Photo by Greg Snyder.

Natural Lands announced the addition of 373 acres to its Bear Creek Preserve in Luzerne County, bringing the preserve size to 3,938 acres. The land will be available to visitors—free of charge, year-round—and will never be developed. The new addition was funded through the coordination of numerous partnerships, including with Mid-Atlantic Audubon, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Open Space Institute, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“The acquisition of this 373-acre parcel closes the last gap in a conservation corridor of protected lands including state parks, forests, and Game Lands that spans more than 150,000 acres,” said Natural Lands President Oliver Bass. “Had the property been sold to a developer, up to 150 houses could have been constructed, fragmenting the dense forest habitat that is so critical for songbirds—like Ruffed Grouse, Golden-winged Warbler, and Wood Thrush—and other wildlife species.”

Natural Lands has been working with partner Mid-Atlantic Audubon, funded by a grant from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, to study and improve the forest at Bear Creek Preserve to provide better foraging, mating, and nesting habitat for birds whose populations are in decline due to habitat loss. The newly added acreage offers additional forested cover that Natural Lands’ stewardship staffers can work to optimize for these struggling bird species.

The addition contains two tributaries to Bear Creek, which flows into the Lehigh River and on to join the Delaware River. These tributaries are designated as “High Quality-Cold Water Fisheries” by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. These cool, clear streams support aquatic life and help contribute to safe drinking water for everyone in the watershed.

Photo by Greg Snyder.

The project was underwritten in part by a grant from The Open Space Institute Appalachian Landscape Protection Fund, which aims to reduce climate risks for communities and emphasizes the lands’ ability to store atmospheric carbon. Said Natural Lands’ Conservation Project Manager Kate Raman, “The Nature Conservancy Resilient Land Mapping tool indicates that this new acquisition stores more than 34,000 metric tons of carbon. For perspective, this is the equivalent to CO2 emissions from 60 homes electricity use for one year.”

Grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – Community Conservation Partnership Program, and the Open Space Institute’s (OSI) Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund will support Natural Lands’ purchase of the land. The project marks OSI’s second grant in support of Bear Creek Preserve.

“Through our Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund program, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, in partnership with our major program funders at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is proud to support the expansion of Bear Creek Preserve,” said Stephanie Heidbreder, NFWF’s Delaware River program director. “The acquisition of these additional acres will contribute to watershed-wide efforts to restore forests, increase public access, connect habitats, and improve water quality in the Delaware region for fish, wildlife, and people.”

OSI’s Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund (ALPF) is capitalized by funders including the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and numerous family foundations. The ALPF preserves land along the Appalachian Mountain range, an area that is home to the world’s largest broadleaf forest, stores most of the nation’s forest carbon, and provides essential refuge for plants and animals at risk of habitat loss from climate change.

“The Open Space Institute is proud to support this important project through our Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund, as part of our ongoing efforts to protect the fragile forests of Pennsylvania in the face of a changing climate,” said Bill Rawlyk, OSI’s Mid-Atlantic Field Coordinator.”