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Sep 012010

From Green Right Now Reports

A first-ever, federally required review shows that Pennsylvania’s 17 million acres of woodlands will face future challenges requiring continued planning and management, State Forester Daniel Devlin said today. Notably, the reports says that “opening extensive new state forest acreage for gas production may threaten publicly held forest resources beyond sustainable limits.”

“Pennsylvania is blessed with abundant forests providing many values and benefits to society, from clean air and water to wood products, biological diversity, recreational opportunities and scenic beauty,” Devlin said in a statement. “However, there are many challenges to conserving these forests. We can only be successful by working strategically and collaboratively with our partners and stakeholders.”

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Perhaps the biggest impact in the future could come from gas development in the Marcellus Shale, a rock deposit that lies as much as 8,000 feet below the surface of two-thirds of Pennsylvania. It it estimated that the area may contain nearly 170 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that was previously thought too difficult and too expensive to access, as it must be released from between the impermeable layers of shale.

Advances in drilling technology, along with high but fluctuating gas prices, have resulted in widespread natural gas production across Pennsylvania. While that exploration can bring the state revenues, it could ultimately impact the tourism industry — the state’s second most economically significant sector, following agriculture. Officials says 3.9 million wildlife watchers and 1.5 million anglers and hunters take to Pennsylvania’s woods and streams each year and spending associated with wildlife watching alone in Pennsylvania in 2006 amounted to $1.4 billion in retail sales, more than $2.6 billion for lodging, transportation, equipment and supplies, and generated $880 million in salaries, wages and business owners’ income.

“Overall, Pennsylvania’s forests are ‘sustainable,’ but we need to keep our ‘eye on the ball’ on certain issues to ensure this trend continues,” said Devlin, citing forest-condition indicators featured in the report.

Some of the other concerns Devlin cited include invasive plants and insects, white-tailed deer impacts, forest loss and fragmentation and overall forest health and tree diversity.

The Bureau of Forestry documented state and privately owned forests, and formulated strategies for their long-term sustainability, as well as future management goals and initiatives. The Statewide Forest Resource Assessment and Strategy is required every five years under the 2008 Farm Bill in order to ensure continued funding for Pennsylvania’s forestry programs.