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the Allegheny Wild!
Unless you are a Bush Administration
policy analyst, you likely know that the northeastern United States
receives a tremendous amount of air pollution from the industrialized
Ohio and Tennessee River valleys. Coal-burning power plants and
millions of automobiles daily belch tons of pollutants into the
atmosphere that eventually finds its way here. The forests of the
Allegheny Plateau are severely affected through the loss of essential
elements and the interruption of photosynthetic processes. These
factors are contributing to the decline of a number of tree and
plant species while extractive operations such as logging exacerbate
the situation further.
"Soils on ridge tops in the
unglaciated Allegheny Plateau and the Ridge and Valley Provinces
of Pennsylvania have concentrations of plant available aluminum
detrimental to forest growth...[s]oil acidification is accelerated
by acidic deposition. Soil acidification in many areas of Pennsylvania
has reached the point where trees are stressed and subsequently
die and where leached aluminum has extirpated entire fish populations
from the state's most pristine headwater streams." (The
Effects of Acidic Deposition on Pennsylvania’s Forests: Penn
State University 1999)
The Allegheny National Forest receives
some of the most acidic rain in the country. Rain has been measured
in Kane on the eastern boundary of the Allegheny National Forest
at only a pH of 3.2. This is well over 500 times more acidic than
natural rain. As the rain continues to fall, the soil loses its
ability to buffer the effects of the acidity and the result is the
leaching of essential elements such as magnesium and calcium. As
more elements are leached, trees and other vegetation suffer the
Sugar maple by far has been the most
affected tree species. Some areas have experienced a 60% decline
in sugar maple. Other species are sure to be affected in the future
as the soil continues to lose its buffering capacity. It has been
documented that activities such as logging, road construction and
herbicide spraying add to the deleterious effects of acid precipitation
through erosion and further export of essential elements.
Ground Level Ozone
"...[w]hen conditions are right,
we see widespread leaf injury due to ozone, particularly on sensitive
species like black cherry." (Can Trees Afford to Stay
Outside? Penn State 2000)
Ozone naturally occurs in the stratosphere
where it filters harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun making
life on earth possible. Tropospheric, or ground level, ozone is
produced as a result of incomplete fuel combustion. The Allegheny
Plateau is subjected to very high concentrations of ground level
Our cities are best known for problems
with ground level ozone, where it is more commonly referred to as
smog. However, air is obviously not static and the pollution that
originates in urban areas from industrial development and automobiles
is transported away from its source to other locales.
This is how the Allegheny is impacted,
though there are local sources that contribute to this problem,
such as the refinery in Warren owned by United Refining Company.
How ground level ozone impacts our forests is fairly well documented.
Trees breathe through stomates, pore-like openings in their leaves.
As the tree breathes, it unwittingly takes in our pollution. Impacts
then depend upon the amount and type of pollution to which the tree
Penn State has documented that ground
level ozone greatly impacts black cherry trees. This could explain
why many black cherry trees often have thinning crowns. Stress associated
with ground level ozone would inhibit the growth of the tree, causing
reduced crowns that allow excessive sunlight to penetrate the canopy.
Also, it has been found that seedlings are much more impacted by
ground level ozone than older trees. This is because younger trees
have a higher rate of gas exchange. Essentially, logged forests
are facing increased stress to recover due to ground level ozone,
as well as other pollutants.
The emphasis on resource extraction
in the Allegheny over the past several decades has led to one of
the highest road densities of any national forest. In some areas,
particularly areas of intense oil and gas development, road densities
approach that of small cities - right in the middle of the forest.
This seriously degrades habitat for wildlife dependent upon unfragmented
mature forests. Furthermore, recreation opportunities are severely
impacted in areas such as this, as the Forest Service recently reported:
"In the last few years, the
number of new oil and gas wells being built on an annual basis has
been increasing...The value of the land to provide recreation opportunities
is diminshed in intensively developed oil fields. The land is crisscrossed
with roads, which are confusing to navigate and usually not open
to public travel. The sounds of vehicles, pump engines and heavy
equipment are common and pervasive. Trail systems that traverse
these fields are interrupted by frequent road crossings. Some trails
may be converted to roads when the trail is located in an appropriate
location for road building...Some of the developed oil fields cover
thousands of acres. The inherent character of the landscape is converted
to an industrial atmosphere in the midst of the forest."
(USDA Forest Service: Roads Analysis Report, 2003)
Allegheny Wild! Solutions
The Forest Service must incorporate
goals and objectives that address the impacts to the Allegheny National
Forest from air pollution and resource extraction and set specific
standards and guidelines for protecting and restoring habitats.
Under Allegheny Wild!, ending the commercial
logging program would eliminate a major compounding effect of soil
acidification. This would in essence "buy time" to develop
a strategic plan to restore degraded habitat while protecting other
areas from further impacts. With the commercial logging program
ended, so to would be the widespread use of herbicides and need
for additional road construction. This would further contribute
to the conservation of soils.
It is well documented how logging and
other extractive activities lead to the depletion of soil nutrients
and the degradation of wildlife habitat. The latest issue of Bioscience
listed logging as a factor contributing to the nitrification of
soils in the northeastern United States. Nitrification is the process
by which soils become 'loaded' with nitrogen as other essential
elements are depleted. This also accelerates soil acidification
A plan must be developed to counter
the very real impacts of resource extraction to our forests. Ending
logging, road building and herbicide spraying is the first step.
There also must be a move to significantly reduce the road network
and improve eroded stream banks. Road obliteration and stream restoration
would provide jobs for local residents while reducing the effects
of anthropogenic pollutants.
Allegheny Wild! Restoration
Decline Restoration Areas
These are several scattered areas which have been
most affected by air pollution. Sugar maple (from acid precipitation)
and American beech (beech bark disease) are important native hardwood
species that are declining in large numbers. Black cherry is another
tree species susceptible to air pollution. Efforts in these areas
will focus on the restoration of forest soils as a means towards
protecting tree health.
Extraction Restoration Areas
These areas have been impacted either by logging,
oil and gas drilling, road construction, surface mining or a combination
of these activities. Restoration activities would include road obliteration,
stream restoration, and restoring well-sites and surface mines through
the planting of native species.
Grunder Run Restoration Area
This area has been devastated by rampant oil and
gas drilling and a poorly maintained ATV trail. Pollution related
to the oil and gas drilling has degraded Grunder Run to the point
where it no longer supports healthy populations of wild trout. Restoration
of water quality in Grunder Run, as part of the upper Allegheny
River watershed, is important.
Highland-Sackett Restoration Area
This is the largest oil and gas development in the
Allegheny National Forest. The road density is similar to that of
Warren, the largest city in the Allegheny region (see above photo.)
There has also been extensive logging activity in this area and
there are many years of work to be done to restore this area to
anything that resembles a natural forest ecosystem.
Salmon-Tionesta Restoration Area
This area is on pace to become the next Highland-Sackett
development. There are at least 600 wells within an expanding development
led by Pennsylvania General Energy. The fragmentation of this once
pristine area of the Allegheny is a testimony to the Forest Service’s
irresponsible mismanagement of our forest. The opportunity exists
to cease the current rate of development before more of this valuable
area is lost in a patchwork of new roads and wells. A Pennsylvania
agency has already documented degradation of water quality in Salmon
Creek and its tributaries.
Westline Restoration Area
This is yet another area that has experienced a
sharp increase in oil and gas drilling activity. A cross-country
ski trail has been impacted here and more impacts are sure to occur
unless action is taken to stop the degradation. Several oil and
gas companies are active in the area.