Conservation in the French Creek Watershed

On December 22, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) announced the acquisition of a forested property located in Hayfield and Vernon townships, Crawford County. The area is now permanently protected and available for recreational use.

This 171-acre property, which protects ecologically important land in the French Creek watershed, contains more than 5,600 feet of frontage along the Cussewago Creek. Cussewago Creek is a major tributary to French Creek, which is within the headwaters of the Allegheny River.

The property is among the remaining larger undeveloped properties in the French Creek watershed, an important Natural Heritage Area known for its aquatic biodiversity and a longtime priority conservation area for WPC. Located within Pennsylvania Audubon Society’s Cussewago Bottom Important Bird Area (IBA), the property includes an intact forest, wetlands, and marshes, which are all important for further protection of the region’s migrating bird populations and species associated with mature and early-successional forest types.

“This is an important property to protect within the French Creek watershed, and a great addition to a Conservancy-owned natural area,” said Thomas Saunders, president and CEO of WPC. “We will continue working with our partners in the region to protect land along French Creek and its tributaries. We’re excited about expanding this natural area that the Conservancy owns and makes available for hiking, birdwatching and exploring its woods and wetlands.”

This land has been added to the Conservancy’s Helen B. Katz Natural Area, which is open to the public for hunting, fishing, hiking, birding, and other wildlife watching. The natural area now totals 552 acres.

This property was acquired with funds from the estate of Helen B. Katz, whose 2008 legacy gift has allowed the Conservancy to permanently protect more than 20 properties in the region totaling more than 4,700 acres. WPC has protected approximately 4,800 acres of land within the 1,250-square-mile French Creek watershed since 1969, and a total of more than a quarter million acres across the region since its establishment in 1932.

Farmland Preservation in Centre County

A few days later, on December 28, WPC announced the donation of a conservation easement from a private landowner, Dale Stover, on his 186-acre property in Haines Township, Centre County.

This is the first conservation easement to be donated to the WPC in Centre County. The Conservancy co-holds this easement in partnership with the Centre County Farmland Trust (CCFT).

“We’re excited to partner with the Conservancy on this conservation easement,” said Sarah Walter, executive director of CCFT. “This is the first time we’ve co-held an easement with another land trust, and doing so allows both organizations to work closely in the best interest of the community and conservation.”

With this donation, Stover is ensuring that this agricultural land continues as a working farm. The property also sits within a forested landscape that runs along Brush Mountain and includes large areas of Bald Eagle State Forest.

“The farm has been in my late wife’s family since 1945,” said Stover. “This is a fitting way to honor her and the East Penns Valley residents by preserving it for future generations.”

While there are no fishable creeks or streams on the property, important spring-fed groundwater sits underneath limestone bedrock that feeds Penns Creek, part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Any use or development of this land will have an impact on the watershed, making its protection even more important.

“Farming is at the heart of the Centre County community, and the donation of this conservation easement demonstrates its importance,” said Tom Saunders, president and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. “We are glad to partner with CCFT on this project to ensure this property remains as working agricultural land.”

WPC has a long history of land protection in Centre and surrounding counties. In 1979, WPC protected more than 12,000 acres of land in Centre and Clinton counties to create what is today known as State Game Land 295, located east of State College. This natural area is best known for its wilderness trout stream—Cherry Run—and it remains the second-largest land protection project in Conservancy history.

Conservation easements are tailored to meet specific landowner needs and conservation goals. They limit certain types of development and help land stay protected in perpetuity even if it is sold. Recently, the federal government made enhanced income tax benefits for conservation easements a permanent part of the Internal Revenue Code.

WPC and CCFT will partner on the conservation easement stewardship, which includes annual monitoring of the property.

CCFT currently holds conservation easements on more than 11 properties in Centre County, totaling approximately 1,000 acres. WPC currently holds conservation easements on nearly 36,000 acres of land in Western Pennsylvania.