Wild Notes Summer 2010 edition

Summer 2010

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Cosmo the flying squirrel


Wild Watch by Heidi Mullendore

Since 1988, ecologists from the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program (PNHP) have been conducting County Natural Heritage Inventories (CNHI) across the Commonwealth, progressing county by county. The recent completion of the Armstrong and Venango CNHIs represent a significant step towards having a full, statewide assessment of unique natural areas important for conservation. The focus of the CNHIs is to gather information on rare, threatened, and endangered plants, animals and unique natural communities, and then convey that information to various entities involved in conservation planning. Beginning in 2007, ecologists from the PNHP scoured databases, museum specimens, literature and highquality aerial photography to prioritize areas in Armstrong and Venango counties for on-the-ground biological surveys. For two years, PNHP staff focused on re-verifying that older records of rare, threatened or endangered plants and animals were still present, and also searched for new occurrences of species of concern.

kudzu covering hills and valleys
County Natural Heritage Inventory maps highlight biologically important areas within each county in Pennsylvania.

A total of 113 Biological Diversity Areas (BDAs) and three Landscape Conservation Areas (LCAs) were delineated for Armstrong and Venango counties. BDAs contain plants or animals of special concern, exemplary natural communities, or exceptional native diversity. LCAs are large areas of land that are important because of their size, habitats or presence of one or more BDAs.Within the Armstrong and Venango CNHIs, the features that standout as the most important to the conservation of rare, threatened and endangered species and unique natural communities are French Creek and the un-dammed sections of the Allegheny River. In addition to housing myriad species considered imperiled at the state or global level, these large waterways are some of the most biologically diverse examples of aquatic habitats remaining in the northeastern United States.

Armstrong and Venango counties contain populations of many different species of concern, including 4 different mammals of concern, 6 birds, 12 amphibians and reptiles, 16 fish, 21 freshwater mussels, 16 insects, 23 plants, as well as 6 rare natural communities. Some of these species are rare at the state level and more common elsewhere in their range,
while others are rare throughout their range. These species are deemed “responsibility species,” which means that Pennsylvania plays a critical role in their conservation because the state houses a large percentage of the species’ entire range and occurrences. In addition to the Armstrong and Venango County Natural Heritage Inventories, the other 62 completed CNHIs are available for download from the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program's website at: www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/CNAI_Download.aspx. The remaining CNHIs will become available as those projects are completed. We invite you to explore the Armstrong and Venango CNHIs, as well as the CNHI for your county, and discover the areas that define the natural character of your county and make “Penn's Woods” so unique.

kudzu covering hills and valleys
The clubshell (Pleurobema clava) (left) and the northern riffleshell (Epioblasma torulosa rangiana) (right) are both globally imperiled, federally endangered speices of freshwater mussels fround in Armstrong and Venango counties. French Creek and the upper Allegheny River are the last strongholds for these species.
(Photo: PNHP)
kudzu covering hills and valleys
The undammed stretches of the upper Allegheny River provide unique grassland natural communities along the islands and banks of the river. These natural communities are not only rare in the state, they also house populations of rare plants, such as blue false-indigo (Baptisia australis).
(Photo:Charlie Eichelberger, PNHP)
blue false indigo
Rare plants like the blue false-indigo (Baptisia australis are found along the upper Allegheny River..
(Photo:Charlie Eichelberger, PNHP)

mountain earth snake
The mountain earth snake (Virginia pulchra) is a rare and secretive species. Considered a "responsibility species", the mountain earth snake is only found in four states, with Pennsylvania containing approximately 80% of the global range.
(Photo:Charlie Eichelberger, PNHP)

Massasauga snake
One of the last places in Pa. where the globally vulnerable, state endangered eastern Massasauga still roams is Venango County. Decades of habitat loss and degradation of waterways and wetlands have caused the decline of this venomous, yet docile reptile.
(Photo:Charlie Eichelberger, PNHP)

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