PEC’s Pennsylvania

In celebration of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s 50th anniversary, we are pleased to share the following photo essay, prepared especially for the occasion, portraying the special places and landscapes at the heart of PEC’s work. Find more stories, sounds, and images collected as part of our year-long anniversary celebration here.

The simple beauty and complex legacies of Penn’s Woods in 2020

When Dutch and Swedish settlers first arrived in the mid-1600s, Pennsylvania consisted of more than 40,000 square miles of forest wilderness. Over the next three centuries, that wilderness all but disappeared.

What happened in between is a story of voracious consumption of natural resources that fueled the Industrial Revolution, powered the Civil War and Westward Expansion, and built the machinery of two world wars.



Pennsylvania’s streams and rivers nearly died. Its forests were all but wiped out, only to be given new life through an awakening of public consciousness over what had been nearly lost. Pennsylvania in 2020 is the sixth-largest economy in the United States. But a visitor to any of its 121 state parks, two million acres of state park lands, or 1.5 million acres of state game lands can readily see the beauty of Penn’s Woods that still endures.



The Pennsylvania Environmental Council commissioned photojournalist Jeff Swensen to capture the Pennsylvania environment as it is today—its river valleys, forests, its skies and waters, as well as the impacts of an economy that today supports nearly 13 million people, and the legacies of industrial practices old and new.

The people of Pennsylvania will find these impressions familiar as they define much of our shared landscape in 2020, and we offer them here as a time capsule for future generations to heed.