Grant to help pre­serve land

The Phoenix - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

A fed­eral pro­gram aimed specif­i­cally at pre­serv­ing nat­u­rally and cul­tur­ally valu­able land in the East Coast High­lands Re­gion has awarded more than $2.4 mil­lion for the ac­qui­si­tion of land in the seven-county Schuylkill High­lands.

The grant of $2,420,000 was an­nounced by the of­fice of U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist., and will be pro­vided to the Penn­syl­va­nia De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Nat­u­ral Re­sources through the fed­eral High­lands Con­ser­va­tion Act.

The Schuylkill High­lands is one of seven “Con­ser­va­tion Land­scape Ini­tia­tive” re­gions in Penn­syl­va­nia, and as the name sug­gests, in­cludes the Schuylkill River Wa­ter­shed for the most part and the south­east­ern­most sec­tion of the Penn­syl­va­nia High­lands, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion posted on the Schuylkill River Na­tional and State Her­itage Area web site.

It is part of a larger area of forested land known as “the High­lands” which stretches from Con­necti­cut through Mary­land and rep­re­sents the largest un­bro­ken for­est be-

tween Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and New York City.

In Penn­syl­va­nia, the Schuylkill High­lands area is nearly 1 mil­lion acres and in­cludes 61 of the 128 miles of the Schuylkill River as well as 660 miles of ex­cep­tional value and high qual­ity streams, which ul­ti­mately pro­vide drink­ing wa­ter to more than 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple.

The Schuylkill High­lands area in­cludes parts of Berks, Bucks, Ch­ester, Lan­caster, Le­banon, Le­high and Mont­gomery coun­ties.

It is also home to three na­tional parks and five state parks, but even so, only 8.5 per­cent of the 926,689 to­tal acres are pro­tected, ac­cord­ing to the her­itage area.

The grant aims to in­crease that per­cent­age of pro­tected land.

“Con­serv­ing our com­mon­wealth’s his­toric land and wa­ter­sheds is im­por­tant to our lo­cal econ­omy, to pro­tect­ing drink­ing wa­ter for our com­mu­ni­ties, to the health of our res­i­dents, and for the wildlife that know these lands and wa­ter­sheds as home,” Costello said in a press re­lease.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate the op­por­tu­nity to an­nounce this fed­eral grant that will be used

to­wards pro­tect­ing these re­sources that are vi­tal to Penn­syl­va­ni­ans,” he said.

Sadie Stevens, a fish and wildlife bi­ol­o­gist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, ex­plained that ac­cord­ing to Penn­syl­va­nia’s ap­pli­ca­tion, a par­tic­u­lar area of land has not yet been se­lected.

Rather, the grant pro­vides a pool of money that the state can use through its Com­mu­nity Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship Pro­gram — prefer­ably with match­ing grants — to pre­serve land that meets the re­quire­ments out­lined in the High­lands Con­ser­va­tion Act.

“That means things like pre­serv­ing wa­ter qual­ity,

re­cre­ation and that kind of thing,” Stevens said.

Specifics about what acreage the grant fund­ing may be ded­i­cated to pre­serv­ing was not im­me­di­ately avail­able from the Penn­syl­va­nia De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Fri­day.

Jack St­ef­ferud is se­nior di­rec­tor of land pro­tec­tion for the Nat­u­ral Lands Trust — which ad­min­is­ters the Schuylkill High­lands Ini­tia­tive and helps lever­age pri­vate dol­lars to match state and fed­eral grants to in­crease land con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

He said the most re­cent Schuylkill High­lands land preser­va­tion projects with

which Nat­u­ral Lands have been in­volved were both in Berks County and in­volved trans­fer­ring 80 acres known as the Buck Hol­low Pre­serve in Robe­son Town­ship, and the 235-acre Gi­bral­tar Moun­tain Pre­serve be­fore that, to the Penn­syl­va­nia Bureau of Forestry.

“The pro­gram is crit­i­cal to help con­serve nat­u­ral and his­toric re­sources,” St­ef­ferud said of the fed­eral fund­ing. “So we’re pleased that an op­por­tu­nity for more con­ser­va­tion in this area has been funded.”

As co-chair of the Land Con­ser­va­tion Cau­cus in Congress, Costello has sup­ported con­ser­va­tion of the Penn­syl­va­nia High­lands,

which in­cludes por­tions of Val­ley Forge Na­tional His­toric Park, the Schuylkill River Her­itage Area, and Hopewell Fur­nace Na­tional His­toric Site in his dis­trict, ac­cord­ing to the press re­lease from his of­fice.

He is also co-spon­sor of leg­is­la­tion that would ex­tend High­lands Con­ser­va­tion Act fund­ing through 2021,

In Congress, Costello also has sup­ported full fund­ing of the Land and Wa­ter Con­ser­va­tion Fund and helped in­tro­duce the Delaware River Basin Con­ser­va­tion Act, which was signed into law late last year, ac­cord­ing to the re­lease.

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