The Berks-Mont News (http://www.berksmontnews.com)

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, The Nature Conservancy partner; 2,377 acres placed in perpetual conservation easement

2,377 acres placed in perpetual conservation easement

By Lisa Mitchell, The Kutztown Area Patriot

Friday, June 8, 2018

Standing at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary’s South Lookout in Kempton, Hawk Mountain and The Nature Conservancy announced a major conservation partnership that coincides with National Trails Week on June 7.

Hawk Mountain President Sean Grace announced that Hawk Mountain Sanctuary placed 2,377 acres in a perpetual conservation easement.

“This is an example of what can happen when two leaders in conservation partner,” said Grace.

Over the course of three years, Hawk Mountain and The Nature Conservancy implemented a creative approach to conserve the Sanctuary, including placing the majority of its landholdings in a perpetual conservation easement. The Nature Conservancy presented us a tremendous opportunity through its Working Woodlands program. This also offers the chance to collaborate on a broad-based forest management plan that emphasizes the best and highest ecological forest functions, and brings to the Sanctuary forest expertise that it otherwise would not have, according to a Hawk Mountain release.

“Forests are important for both wildlife and people, providing clean air and acting as ecological filters for both our surface and ground water reservoirs,” said Grace during the announcement event.

“This area is regionally significant in that there are nearly 20,000 acres of preserved open space. The Kittany Ridge is part of a super highway for bird migration, including raptors and songbirds in both spring and fall,” said Grace. “Hawk Mountain is committed to the rural character of the Kempton Valley and the surrounding land that Hawk Mountain maintains and overlooks, for both wildlife and people.”

He said there are significant threats to our forests. Most recently there was significant die back within forested areas of chestnut oak due to drought and repeated cycles of gypsy moth and leaf rollers. Also there is an increase in development pressures, including regional pressure to accommodate warehouses and retail space along the I-78 corridor.

“It is Hawk Mountain’s position that we need a state-wide regional plan that looks at conserving our natural heritage for future generations that is well thought out and balances economic and development pressures while protecting our natural heritage and our rural character that addresses these significant pressures and guides what our state will look like well into the future,” said Grace. “Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and the Nature Conservancy are leaders in conservation by both raising awareness and taking action by permanently conserving most of our forest land holdings. There is no doubt in my mind that the rural and wild areas will rank as the most desirable places for people to live well into the future.”

Bill Kunze, The Nature Conservancy, Pennsylvania, said during the event, “The forests in this part of the world, not just at Hawk Mountain itself, but all up and down the Kittany Ridge, are world class. This place right here, we live around a treasure. We have not only this great hawk watching spot, but we have one of the most spectacular places on Earth for diversity of plants and animals. It’s really incredible. I don’t think a lot of people know what is right in their backyard.”

According to the release, Kunze explains that not only does Hawk Mountain benefit from the partnership, but so do other organizations. The Conservancy already co-hosted with Hawk Mountain a two-day workshop regarding key forest management issues, such as deer over-browsing and invasive plant management.

Kunze explains that the project works thanks to a carbon inventory and the sale of carbon credits. This, in turn, helps to fund the conservation easement and provide the ongoing input from experts in the field.

According to Kunze, eligible landowners like Hawk Mountain earn revenue through carbon credits, and as forest management practices improve, income may increase over time.

“The net result is better-managed forest, more carbon sequestered, and greater incentive to protect land over the long-term,” said Kunze in the release.

The ultimate goal is to serve as a leader in land conservation, and a model for other organizations and private landowners.

“Hawk Mountain and The Nature Conservancy has done a tremendous job today in this project to not only protect land, but also to still allow recreation and nature tourism,” said Sara Nicholas, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Policy Director. “The PA DCNR is very pleased to see projects like this.”

“Hawk Mountain is committed to preserving the rural character of the Kempton Valley for wildlife and future generations of people,” said Grace.

He said many don’t realize that the ridge acts as an international super highway for migrating birds.

“It’s an ecological wonder and it should be understood and maintained for future generations,” said Grace.