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Science summit is held at Lehigh Gap Nature Center

  • ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMESS NEWS Don Heintzelman, founder of the Wildlife Information Center, and Mike Kaiser, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planing Commission, participate in the conservation planning breakout session.
    ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMESS NEWS Don Heintzelman, founder of the Wildlife Information Center, and Mike Kaiser, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planing Commission, participate in the conservation planning breakout session.
Published April 24. 2012 05:01PM

Never has the Great Room at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, Slatington, been so full as when Paul Zeph of the National Audubon Society welcomed fellow environmentalists to the Kittatinny Ridge Ecological and Conservation Science Summit.

Presenters were from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Delaware and Lehigh Heritage Corridor, Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the nature center, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and Fort Indiantown Gap.

The two things the various groups agreed on was that more sharing of information is necessary and the biggest thing missing from the databases is information about what was happening along the Kittatinny Ridge 20 or more years ago.

Break out sessions were held about terrestrial ecology, watershed ecology, biodiversity-inventories-surveys, conservation planning, ecological restoration and climate change adaptations - the habitats of the Kittatinny.

Sherry Acevedo of the Delaware and Lehigh Heritage Corridor referred to a line in the "The Lorax." "Unless someone like you cares a lot, nothing will get better and it's not," she said.

She said it was one man working with a group that made this mountain, the west side of Lehigh Gap, happen.

"It is great to see the science come together. This is the last remaining forested ridge," she said.

"This mountain really needs our help," said Diane Husic, who came up with the idea of the summit. She pointed to the invasive plants, development and wind development as problems. The group was focusing on the eastern third of the ridge.

She said they had to identify what science is available and develop new collaborations, as for instance, "if I have a person doing really interesting work on the ridge, how can we do it along the entire ridge?"

Michelle Miller and Marian Orlouski of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy talked about the work being done by the National Park Service on the Appalachian Trail. It was constructed in 1937 and became a park in 1968, but people were being kicked off private lands that were crossed by parts of the trail. A 60-foot buffer was created to protect the trail.

There is rare plant monitoring and management, monitoring of acid deposition and American chestnut trees over three-feet tall. The conservancy has created a water-quality baseline and map vegetation inventories of plants.

Mike Horne of the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Bud Cook of the Nature Conservancy said there will be 20,000 acres when all the proposed land is bought.

"The biggest need is a good inventory of biological information," said Horne. "We'll be working with you to fill in the gaps."

The three species of greatest interest are the bog turtle, Indiana bat and fresh-water mussel. Cook is doing field research on the turtle because there are 16 populations in the headwaters of the Aquashicola Creek - 419 turtles have been marked to monitor their movement.

The Lehigh Gap Nature Center worked up from a Bake Oven Knob hawk count begun in the 1960s. In 1986 Donald Heintzelman began the Wildlife Information Center.

"This project was begun in 2002," said Dan Kunkle.

An ecological assessment was done funded by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources with the help of academics and citizen science partners. There were cheers when he showed the moonscape that was the mountainside and then the grassy area that is there now.

From no life forms, there are now 23 plant communities with 374 plant species. There were five species of lichen in 1974 and now there are 48. There are 150 bird species including the blue grosbeak for which it is the northern-most range There are plants that grow no where else. The Natural Lands Trust has done ecological mapping.

Laurie Goodrich of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary said there has been ongoing monitoring since its formation in 1934. The weather is monitored. Recently songbirds were monitored as well as raptors. Nesting birds and wintering birds are recorded. A "Nature Notebook" is kept for sighting of rare species.

Dave Barber said they put wing tags on turkey and black vultures. A study is being done about how hawks use the ridge. The sanctuary reaches out to landowners to have them report raptors, barn owls, short-eared owls and northern harriers. An inventory has been completed of all 2,600 acres of Hawk Mountain so new trails can avoid spots where there are rare species.

Fort Indiantown Gap, a National Guard Training Center, has been focusing on nature since its inception in 1931. It studies a fire ecology with burns every one to five years. There is a lot of diversity in the pine shrub barrens that used to be found in agriculture areas.

The gap helps the Pa. Game Commission monitor the regal fritillary butterfly, Allegheny woodrat, and box and spotted turtles. There are maternity colonies of long- eared bats and little browns because the fires provide nesting cavities and loose bark.

There is a repatriation program to provide wildlife to restore it to areas where it is scarce.

During the breakout conservation planning session it was mentioned that two books with the older data that today's conservationists want were stolen, supposedly returned, but are still among the missing.

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