In August, Pennsylvania released its updated State Forest Action Plan. A requirement of the federal Farm Bill, these plans are completed by all U.S. states and territories every ten years to assess the condition of their forests and guide future management. This is Pennsylvania’s first comprehensive revision to the initial 2010 plan.
Within the Action Plan, the Bureau of Forestry identified eleven priority issues for promoting forest health, three of which are new additions since the 2010 plan. They include:
- land use change
- forest health
- sustainable forest management
- climate change
- communicating natural resource values
- energy management & development
- wildland fire and public safety
- plant and animal habitat
- forest-related economy and jobs
- forest recreation
- water and soil.
Threats were identified for each issue, and included physical threats, like fragmentation and urbanization, as well as psychological challenges, like public disengagement from the natural world. Strategies for addressing the threats were equally wide-reaching, ranging from abandoned well-plugging and controlling invasive species to youth education and outreach.
Clearly, as the variety of the list illustrates, the protection of Pennsylvania’s forests can only be achieved through a suite of strategies and lots of collaboration. However, all of the strategies developed were related to national priorities set forth in the Farm Bill: conserve and manage working forest landscapes for multiple values and uses, protect forests from threats, and enhance public benefits from trees and forests.
The Action Plan lists several priority areas for regional or landscape-level programs. Some areas depart from the public lands and remote areas that may come to mind when thinking about forestry programs. Urban and community forestry is listed as a Forest Resource Priority Area, as well as one of the main sub-issues within the Sustainable Forest Management section. According to the Plan, Pennsylvania’s urban trees provide over $1 billion in ecological services. One mature tree can take up 4,000 gallons of water a year, helping to reduce water pollution and stormwater runoff.
Pennsylvania’s Conservation Landscapes, a community-focused approach to conservation and strategic investment, were listed as Key Collaborative Landscapes. According to the Plan, the Conservation Landscape program’s emphasis on local context and conditions makes it a unique model for other collaborative partnership projects.
Maintaining good forest health is essential for mitigating the impacts of climate change.
This has been a summer of reassessing where Pennsylvania and the country stand when it comes to climate change and sustainability.
In late spring, the Wolf Administration released the 2021 Climate Impacts Assessment, which predicted grim outcomes if action was not taken to address climate change. A global IPCC report, released last month, came to the same conclusion. Maintaining good forest health is essential for mitigating the impacts of climate change. Forests clean air and water, provide habitat for plants and animals, provide recreation opportunities, and help with carbon sequestration.
“Now more than ever, it is critical that we are good stewards of our forests and the natural resources within them,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “This plan will help protect and maintain diverse ecosystems in the commonwealth, help provide guidance in the fight against climate change, help the department carefully manage our energy resources to minimize and mitigate negative impacts, and address important areas of need in our forests.”
Read the Executive Summary of the 2020 Pennsylvania Forest Action Plan here.