"Biodiversity is the full array of life on earth, from genetic variability to the number and abundance of species, communities and natural systems."
This issue, Keystone Wild!Notes takes a look at the state of biodiversity in Pennsylvania, through the eyes of five top conservation professionals. We asked them: "What are the most pressing issues facing Pennsylvania’s biodiversity?" You’ll meet Sally Just, Director of the Office of Conservation Science for the Pa. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources; Dan Brauning, Wildlife Diversity Coordinator for the Pa. Game Commission; Tim Schaeffer, Director of the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Communications for the Pa. Fish and Boat Commission; Charles Bier, Senior Director for Conservation Science, at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy; and Nels Johnson, Director of Conservation Programs for The Nature Conservancy, Pa. Chapter.
That is the question Keystone Wild!Notes posed to five of Pennsylvania’s top conservation professionals. What did these folks, whose education, career and personal interests keep them on the forefront of knowledge and action concerning biodiversity in the state, have to say? Read on and you’ll find common themes, as well as surprises.
A major concern of mine is how removed the average person is from the natural world. The majority of people are unaware of how dependent they are on our natural resources for their economic, social, emotional and physical well-being. We need to become educated and take personal responsibility for our actions and live more in balance with natural resources. We cannot continue to withdraw from them more than we contribute and conserve. Until this is understood, commitment of dollars for scientific research and conservation restoration work will fall to the bottom of the list.
The past 50 years have brought the greatest and most rapid changes to ecosystems in human history. Changing land use patterns is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity. While Pennsylvania’s population growth has been stagnant, we have been spreading out and developing previously open space at a rapid rate. This pattern of unplanned growth not only destroys habitats, but also fragments and isolates populations of species, putting them at greater risk. The Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program inventories and manages information on Pennsylvania’s special natural resources. This information is used in the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) environmental review system to minimize impacts to species of concern. More financing would help provide information to support conservation planning to avoid/minimize impacts to important habitats and migration corridors and target dollars for the greatest conservation impact.
Climate change will have the greatest long-term impact on bio-diversity. While some changes are already evident, little is known about exact impacts and what long-term and specific efforts should be undertaken to respond to these changes to conserve habitats and biodiversity. Climate change will greatly change the landscape and associated species in Pennsylvania. North America could see 40 to 70 percent of species being significantly impacted within 50 years.
Climate change has a dramatic impact on the problem of nonnative invasive species. Active land management is necessary to control invasives, in order to conserve habitats. Invasives crowd out native species, often changing soil chemistry and precluding restoration of the natives. Invasives do not provide the quality and nutrition needs of native species. Invasive diseases and insects can devastate tree species populations in a short time. A chain reaction occurs as wildlife lose key species they depend on.
Recently, an increase in energy projects and transmission infrastructure have been impacting habitats. This brings us full circle to understanding that people are part of the natural world and require thriving natural resources for our well-being. In order to remain prosperous, we need to plan wisely. So get outside, take a hike and get to know the natural world that nurtures us!
DCNR website: www.dcnr.state.pa.us.