$2.4M grant to help preserve land in Schuylkill Highlands
A federal program aimed specifically at preserving naturally and culturally valuable land in the East Coast Highlands Region has awarded more than $2.4 million for the acquisition of land in the seven-county Schuylkill Highlands.
The grant of $2,420,000 was announced by the office of U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist., and will be provided to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources through the federal Highlands Conservation Act.
The Schuylkill Highlands is one of seven “Conservation Landscape Initiative” regions in Pennsylvania, and as the name suggests, includes the Schuylkill River Watershed for the most part and the southeastern most section of the Pennsylvania Highlands, according to information posted on the Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area web site.
It is part of a larger area of forested land known as “the Highlands” which stretches from Connecticut through Maryland and represents the largest unbroken forest between Washington, D.C., and New York City.
The Schuylkill Highlands area includes parts of Berks, Bucks, Chester, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh and Montgomery counties.
It is also home to three national parks and five state parks, but even so, only 8.5 percent of the 926,689 total acres are protected, according to the heritage area.
The grant aims to increase that percentage of protected land.
“Conserving our commonwealth’s historic land and watersheds is important to our local economy, to protecting drinking water for our communities, to the health of our residents, and for the wildlife that know these lands and watersheds as home,” Costello said in a press release.
“I appreciate the opportunity to announce this federal grant that will be used towards protecting these resources that are vital to Pennsylvanians,” he said.
Sadie Stevens, a fish and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, explained that according to Pennsylvania’s application, a particular area of land has not yet been selected.
Rather, the grant provides a pool of money that the state can use through its Community Conservation Partnership Program — preferably with matching grants — to preserve land that meets the requirements outlined in the Highlands Conservation Act.
“That means things like preserving water quality, recreation and that kind of thing,” Stevens said.
Specifics about what acreage the grant funding may be dedicated to preserving was not immediately available from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Friday.
Jack Stefferud is senior director of land protection for the Natural Lands — which administers the Schuylkill Highlands Initiative and helps leverage private dollars to match state and federal grants to increase land conservation efforts.
He said the most recent Schuylkill Highlands land preservation projects with which Natural Lands have been involved were both in Berks County and involved transferring 80 acres known as the Buck Hollow Preserve in Robeson Township, and the 235-acre Gibraltar Mountain Preserve before that, to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry.
“The program is critical to help conserve natural and historic resources,” Stefferud said of the federal funding. “So we’re pleased that an opportunity for more conservation in this area has been funded.”
As co-chair of the Land Conservation Caucus in Congress, Costello has supported conservation of the Pennsylvania Highlands, which includes portions of Valley Forge National Historic Park, the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, and Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in his district, according to the press release from his office.
He is also co-sponsor of legislation that would extend Highlands Conservation Act funding through 2021,
In Congress, Costello also has supported full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and helped introduce the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act, which was signed into law late last year, according to the release.