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New forest plan aims to expand state wild areas

Saturday, May 31, 2003

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The buzz over recreational activities like hunting, fishing, hiking and cross-country skiing in Pennsylvania's forests has finally gotten loud enough to be heard over the timbercutters' chainsaws.

Online Map:

State Forests: Wild and natural areas


The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources unveiled a new state forest plan proposal yesterday that would expand the state's wild and natural areas by more than 20,000 acres and institute a new ecosystem management approach while maintaining current timber production levels.

The 450-page forest plan, five years in the making, would set management guidelines for the state's 2.1 million acres of forest that, for the first time, establish a sustainable forestry goal and recognize the forests' increased recreational uses.

"In the more than 15 years since the last plan, the resources, values and uses of our state forest have changed dramatically," said Michael DiBerardinis, DCNR secretary. "And we have reflected that change with a flexible, dynamic guidance document that will continue to evolve in order to protect the long-term sustainability of our forests."

DiBerardinis said the state's first forest resource plan almost 50 years ago focused on timber management. The new draft plan's ecosystem approach, recognizes the biological importance of managing the forests as ecological regions and landscapes and uses a new plant community classification system.

The plan proposes maintaining the timbering levels of the 15 years from 1985 to 1999. According to state Bureau of Forestry estimates, 643,537,000 board feet of timber and 773,177 hundred cubic feet of pulpwood were harvested during those years on 224,636 acres.

James Grace, state forester, said the public land timber harvest helps support the state's $5 billion a year forest products industry that employs 100,000 people.

The new plan also identifies 27 percent of the forests, or 567,000 acres, as potential old growth areas, tightens oil and gas lease guidelines and establishes a "bioreserve system" in which special ecosystems containing rare, threatened or endangered species would be preserved.

A key component of the plan, emphasized by DCNR officials, is the addition of more than 20,000 acres to the state's existing 61 natural areas and 14 wild areas covering almost 180,000 acres.

"This proposal further advances this administration's views on protecting more areas in our state forests and parks," Secretary DiBerardinis said.

A natural area is one with special scenic, historic, geologic or ecological value. These areas are set aside for scientific observation of natural systems, to protect examples of typical and unique plant and animal communities, and to protect outstanding examples of natural interest and beauty.

Since 1955, state forest management has been guided by written plans revised at 15-year intervals. The new plan reflects public comments at 27 meetings held since 1998.

More than 5,000 comments were submitted, with one-third of those related to recreation or access.

"The forest plans started with timber management, and evolved into multiple-use and now to ecosystem management," said Gretchen Leslie, a DCNR spokeswoman. "The hot button issues at those meetings were recreation and user access and this plan reflects that buzz."

To view the final draft of the State Forest Resource Management Plan through DCNR's Web site at www.dcnr.state.pa.us (select State Forests).

Beginning in June, the DCNR will hold eight public meetings throughout the state, followed by 20 additional meetings in each of the state's 20 forest districts to solicit comments on its final draft plan. The public meeting in Western Pennsylvania is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 18 at the Palace Inn, 2775 Mosside Blvd., Monroeville.

Written comments will be accepted until Sept. 30, 2003. Interested parties may submit comments online, at one of the public meetings, or by mail at: DCNR Bureau of Forestry, State Forest Resource Management Plan, P.O. Box 8552, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8552.

The forest plan will be finalized this fall, with implementation to begin immediately.

A complete list of the meeting dates and sites, along with directions to the meetings, is posted on the DCNR Web site at www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/sfrmp/schedule.htm

Don Hopey can be reached at dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

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