Study says Franklin County has bounty of natural habitat

May 27, 2004|by RICHARD BELISLE

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County is loaded with rare species of plant, bird and animal life, an ecologist with the Nature Conservancy said Wednesday.

William "Rocky" Gleason, Frederick Sechler and Trina Morris from the conservancy's Middletown, Pa., office gave a slide presentation on the findings of their two-year study to identify Franklin County's best natural environments.

The study was funded by the Wild Resource Conservation fund, the Alexander Stewart M.D. Foundation and Franklin County, Gleason said.

About 20 people attended the presentation in the Courthouse Annex on North Second Street.

Conservancy scientists conducted a systematic countywide inventory of old growth forests, undisturbed wetlands, bird rookeries and other habitats harboring rare animal, bird and plant species.


The study covered the important parts of the county, Gleason said.

"We hit the hot spots, an inventory of the best natural areas," he said.

The 150-page report includes photos and maps. It will be given to the Franklin County Planning Commission. Gleason said he wants the commission to give copies to the townships.

He said township officials, planners and developers can use the information to avoid development in sensitive natural areas.

Franklin County is home to many rare species of plant, bird and animal life, some of which cannot be found or are rarely found in other parts of the state, the scientists said. Many species found in the county are more common in the Midwest, he said.

Buffers around sensitive areas are needed to protect them, Sechler said during his part of the presentation.

Singled out as especially important natural areas in the county were the Williamson area, Happel's Meadow, Licking Creek, Tuscarora Ridge, Michaux State Forest and Caledonia State Park, among others, the scientists said.

Examples of plant species found mainly in Franklin County in Pennsylvania are the Hairy Wild Petunia and Limestone Adder-Tongue Fern, Sechler said.

The Conococheague Creek flood plain is peppered with species of concern among environmentalists, species like Spreading Rock Cress "which is critically impacted," Sechler said. "Creek flood plains need to be buffered," he said.

Many of the rare species highlighted in the presentation were found along the Pennsylvania-Maryland state line in southern Franklin County, Sechler said.

Morris' topic was animal life. She covered reptiles from turtles to timber rattlesnakes to invertebrates to small animals such as the Allegheny Wood Rat, which she said is disappearing from the area.

Gleason said the scientists found far fewer fresh water mussels in area streams and waterways than they expected. He said it could be an indication of a water quality problem in the county.

"There's no other reason," he said.

The answer lies in educating the population on the importance of protecting habitat, Gleason said. He also said grass-roots movements are among the most effective way to protect the environment.

He said land is being taken up by development in Pennsylvania at the rate of 350 acres a day.

"Pennsylvania's landscape is changing overnight. The forest habitat is being eaten up very fast," he said.

He suggested that new development should be targeted where old developments are no longer in use or are little used, such as malls and shopping centers with a majority of empty store fronts.

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