes to the sizable wood products industry in Pennsylvania.
Protecting Wetland Habitats
The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) would use Growing Greener grants in its effort to rehabilitate the water control structures which currently exist on state game lands. Repairing and replacing structures will allow the agency to provide quality wetland habitat to support waterfowl and other wetland wildlife, while meeting goals for water quality.
Preserving Historic Places
By supporting the Historic Preservation Project Grant program, Growing Greener would assist nonprofit organizations and local governments to plan and develop publicly-accessible historic resources listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. These grants would support projects to identify, preserve, and promote special historic and archaeological resources.