Western PA Conservancy Acquires More Than 17,000 Acres of Forestland

More than 17,000 acres of forestland and waterways in McKean County are now permanently conserved as intact working forest and forever open to the public for hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreational activities, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy announced today.

At over 27-square miles, the 17,488-acre property in Norwich and Sergeant townships near the town of Clermont is the single largest land acquisition in the Conservancy’s 83-year history, and will significantly increase the amount of state forestland available for public use.

This land purchase from Forest Investment Associates (FIA) was made possible through a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Property ownership was immediately conveyed to the DCNR Bureau of Forestry to become an addition to Elk State Forest.

According to WPC President and CEO Tom Saunders, this land acquisition is a milestone for the Conservancy and its work to permanently protect Western Pennsylvania’s important natural lands and watersheds. With this acquisition, WPC has now protected more than a quarter of a million acres of forests, wetlands and waterways in Pennsylvania.

“This property is magnificent, and is the largest acquisition in the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s history. We are excited to add it to the state forest system,” said Saunders. “It has extensive forest and rich conservation values, and builds on the Conservancy’s legacy of protecting the region’s most important places. We also are so pleased that this brings the Conservancy’s land protection work to a quarter million acres.”

The property includes sweeping ridges and scenic hardwood forests of mature red and sugar maple, black cherry, yellow and black birch, red oak and eastern hemlock. There are miles of streams originating from high elevation headwater wetlands, where beaver ponds and marshes support plants such as cranberry, cottongrass, wool-grass, rushes, sedges, manna-grass and various mosses. Bear, turkey, deer and other wildlife thrive on the property, and the willow-banked streams teem with native brook trout.

FIA will retain the timber rights for 35 years and continue harvesting timber—supporting local forest management companies and sawmills—under an agreement that requires sustainable forest management practices. After 35 years, the timber rights will revert to DCNR, which will continue to manage the timber with goals of sustainably harvesting timber for economic benefit, while improving the forest and keeping it intact.

Large working forests contribute to Pennsylvania‘s ranking as number one in the nation in hardwood production. The timber and forest products industry ranks among the largest manufacturing sectors in the state. A sustainable harvest rate on a property of this size would typically generate approximately $30 million in annual industrial output and maintain about 200 timber and forest products-related jobs per year.

This property is located along the watershed divide between the upper Allegheny River and the Clarion River within the High Allegheny Plateau. It includes important headwater streams such as Brewer Run and West Branch of Potato Creek, which are major tributaries to the upper Allegheny River. The western portion of the property hosts the upper East Branch Clarion River and many of its tributaries including Martin Run, Gum Boot Run and Buck Run.

The property also includes a portion of Cathrine Swamp, a large, high-elevation wetland that is classified as an Exceptional Natural Heritage Area in the McKean County Natural Heritage Inventory. Fivemile Run, a wild-trout stream and high-quality tributary to the East Branch Clarion, originates from the swamp.

“With the large forest, beautiful streams supporting trout and an exceptional wetland, there is so much to appreciate about this property. There’s no doubt the property provides important water quality, environmental and recreational benefits to the region and the state,” said Shaun Fenlon, vice president of land conservation for WPC.

This acquisition is a significant addition to the Pennsylvania Wilds, which supports a tourism industry that generates $1.7 billion annually in visitor spending for the state. WPC has conveyed many of the lands it has conserved to state parks, state forests, state game lands and the Allegheny National Forest.

“It is a beautiful, remote property, and has long been a local treasure,” said Matthew Marusiak, WPC land protection manager based in the Conservancy’s Ridgway Office. “FIA has been a great steward of the property, and through this sale, ensures that this working forest will continue to contribute to the economy while guaranteeing that future generations can enjoy the property as their parents have.”

Oil and gas rights have been previously severed on the property. This acquisition will not affect those subsurface rights or their development. DCNR plans to work with Seneca Resources, the subsurface owner, to minimize surface impacts to the property.

Article by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.