The Conservation Fund has announced the purchase of 32, 598 acres of sustainable timberland surrounding the city of Johnsonburg in Elk and McKean counties. The purchase was made through The Conservation Fund’s Working Forest Fund. It is the largest single purchase of land by a nonprofit conservation organization in Pennsylvania history.

“We are in an entirely new era of private forest ownership in America,” said Brian Dangler, vice president and director of the Working Forest Fund. “The transfer of large, industrial-size forests is happening so quickly, we only have a very short window to protect these forested landscapes to ensure their ecological benefits and that they can remain the backbone of rural economies and traditional uses nationwide.”

Under The Conservation Fund’s temporary ownership, the land, called Clarion Junction Forest, will continue to be sustainably managed as a working forest, maintaining its role as a steady source of timber for local mills and jobs for timber crews.

“I was excited to learn of this land acquisition by The Conservation Fund,” said Lucas Dillinger, wood procurement manager at the Domtar Mill in Johnsonburg. “Under its ownership, these lands will sustainably support the regional forest products industry, remain a valuable part of the local tax base, and allow for public recreational access. It’s great to see these conservation outcomes balanced with a win for our local communities.”

Located within the Pennsylvania Wilds, the property provides a bridge between state game lands and Allegheny National Forest. The Conservation Fund’s purchase will maintain clean water and productive fishing streams, securing the confluence of the East and West branches of the Clarion River and 100 miles of high- quality cold water fisheries, six miles of which hold the state’s highest designation of Exceptional Value.

The Clarion Junction Forest provides habitat for a variety of popular game species like deer and bear, as well as migratory bird species, including the American woodcock, bald eagle, black-throated blue warbler, cerulean warbler and Louisiana water thrush. The Fund will work to improve and protect both the forest and aquatic resources, while maintaining current leases and public recreational uses, including hunting and trout fishing.

“Natural resources and conservation are at the heart of the Pennsylvania Wilds lifestyle and economy, and a key driver of our $1.7-billion-dollar annual tourism industry,” said Tataboline Enos, executive director of the Pennsylvania Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit whose mission is to marry conservation and economic development through sustainable nature tourism. “The Wilds is a big working forest. The investment and conservation strategy behind the Clarion Junction Forest will be a boost to the Pennsylvania Wilds rural economy and tourism industry. Forestland conservation on a large scale like this is truly vital for rural economic development.”

The Conservation Fund will work with public and private partners in the coming years to determine strategies to ensure the lands will remain healthy working forests. These strategies could include placing conservation easements on the land and transferring it to private ownership or conveying the land to a public agency for permanent protection.

“Our commonwealth is blessed with an abundance of forestland, and Pennsylvanians have a rich heritage of working, hunting, fishing, and recreating in these woods. But we cannot take for granted that the same opportunities will be available for future generations,” said Kyle Shenk, Pennsylvania state director for The Conservation Fund. “The Conservation Fund’s role is to ensure that forestland of community- and state-wide importance will always remain as forests. We will work to implement permanent conservation solutions that meet the needs of people, protect wildlife habitat, and provide economic benefits.”

Over the last decade, The Conservation Fund has placed more than 500,000 acres under conservation management through its Working Forest Fund program, with the goal of purchasing and permanently protecting five million acres of working forests.