Wednesday, December 18, 2013

PA Environmental Council Interview With DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti

This month’s issue of the PA Environmental Council’s Forum newsletter features an interview with DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti touching on a variety of issues facing the agency, including trail development, conservation landscapes, natural gas drilling and other topics.  The Digest reprints the interview here--

FORUM: What are your thoughts about the department working in larger landscapes throughout the Commonwealth?   And what is the status of the department’s Conservation Landscapes Program? 

FERRETTI: From my perspective, DCNR has always worked in large landscapes throughout the Commonwealth since the old Bureau of Forests and Waters days. From our 2.2 million acres of state forests and our 120 state parks comprising a total of 300,000 acres; to our Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey which literally works on every square inch of the Commonwealth; to the hundreds of conservation, park, trail, greenway and “blueway” projects completed, planned and underway by communities, organizations and municipalities throughout Pennsylvania that have received funding from our Bureau of Recreation and Conservation; through our wild plant program that is statewide –  DCNR is right there working with our local partners.
The Conservation Landscapes program is doing well in the seven designated landscapes. We are working on our committed projects and will be looking to better understand the community and resource impacts from the more than 10-years of this initiative as we move ahead.

FORUM: And how about the Water Trail Partnership?  Where does this program fit in DCNR’s plans?

FERRETTI: DCNR sees the Pennsylvania Water Trails Partnership as an integral part of its Rivers Program.  By actively working to develop Pennsylvania’s Water Trail System, the partnership provides citizens and visitors the opportunity to easily engage in paddle sports.
This recreational use establishes a direct relationship between the participant and the natural resource they are paddling on, thereby educating the user and encouraging the responsible use, conservation and stewardship of our state’s river systems.  In short, we are using fun recreational pursuits to engage citizens in waterway conservation.
PEC and DCNR have worked very closely on water trail issues for more than a decade. In 2008, DCNR and PEC teamed up with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the National Park Service to form the partnership.  Its purpose is to further develop and promote a system of water trails in Pennsylvania. There are currently 25 water trails designated statewide.

FORUM: Could you give us a peek inside some of your thinking about things like trails and greenways in DCNR’s future?  

FERRETTI: We know from surveys done related to our statewide outdoor recreation plan that what people want most related to outdoor activities is trails that are close to home.  Based on the recommendations from the current plan, we are working to provide information about local trails through websites and sojourns, including the increasingly popular and growing website for searching, mapping and sharing trails information.  
We also did a trail gap analysis, and now have a comprehensive trail plan to inform where to make our investments through our grant program so that we are strategic with funding to close gaps in trail systems and connect users to trails.
Related to greenways, we continue to use the county natural heritage inventory data as a key building block for county greenway and open space planning supported by DCNR.  Almost all of our counties now have completed plans. We use them to help develop the statewide network of greenways, as well as encourage more detailed planning at the local level.

FORUM: How is DCNR assessing the impacts of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s state forests?

FERRETTI: Pennsylvania’s rich conservation legacy emerged from lessons learned during past eras of natural resource development. Conservation action oriented toward protecting wild places and producing a sustainable supply of resources for people is a complementary approach undertaken by DCNR each day.
Since the arrival of Marcellus Shale development, DCNR’s focus has been on the development of guidelines and procedures that are consistent with its ecosystem management approach. As the infrastructure is built, monitoring is necessary to document both positive and negative changes.
Our monitoring efforts focus on plants, wildlife, water resources, social and recreational values. The monitoring team in our Bureau of Forestry is looking to detect changes, track activities, reporting on the findings and modify practices where applicable.  We are currently finalizing our first monitoring report and anticipate releasing it in the first quarter of 2014.

FORUM: The state’s forest system continues to be certified for sustainable practices. Why is that so important?

FERRETTI: Our forest system supports thousands of jobs in the state’s multi-billion dollar timber and energy industries.  State forests also promote clean water and air; conserve scenic beauty and habitat; and act as a haven for those who like to hunt, fish, hike and pursue outdoor activities.
Our state forest has been independently certified for more than 15 years – a testimony to DCNR’s ability to manage our forests balancing their many uses and values.
This certification allows removed timber to be sold as sustainably harvested, giving an edge to our timber and wood product industries.

FORUM: The Commonwealth’s state parks were recently recognized as the best in the country. What is DCNR doing to improve the quality and benefits of our state parks?

FERRETTI: The vision of great conservation leaders at critical times in Pennsylvania’s history has resulted in the system of state parks and forests that Pennsylvanians enjoy and love today. Our modern challenge is caring for our public lands, focusing on improvements for aging facilities; well-managed forests; and high management standards for our award-winning state parks.
During my time at DCNR, I intend to work with Gov. Corbett to improve the efficiency of our current assets and operations, and direct our resources into the maintenance and renewal of our campgrounds, water resources, buildings, roads and trails to maintain and improve the experience of our visitors.

FORUM: Looking ahead, what can we anticipate as some new areas of attention for DCNR in the next couple of years?

FERRETTI: For me, promoting opportunities for children and young people to connect to nature through our state parks and forests is a priority.
I grew up in an area that had been stripped from coal mining. “Nature” to me was black hills and birch trees, until my parents introduced me to the natural beauty in our state parks. These visits resonated with me and forged my future love of the outdoors.
I believe that young people visiting our state parks and forests with their families, their scout troops, their schools, and participating in the unique programs we offer including Adventure Camps for kids from urban areas; ECO Camp to introduce teens to environmental careers; and our newly launched Project Learning Tree, will come to know and appreciate our natural resources and the great outdoors.
They will be the future stewards of our public lands. With study after study showing that being outdoors presents a mental and physical benefit to us all, we can concurrently conserve our Commonwealth’s natural heritage and produce a real benefit to our citizens.
(Reprinted from December 2013 Forum newsletter, PA Environmental Council)

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