Tuesday, May 17, 2016

DCNR: PA Must Install 95,000 Acres Of Forest Buffers In Chesapeake Bay Watershed In Next 9 Years

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources told DEP’s Citizen Advisory Council Tuesday Pennsylvania must install 95,000 more acres of forested stream buffers in the next 9 years to meet its Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration milestones.
Sara Nicholas, Policy Director for DCNR, and Assistant State Forester Matt Keefer said one of the key concepts DCNR is exploring is turning stream buffers into an area that generates income for farm and forest landowners.
DCNR is working with its 50+ member Forest Buffer Advisory Committee created in March to work through the details of how to accomplish the necessary 10-fold increase in buffer planting.
Nicholas said DCNR is developing a list of cash crops, including planting nursery stock, hops, elderberries and other crops that could be harvested over time to generate income, but which still provides the necessary clean water benefits of buffers.
She noted the present federal Crop Reserve Enhancement Program does not have that flexibility.
Keefer said only 77 acres of forested buffers were installed in the Pennsylvania portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in 2015, down from 3,616 acres in 2014, 6,822 acres in 2013 and 948 acres in 2012.
He attributed some of the decrease to the declining effectiveness of attracting new landowners to the CREP Program and to landowners dropping out of CREP when their contracts are up.
Nicholas said DCNR is looking to have its own forest buffer grant program up and running by this summer.
She said initially the program would be targeted to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, but DCNR hopes to expand it statewide.  
Funding from the PA Infrastructure Investment Authority, Keystone Fund and possibly foundations are being looked at to finance the program.
DCNR will also target funding to watersheds, with the help of The Nature Conservancy-PA, where buffers would create the biggest environmental benefits from the money invested.
Nicholas said DCNR is evaluating whether at least part of the funding for the program could be in the form of loans to establish a revolving fund, since the goal is to create income from the buffers.
She said the funding program would not include a land rental payment like the CREP Program.
Another aspect of the program in the future may generate carbon reduction credits that could be sold for more income.
Nicholas said other states have started so-called multi-function forest buffer programs, including Virginia, Oregon, Michigan and other states that allow income generation.
She emphasized nothing has been finalized yet, but stay tuned for more details.
DCNR also plans to look for opportunities on its State Park lands to install buffers, both for their water quality benefits and to educate the public about forested stream buffers.
For more on Chesapeake Bay-related issues in Pennsylvania, visit the CBF-PA webpage.  Click Here to sign up for Pennsylvania updates (bottom of left column).
Future CAC Meetings
CAC Chair Bill Fink outlined some topics to be covered in upcoming meetings of the Council, including on June 21 a presentation by DEP on the latest Integrated Water Quality Management Report (the last report was in 2014 and the new report may include a recommendation on impairment of the lower Susquehanna River) and a report from the U.S. Geological Survey on water quality testing in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
For its July 19 meeting, the Council will hear a presentation on and tour the City of Lancaster’s Green Infrastructure Program designed to meet the MS4 Stormwater Water Quality Management Program.
For more information, visit the DEP’s Citizen Advisory Council webpage or contact Katie Hetherington Cunfer, Citizens Advisory Council, by calling 717-705-2693 or send email to: khethering@pa.gov
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