Management Approach and Philosophy
Pennsylvania’s 2.2 million-acre state forest system is managed for contiguous forests, pure water, recreation, scenic beauty, plant and animal habitat, sustainable timber, natural gas, and many other uses and values.
An ecologically focused approach to resource management—called Ecosystem Management—is core to the Bureau of Forestry’s philosophy and is its principal strategy for managing state forests. This approach aims to conserve natural communities and habitats, provide essential uses and values of the forest, while also advancing long-term sustainability. This results in a comprehensive and integrated approach to managing forests and their resources.
Approximately 700,000 acres of State Forest lands are located within the shale gas region, and these areas will see significant activity associated with the development and extraction of this resource. Natural gas exploration and extraction can temporarily or permanently convert existing natural habitats to gas infrastructure, which may include but is not limited to: well pad sites, freshwater impoundments, roads or pipelines. To develop this infrastructure, often construction and drilling activity is extensive at certain stages, follows tight timelines, and requires heavy trucking activity for management of drilling resources such as water.
Management of Shale Gas on SF lands
The Bureau manages the development of infrastructure and other activities associated with natural gas in a manner that minimizes adverse impacts to the forest, watersheds, soils, plants, and wildlife and is compatible with the other state forest land uses. The Bureau’s overall approach to managing natural gas impacts can be described with four principles -- avoid, minimize, mitigate, and monitor.
Through early and comprehensive planning the Bureau utilizes a landscape-level perspective for the placement and location of infrastructure, to avoid impacting ecological or recreational resources. For example, the Bureau manages the gas activity on a large tract level (which includes multiple well pads, pipelines and roads), rather than a piecemeal approach (e.g., well pad by well pad). This permits the Bureau to identify known sensitive areas (ecological, recreational, etc.) and strictly limit or prohibit surface disturbances within them. When feasible, existing disturbed areas such as roads or pipeline right-of-way corridors are used for the placement of infrastructure associated with natural gas. This reduces the need to clear additional areas of State Forest lands, thereby limiting fragmentation and additional land conversion.
Each activity on State Forest lands goes through a review process to minimize potential impacts to plant and animal species, habitats, or recreational resources, when avoidance is not a suitable option. Bureau of Forestry staff work to minimize potential adverse impacts to resources and values by appropriately buffering them or by incorporating techniques such as timing restrictions. Buffers range from 200-600 feet and are applied to resources which include buildings, streams, wetlands, streams, Threatened & Endangered Species and Wild and Natural Areas.
After disturbance activities conclude, mitigation will be necessary to offset adverse impacts to forests. Mitigation can be accomplished in several ways—but always must comply with state erosion and sedimentation control requirements. Mitigation opportunities include but are not limited to: restoration back to forest; reclamation by planting native plant species; plant and animal species habitat enhancements; or invasive species removal. The goal is to restore the site to a condition that can support a functional and self-sustainable natural community.
Since the arrival of Marcellus shale development, the Bureau’s focus has been on the development of guidelines and procedures which are consistent with its ecosystem management approach. As the infrastructure is built, monitoring is necessary to document both positive and negative changes to State Forest lands. Monitoring efforts will focus on plants, wildlife, water resources, social, and recreational values. More specifically, monitoring will include detecting changes, tracking activities, reporting on the findings, and modifying practices where applicable. The monitoring program will be used to identify impacts to State Forest lands and facilitate adaptive management that addresses those changes.
The Bureau’s gas management approach of avoid, minimize, mitigate and monitor strives to promote environmentally-sound gas exploration that maintains contiguous forests, conserves wetlands, protects threatened and endangered plants and animals, upholds water quality, maintains the forest’s wild character, and provides high quality recreation.