Conserving Pennsylvania’s geology through the Pennsylvania natural heritage program

Shaulis, James R. and Reese, Stuart O., Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, 3240 Schoolhouse Road, Middletown, PA 17057-3534.

The Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program (PNHP) is a partnership between DCNR, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy to collect, manage, and disseminate information on the Commonwealth’s biological and geologic resources including species of special concern, natural communities, and outstanding geological features. PNHP maintains a database that contains over one hundred geologic heritage sites. The Pennsylvania Geological Survey is actively reviewing approximately 400 additional geologic sites for inclusion. From fossils to waterfalls, sites have been informally grouped under 10 general geologic categories. Significance is mainly judged on the scientific/educational importance and aesthetic quality of a site. The conservation status of each site is determined by assessing its condition and extent that current land uses are likely to preserve its heritage value. By law, any activity in Pennsylvania that requires an environmental assessment has to be checked for proximity to sites contained in the PNHP database. If a construction area coincides with a PNHP site then a conflict review is triggered. If it is determined that the geologic site is in danger of having its heritage values degraded, then recommendations on minimizing the impact are sent to all the concerned parties such as contractors, government agencies, zoning boards, and conservation groups. Since the PNHP's inception in 1988, the PA Survey has performed conflict reviews and participated in PNHP conservation related activities. As a result, several geologic sites have been spared significant degradation, and others now are becoming more secure. Examples are the Port Royal tufa, Robinson Falls, Whaleback, Swatara Gap fossil site, and White Rocks area of South Mountain. However, recent inventories of candidate geologic sites have found some of them to be severely degraded or lost (primarily to land development). Creating awareness of geologic sites can lead to results such as grass root support for conservation or local changes in zoning, and provide a focal point for conservation efforts. Making geological heritage information available on a web site and participating in heritage programs are effective ways to generate public support and appreciation for such outstanding geologic sites.

Oral presentation presented at the 2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)