Elk Timberlands Field Guide: What You’ll See

It’s spring and the elk knows it’s time to part ways with her herd. She moves stealthily amid the awakening landscape, through a labyrinth of thick tree trunks and pockets of greening farm and grasslands, sensing out a secluded safe haven. The time soon will come for new life, and a rickety, young calf will take its first timid steps somewhere deep inside the woods of Elk County, Pennsylvania.
The odds of survival are good for this newborn, which in time will require a range encompassing hundreds of square miles. This part of the state, with its rolling, richly forested hills and lush, fertile valleys, is an ideal backdrop for healthy populations of elk, as well as other wide-ranging animals like bear and river otter. Humans, too, thrive in this vast, resource-rich landscape, for generations relying upon the region’s forests for their livelihoods. In an effort to protect this prime forestland, as well as local jobs in the timber industry, The Nature Conservancy has secured a 10,000acre conservation easement called Elk Timberlands that’s good for both people and nature.

Scarlet tanager Piranga olivacea: Forest fragmentation is among the biggest threats to this colorful migrant whose song is often described as a “hoarse robin.” Bright red males and olive green females with dark wings build nests high in the canopy trees of d eep forests — with about 20 percent of the global population here in Pennsylvania. Eastern brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis: Pennsylvania’s state fish is also one of its most threatened. Brook trout are incredibly sensitive to temperature and water quality changes, and they need the small cool streams shadowed by tree cover that are protected by the Elk Timberlands easement. American elk Cervus elaphus: Pennsylvania harbors one of the largest elk herds in the East, rebuilt to about 700 animals after falling to just a few dozen survivors in the 1970s. During the autumn breeding season, male elk roam their territories in Elk County, providing some of the best elk watching in the region. Northern saw-whet owl Aegolius acadicus: One of our smallest owls, the saw-whet roosts in tree cavities throughout Pennsylvania’s forests, often reusing nests excavated by native woodpeckers. Our temperate forests provide habitat for a year-round population. Sugar maple Acer saccharum: The forests of Elk County include black cherry and red oak in abundance, but the brilliant red leaves of the sugar maple demand attention each fall. Western Pennsylvanians have a long tradition of making local maple syrup from the tree’s sap, and the very hard wood is used for furniture, flooring and even baseball bats. Bobcat Lynx rufus: Pennsylvania’s only confirmed wild cat is found throughout the state, but large unbroken forests like those in Elk County are ideal habitat for this territorial hunter that’s just slightly larger than a house cat. They’re most frequently spotted at dawn and dusk, though rising populations are making bobcats a more common sight. Black bear Ursus americanus: Some of the region’s biggest bears live in Pennsylvania’s forests, where they feed on the fruits and seeds of oak, cherry and beech trees, as well as blueberry bushes, growing as large as 800 lbs. Bear populations are on the rise, and as human settlements encroach on habitat, complaints are rising — making contiguous forest habitat like that at Elk Timberlands more important.
photo: George Gress

The State of Penn’s Woods With nearly 17 million acres of forest— representing some of the largest stretches of unbroken natural habitat in the region—Pennsylvania provides tremendous opportunities for largescale forest conservation and restoration. Located at the junction of northern and southern forest ecosystems, the state’s woodlands— much of which are part of the Central Appalachians—are globally significant for their species diversity: In fact, only China’s temperate forests rival those of the Central Appalachian’s in biodiversity. The state’s forests also filter pollutants from water and air, reduce the severity of floods, lock up carbon dioxide emissions, and provide abundant outdoor recreation.
But Pennsylvania’s forests are badly stressed by too many deer, not enough fire, acidic rain and snow, pests, poor forestry practices, energy and housing development, roads and more. Healthy regeneration of forests is rare. Diversity is being lost as economically and ecologically valuable species like oak, hickory and sugar maple are replaced by less valuable species like black birch and red maple. Holes are being cut into the forests, and remaining blocks are disconnected, reducing their value to people and wildlife.

if protected, promise to ensure the health of Pennsylvania’s forests over the long term. Elk Timberlands is one such place. In the Conservancy’s single largest protection effort ever in Pennsylvania, the Elk Timberlands conservation easement helps to fill in a protection gap within the largest unbroken forest between New York City and Chicago. To the west lies the half-million-acre Allegheny National Forest. To the east, state forest and game lands encompass another 1.5 million acres. Here, visitors will find the largest wild elk herd in the Northeast roaming the hills and valleys. Migratory songbirds like the scarlet tanager and birds of prey like the Northern goshawk thrive in the canopy of the vast forest—a rich mix of sugar maple, black cherry, northern red oak and white ash—while black bears, bobcats and fishers wander beneath. The Elk Timberlands conservation easement ensures that the expansive range they need remains intact.

The easement—purchased from Elk Timberlands LLC, which continues to own the land—limits development, protecting this crucial piece of forest habitat. At the same time, it requires sustainable timbering that will maintain and improve the forest’s health, while preserving much-needed jobs and income. And the property will be open for recreation to the community, which has long treasured the area’s hunting, fishing and hiking opportunities. Through the Elk Timberlands project, The Nature Conservancy is ensuring that this lovely piece of Penn’s Woods continues to thrive for all the creatures that depend on it, including us.

We Need Your Help
The Nature Conservancy has raised almost $4.3 million of the $5.8 million required to purchase the conservation easement. $1.5 million in private fundraising remains (as of October 2010). Please contact us to find out how you can help: The Nature Conservancy Pennsylvania Chapter Jennifer Seller 2101 North Front Street Building #1, Suite 200 Harrisburg, PA 17110 Phone: (717) 232-6001 ext. 115 Fax: (717) 232-6061 E-mail: jseller@tnc.org

Why Elk Timberlands? In the face of these growing threats, the Conservancy has identified a network of the most important forestlands that,

Working for Nature and People Here in Pennsylvania, The Nature Conservancy aims to protect key forest areas and foster the responsible management of working forests—which sustain a $5 billion wood industry key to Pennsylvania’s economic strength. The Elk Timberlands working forest conservation easement does both.
photo: George Gress

The Nature Conservancy Pennsylvania Chapter 2101 North Front Street Suite 200 Harrisburg, PA 17110 717.232.6001 nature.org/pennsylvania

October 2010