Monday, October 29, 2018

Western PA Conservancy Joins Partners To Protect Globally Rare Ecosystem In Chester, Delaware, Lancaster Counties

The following article appeared in the Fall Conserve Magazine published by the Western PA Conservancy--
Christopher Hoess spends a lot of time at the Pennsylvania-Maryland border in some of the rarest habitats in Eastern North America-- The State Line Serpentine Barrens.
This 60-square-mile, 38,400-acre area, underlain by a type of rock called serpentinite, straddles the Pennsylvania-Maryland border and includes parts of Lancaster, Chester and Delaware Counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Where the serpentine bedrock comes close to the surface, the thin, dry, nutrient-poor soils make for difficult growing conditions.  
The result is a tapestry of globally rare grasslands, shrublands and woodlands, known collectively as serpentine barrens, which can thrive in these conditions. And many of the plants and animals that depend upon this habitat are considered rare or endangered, and cannot be found anywhere else in the state.
Among the plant species are the serpentine aster, long-haired barrens chickweed, rough green snake, fameflower and prairie dropseed grass that have adapted to this unique environment over thousands of years.
Also, rare moths and butterflies including red-banded hairstreak, barrens buckmoth, mottled duskywing and dusted skipper call these barrens home, as do many birds that are associated with early successional forests and grasslands, which as Northern bobwhites, white-eyed vireos, brown thrashers and prairie warblers.
As the chair of the Friends of the State Line Serpentine Barrens, Christopher works closely with many partners that have decades of involvement in helping to maintain these rare habitats.  In recent years, the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program has partnered to help guide conservation decisions in the area.
The Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program, housed in the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s Pittsburgh and Harrisburg offices, is a partnership between the Conservancy, PA Department of Conservation and natural Resources, PA Game Commission and PA Fish and Boat Commission.
PNHP scientists document and assess the condition of rare plants and animals found in natural communities across the state.
Jeff Wagner, director of the Conservancy’s Natural Heritage Program, said his team has collaborated with a number of partners, including Friends of the State Line Serpentine Barrens, on stewardship projects, plant monitoring activities, field surveys and developing management plans to ensure these barren habitats continue to thrive.
“It’s great to be able to work with so many partners interested in studying and managing these barrens,” said Jeff.  “We’re part of an important effort that has benefitted from longstanding partnerships. And it’s vital for us to maintain these conservation relationships.”
The management plan prioritizes actions to expand barrens habitats that are at risk due to development and proliferation of invasive and nonnative plants such as autumn olive and multi-flora rose.
Grazing and fire have been historical disturbances that have helped maintain the habitats, and the plan recommends considering those as part of ongoing management.
The Friends of the State Line Serpentine Barrens operates in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation and holds volunteer workdays throughout the year to perform a variety of management tasks.
“It’s a lot of long hours and hard work to ensure this rare place can be around for generations to come,” said Christopher.  “But for all involved, it is work worth doing.”
Other partners who have been working diligently to protect and restore the state line serpentine barrens include the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forestry, The Nature Conservancy, Chester County and Elk Township [Chester County].
Larger portions of the barrens are permanently conserved and open to the public as parks, wild plant sanctuaries or preserves.
Learn More
For more information about Heritage Program work or about the State Line Barrens, call Jeff at 412-586-2392 or visit the The WPC State Line Serpentine Barrens and TNC-PA State Line Serpentine Barrens webpages and the Friends of the State Line Serpentine Barrens website.
More information is available on programs, initiatives and special events at the Western PA Conservancy website.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Conservancy, Like them on Facebook, Follow them on Twitter, add them to your Circle on Google+, join them on Instagram, visit the Conservancy’s YouTube Channel or add them to your network on Linkedin.  Click Here to support their work.
(Photo: State Line Serpentine Barrens.)
(Reprinted from the Fall Conserve Magazine published by the Western PA Conservancy.)

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