A first-of-its-kind major conservation initiative across northern Pennsylvania will protect and improve 1,675 acres of habitat for wildlife, human recreation and water quality.
Ducks Unlimited is leading a three-year effort with numerous partners to conserve endangered wetland and grassland habitat at 12 project sites. The new initiative is funded by a $1 million North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant, the first grant of its size awarded in Pennsylvania.
The initiative is possible because of $2.1 million in matching funds from numerous partners: Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennvest, Lycoming County, S. Kent Rockwell Foundation, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, French Creek Valley Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wetlands across northern Pennsylvania are dispersed, and often small, but play an incredible role in sustaining the biodiversity of the state. Human development since the late 1700s has already destroyed more than half of Pennsylvania’s historic wetland resources.
“Constant threats of development, runoff, climate change and habitat loss place a significant burden of importance to wetlands and buffering upland habitats in the state,” said Jim Feaga, DU regional biologist in Pennsylvania. “Once habitats are affected by these threats, it is usually too expensive to restore sites, and lands that are developed are unlikely to provide future habitat for wildlife. That’s why it’s crucial we save them while we can.”
The projects provide numerous benefits to residents, including improved storm water retention, flood abatement and ground water refilling. The initiative will add 642 acres of public land, increasing recreational opportunities that will bring along jobs associated with ecotourism and habitat conservation. Activities will include hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, biking and birdwatching.
This program would add to the 30,000 acres of conservation already achieved by Ducks Unlimited and partners in Pennsylvania.
Initiative highlights include:
Sylvan Dell Wetlands, Lycoming County – A 220-acre parcel of wetlands and floodplain along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Armstrong Township is protected, and 70 acres will be fully restored by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners Program to native wetland habitat. The project is part of the Robert Porter Allen Natural Area and is a gateway to the Pennsylvania Wilds trail system.
“This park is connected to a countywide river walk and biking system, so those living in nearby urban areas can walk to this huge natural area,” said James Dunn, Armstrong Township supervisor. “This gives people a place to go. This unique location of this spectacular landscape is great for engaging the public into nature.”
Aquaculture restoration, Mercer County – A former aquaculture farm will get a new life and purpose. Ducks Unlimited, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and Waterfowl USA acquired a 130-acre parcel in 2019 and incorporated it into Pennsylvania’s 1,400-acre State Game Lands 151. The site was heavily developed for aquaculture farm purposes in the 1970s. The original wetlands were diked, deepened and managed via drainage pipes and ditches. The impoundments were managed as open-water ponds for baitfish and game fish. Fish production ceased in the 1990s and the site was no longer maintained. Under the new NAWCA initiative, the project will be restored back to native wetland habitat. The property is bordered on two sides by public roadways, making for easy access for wildlife viewing, hunting and fishing.
Land protection, Crawford County – A 129-acre tract of land in Vernon Township will be protected by French Creek Valley Conservancy against development in perpetuity. Located just east of I-79 bordering the east side of Cussewago Creek, two-thirds of the land is threatened wetlands and the remaining is forested floodplain and upland habitat. It’s in the Cussewago Bottoms Important Bird Area and is adjacent to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s 542-acre Katz Natural Area. The parcel will be open to the public for leave-no-trace activities including hiking, fishing, birding, hunting, wildlife watching and research.