On December 10, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, The Conservation Fund, Berks Nature, and the Game Commission have partnered to conserve vital acreage for migratory birds, announcing plans to protect and improve more than 77 acres of farmland located in the shadow of the Kittatinny Ridge in Berks County.
These lands are being conserved, in part, by funding from Williams [Pipelines] in connection with the construction and operation of the company’s Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline project.
“Cooperation is the keystone of smart conservation, especially when it comes to land,” says Bryan Burhans, Executive Director of the Game Commission. “This project will protect habitat for declining species such as the northern harrier, American kestrel, Eastern Meadowlark, bobolink, grasshopper sparrow and more.”
With assistance from Berks Nature and support from Williams through a grant provided by The Conservation Fund, the Sanctuary purchased the tract, which was under threat from developers.
Working with the Game Commission, the conservation partners developed a land improvement plan to convert the former fields into native grasslands and meadows. In turn, this work will support migratory birds and other wildlife and expand wildlife diversity and recreational opportunities.
“The Sanctuary is a significant economic driver, and partnering with the Game Commission provides more land for birdwatching, hunting, and hiking,” says Hawk Mountain President Sean Grace.
The property has long been identified by state and local planning organizations as a top priority for protection due to its location at the base of the Kittatinny Ridge, a mega greenway and migration superhighway, as well as its adjacency to the Appalachian Trail and State Game Lands.
To ensure public access, the property was transferred at signing to the Game Commission, as an addition to the adjacent State Game Lands 106.
Future plans include planting of grasses and other native species and addition of a parking area along Hawk Mountain Road.
“This is public-private partnership at its best,” said Williams Chief Operating Officer Micheal Dunn. “The Commonwealth identified the protection of this property as a top priority, so we are glad to have the opportunity to coordinate with our partners in the preservation of this important wildlife habitat.”
“Protecting this property is a win-win, both for the birds and for the people who enjoy wild places,” said Kyle Shenk, Pennsylvania Director for The Conservation Fund.
During spring and fall, more than 150 species of raptors and songbirds follow the Kittatinny Ridge or “Blue Mountain,” using habitats along its slope and base to rest and feed.
The 2,500 acres at Hawk Mountain and the 9,000 acres of adjoining State Game Lands offer healthy habitats for forest wildlife, but field, riparian, and wetland species have declined.
Conservation of this property addresses a critical need for bird habitat locally and along the entire Ridge, as grassland and wetland birds are some of the fastest declining groups in Pennsylvania due to habitat loss.
Insectivorous birds such as warblers, vireos, and flycatchers that depend upon the riparian areas or field edges will also benefit, and new foraging habitat will become available for bats, mammals, and migrating birds along with breeding areas for many amphibians.