Northeast Region News Releases
||For Immediate Release
Spruce Plantings On Game Lands To Help Northern Flying Squirrel
State endangered mammal requires old-growth conifers for food and shelter
Scattered remnants of a diminishing boreal forest are the last footholds for the state-endangered northern flying squirrel in northeastern Pennsylvania. The diminutive nocturnal rodent, with its disproportionately large eyes and unique ability to glide through the air, is in trouble. Forest fragmentation, the loss of trees necessary for food and shelter, and competition with a close cousin have kept this species precariously clinging to survival in the commonwealth. But help may be on the way in the form of a habitat-improvement project taking shape on state game lands in the Poconos.
Similar but different
Pennsylvania is home to two species of flying squirrels. Both weigh less than 3 ounces, are 8 to 10 inches long including the tail, and appear identical. The southern flying squirrel (SFS) and northern flying squirrel (NFS) are brown on the back – the northern sporting a slightly reddish tint. The key differentiating physical characteristic is the SFS has belly hairs that are all white, while the NFS has belly hairs that are whitish at the tip, but grayish at the base. The SFS is a habitat generalist found in hardwood forests throughout the state where it eats a steady diet of nuts, seeds and insects. In contrast, the NFS is a habitat specialist that requires unbroken stands of coniferous forests for survival. An ongoing study in Pennsylvania initiated in 2001 found the NFS only in the Pocono region and at isolated sites in Warren and Potter counties. While the NFS’s diet is somewhat varied, it is partial to consuming lichens and underground fungi found in hemlock/spruce forests. The specific habitat requirements of the NFS made this species especially vulnerable to population declines.
Northern flying squirrels are most active during the evening hours and their large eyes are an adaptation for nocturnal activity. Flying squirrels have skin flaps that extend between the wrists and ankles, and tails that are flattened top to bottom and used for steering when gliding from tree to tree. Northern flying squirrels travel principally by gliding (traveling an average distance of 65 feet) and take short jumps while on the ground. Tree cavities provide the best nest sites and one litter of young is produced in mid- to late May, with an average litter size of two. The young squirrels are fully weaned and ready for “test flights” at about three months. Pennsylvania’s flying squirrels are active year-round and they may cluster together in cold weather to keep warm. Predators include owls, hawks, bobcats, raccoons and snakes.
Factors influencing the northern flying squirrels decline in Pennsylvania include:
- Mass clearcutting and wildfires that removed conifer trees, especially eastern hemlock and red spruce, from the landscape in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- Loss of older conifer stands to development across the NFS range.
- The recent declining health of hemlock forest stands caused by hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA).
- Competition with the SFS in marginal habitat. Research suggests that the SFS may carry and transmit an intestinal parasite lethal to the NFS.
The NFS-fungus connection
The primary food source of the NFS is the fruiting body (truffle) of an underground fungus that grows on the roots of conifer trees. Hemlock and spruce trees depend on the fungi for efficient water uptake and the fungi rely on their tree hosts as a source of carbohydrates. Maintaining this three-component beneficial relationship was a key consideration when Game Commission foresters and biologists developed a plan to improve habitat conditions for the NFS.
State Game Lands 149
State Game Lands (SGL) 149 encompasses approximately 1,991 acres within the Pocono Plateau region in Foster Township, Luzerne County. The game lands has documented populations of NFS along the hemlock-dominated Sandy Run stream corridor and adjoining uplands that provide the habitat necessary for this species to exist.
The SGL 149 Management Plan identified the need to maintain and expand the game lands’ existing boreal forest component to support NFS populations. In 2011, Northeast Region foresters, mammal biologists, and region biologists delineated existing core NFS habitat along Sandy Run. A 300-foot buffer zone was then designated around the core habitat to meet NFS foraging needs, bringing the total project area to 650 acres
The ideal tree
While red spruce is scattered throughout SGL 149, it is not present in great numbers or found forming established stands. Red spruce can act as a “surrogate” tree species for birds and mammals that depend on eastern hemlock. Red spruce is immune to HWA and is shade tolerant. Seedlings planted under a hemlock understory can persist over 40 years, awaiting to be “released” with additional amounts of sunlight. When Game Commission biologists conduct NFS studies, most of the squirrels are captured within 50 feet of a red spruce. The continuing destruction of Pennsylvania’s hemlocks caused by HWA made this tree the perfect choice to plant and improve NFS habitat.
Planting with a purpose
Planting red spruce trees to improve NFS habitat on SGL 149 was initiated by Game Commission personnel before the ravages of HWA affected hemlock stands along Sandy Run. But the anticipated spread of the disease to this game lands was at the forefront of habitat-improvement planning.
Red spruce seedlings were raised at the Game Commission’s Howard Nursery from seed-producing cones collected at isolated stand locations in northeastern Pennsylvania. Over 2,000 bare-root trees were introduced into the soil by agency foresters, biologists, and habitat-improvement personnel in the spring of 2011. Many were planted directly under the core NFS habitat hemlock canopy. Foresters reasoned that the inevitable thinning of the hemlock branches would result in increased sunlight reaching the red spruce seedlings below – and allow them to reach for the sky. Other seedlings were planted in “canopy gaps” within the surrounding buffer zone with the hopes of extending the core area along Sandy Run to nearby conifer stands.
Game Commission Northeast Region forester Zach Wismer recently made a site visit to evaluate the project area. He discovered that seedlings from the 2011 plantings are well established and persisting in areas with full conifer shade – although they show no noticeable growth.
“This speaks to their extreme shade tolerance and low palatability to white-tailed deer,” said Wismer. As predicted, HWA is now present in the Sandy Run drainage and affecting mature hemlock in the core NFS habitat. Thinning of hemlock crowns is beginning and the increased sunlight will soon facilitate spruce tree growth. Most seedlings planted in canopy gaps receiving partial sunlight have grown to over 3 feet and they may indeed help realize the goal of extending NFS habitat to nearby conifer stands. Similar NFS habitat improvement projects were initiated by the Game Commission on state game lands in Carbon and Monroe counties in 2012.
Where are they?
Game Commission biologists gather information on NFS populations while providing squirrels with a place for raising their young by installing and monitoring nesting boxes in and around known NFS habitat. These artificial tree cavities decrease the risk of predation and increase juvenile survival rate. A network of over 750 boxes are in place at historic and potential NFS sites. Through the use of nesting boxes, biologists have verified new populations and confirmed several more historic ones.
“The rare Northern flying squirrel is a fascinating member of Pennsylvania’s wildlife community that is rarely observed in a natural state,” said Wismer. “We are working hard to keep it thriving here in Pennsylvania.” This living relic of the northern forests may have been given the opportunity to continue gliding in our woodlands through the dedicated work of Game Commission personnel who looked to the future – and planted a few thousand trees.
||For Immediate Release
Game Lands Snowmobile Trail To Be Plowed
Riders on State Game Lands 12 may encounter poor trail conditions
Snowmobile enthusiasts looking to ride on the CCC Road snowmobile trail on State Game Lands 12 in Bradford County may experience poor trail conditions.
Land Management Group Supervisor Phil Kasper reports that Marcellus gas drilling activity continues on the northern tier portion of SGL 12 and that large portions of the trail will be plowed in order to allow vehicle access.
“Plowing and cindering of the road to maintain safe driving conditions for gas operations personnel will negatively affect trail conditions,” said Kasper. “Unfortunately, this means that the road will likely not be suitable for snowmobile riding for the duration of the winter months.”
||For Immediate Release
Three Monroe County Juveniles Cited For Poaching Multiple Deer
Investigation leads to seven deer unlawfully killed or possessed
DALLAS – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials today announced that charges were filed against three Monroe County juveniles for the unlawful killing or possession of seven white-tailed deer and other game law violations.
Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Larry McDaniel approached a vehicle occupied by one individual from Sciota, and another from Stroudsburg, in the early morning hours of Nov. 22 at a gas station in Chestnut Hill Township. The officer observed two freshly killed antlerless deer in the bed of the pickup truck and a discovered a rifle and a loaded shotgun in the vehicle.
Carbon County Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer Cory Bentzoni responded to the scene and determined that both deer were killed outside of the regular firearms deer season, and through the use of a light, near Featherman Road, Hamilton Township. A third deer, killed in the same manner, was left in a field near the Glenbrook golf course in Stroud Township.
Interviews with the suspects led Game Commission officers to a third juvenile from Gilbert that is also accused of participating in the killing of the three antlerless deer. Four antlered deer, in various stages of decomposition, were found at his residence and determined to have been unlawfully possessed.
Charges against all three include one count each of the unlawful killing or taking of big game, loaded firearms in a vehicle, and the unlawful use of lights while hunting. The suspects face fines up to $2,000 and may be sentenced to imprisonment for up to three months for these charges. The juvenile charged with unlawfully possessing four antlered deer faces additional fines of up to $3,200.
Charges were filed at the offices of Magisterial District Judge Daniel Higgins, Stroudsburg, and Magisterial District Judge Colleen Mancuso, Brodheadsville. In addition to fines and court costs, all face revocation of Pennsylvania hunting license privileges for several years.
“These young men made an unfortunate decision to kill game illegally and unethically,” said Bentzoni. “They now face consequences for their actions.”
||For Immediate Release
McCarthy New Area Game Commission Land Manager
James McCarthy, of Hallstead, Susquehanna County, recently accepted the position of Pennsylvania Game Commission Land Management Group Supervisor for Wayne and Pike counties.
McCarthy is a 2002 graduate of the 26th class of wildlife conservation officers from the Game Commission’s Ross Leffler School of Conservation and served as the district wildlife conservation officer in southern Wayne County since 2003
He is responsible for the development, management, and maintenance of wildlife habitat totaling over 47,512 acres on state game lands and supervises two Game Commission Wildlife Habitat Management crews that conduct projects on state game lands and Hunter Access properties
McCarthy is a 1987 graduate of Blue Ridge High School, Susquehanna County, and served in the U.S. Air Force from 1988-1992.
“Officer McCarthy performed his duties as the district wildlife conservation officer in Wayne County with pride and professionalism,” said Game Commission Northeast Region Director Daniel Figured. “He will be a great asset in overseeing land-management activities in Wayne and Pike counties.
||For Immediate Release
Game Commission Protecting Bat Winter Habitat
Adandoned coal mines in northern Pennsylvania critical to bat survival
While few people think of a cold, dark, and wet cave as animal “habitat”, that is exactly what it is for many of Pennsylvania’s bats – at least for about half of the year. Six of Pennsylvania’s nine bat species enter natural or manmade caves each winter when their food supply of insects disappears. It is here these bats seek out a location with a constant temperature below 50 degrees, hang upside down by their thumbs, and reduce their metabolic rate. Heart rate and breathing slows, body temperature drops, and signs of life become hard to discern. They will not stir again until the weather warms come springtime – when aerial insects and the bats themselves, once again take flight.
Pennsylvania cave-bat species include the little brown, big brown, northern long-eared, small-footed, tri-colored and Indiana bat. The Indiana bat is a federal and state listed endangered species and considered a “priority species” in the Game Commission’s wildlife action plan. Tree bats include the red, hoary, and silver-haired bat. These species in the winter months migrate south, where warmer weather and abundant insects remain available.
Abandoned Coal Mines Harbor Life
The 1762 discovery of anthracite coal near the town of Pittston, Luzerne County, initiated a series of events that would drastically change the landscape of northeastern Pennsylvania. The population of the anthracite “coal region” grew rapidly after the Civil War, as immigrants from Russia, Poland, Italy, Wales, Ireland, Lithuania, and other countries poured into the area to supply an ethnically diverse labor force. The anthracite mining industry loomed over the region until its dramatic decline in 1950s, leaving behind miles of abandoned mine shafts and other underground spaces that made ideal winter hibernacula for bats. Slope-type mine shafts provide the vast majority of winter habitat for cave-bats in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania cave-bats have been sharing their winter quarters for nearly a decade with an unwanted guest in the form of a cold-loving fungus that has been decimating their populations.
White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) was first documented in New York in the winter of 2006-07 and is believed to have surfaced in Pennsylvania in 2008. Evidence suggests the fungus originated in Europe, where bats are immune to the disease, and probably spread to North America through human activity such as spelunking.
WNS affects all of Pennsylvania’s cave-bat species and refers to a white fungus that accumulates on the muzzles and wing membranes of affected bats. The fungus, called Pseudogymnoascus destructans, causes bats to arouse from hibernation too frequently, causing a severe depletion of fat reserves needed to survive the winter. Unusual behavior exhibited by affected bats include bats flying outside during the day in temperatures below freezing and clustering near the entrances to hibernacula. Dead or dying bats are often found on the ground near a cave or mine entrance.
Pennsylvania Game Commission diversity biologists conduct a variety of surveys throughout the year to monitor bat population trends and identify habitats in need of protection.
Caves and mines are visited each winter to count bats and document species. Winter-hibernacula surveys are conducted under a strict operational protocol that minimizes bat disturbance and prevents cross-contamination of other hibernation sites.
Bats are trapped and tagged using mist nets during spring emergence and fall swarming to identify emergence times and migration habits
Game Commission staff and the public participate in the annual Appalachian Bat Count to monitor summer maternal colonies in bat boxes, barns, and other dwellings.
More recently, agency biologists also conduct acoustic transect surveys to record bat calls along established 20-mile survey routes.
Bat Numbers Plummet
Most hibernacula sites in Pennsylvania have been affected by the fungus that causes WNS and the percent of bat mortality likely differs by site and by species.
Little brown bats have been the species hit hardest with nearly 100 percent mortality documented since the onset of WNS in the Commonwealth. The endangered Indiana bat continues to suffer devastating losses and other state cave-bat species experienced serious declines also.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission, other state wildlife agencies, and a coalition of cooperating research institutions identified the treatment and control of WNS as one of their highest priorities.
Protecting Bat Winter Habitat
When many of the coal mines were closing, pillars of coal-supporting mine ceilings were systematically pulled or “robbed” to extract as much coal as possible as miners made their way back to the shaft opening.
This practice resulted in highly unstable and unsafe underground spaces.
Many shaft openings were blasted shut for public safety, but others remained open, attracting both bats and humans. Efforts to protect natural cave and abandoned coal mine openings in the northeastern Pennsylvania have been underway for decades but the importance of protecting hibernating bats has become more critical since the advent of WNS.
Nearly 30 cave and mine openings have been gated in the Game Commission’s Northeast Region to date to protect bats and the public.
Protecting Hibernating Bats on State Game Lands
An abandoned railroad tunnel close to Interstate 81 on state game lands in southern Luzerne County historically held four different species of bats, all in low numbers.
The large opening at the mouth of the tunnel was allowing cold air to escape, preventing the interior space from maintaining the optimal temperature range for hibernating bats.
The Game Commission developed a plan to improve habitat conditions in the tunnel, allow access for bats, and prevent disturbance by people. A gate was installed at the entrance to the tunnel and an earthen embankment was positioned in front of the entrance to help maintain an ideal temperature range within the mine. Compensatory funding provided to offset habitat losses due to development elsewhere was used to improve and protect this hibernaculum. The project was completed in the summer of 2017.
One of the oldest coal mines in the Game Commission’s Northeast Region is located on State Game Lands 57 atop Bartlett Mountain in Forkston Township, Wyoming County. An article from the Wyoming Democrat printed in August 1871, described the coal there as being of marginal quality, and the surrounding area as “offering lovely points of view of the wild valley below.”
Game Commission staff coordinated with personnel from the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation to provide oversight and funding for the construction of a gate at this site. The project was completed in summer 2017 and improvements to nearby Coal Mine Road enhanced hunter access in this area.
Several years ago, Game Commission staff discovered approximately 12 historic mine openings in a remote portion of State Game Lands 36 in Bradford County. The coal industry peaked here in the 1880s, and by the 1890s, local industry transitioned to support the growing lumber boom. Agency wildlife biologists conducted winter hibernacula surveys in early 2016 and found bats actively using three of these mines. The three active mine openings were gated to protect these sites.
Where there is life…
PGC Northeast Region Wildlife Management Supervisor Kevin Wenner is hopeful that cave-bat populations in northeastern Pennsylvania can recover from the devastating effects of WNS. “Despite the losses cave-bat populations have experienced as a result of White Nose Syndrome, small numbers of these species are persisting almost 10 years after the introduction of this devastating disease,” Wenner said. “Hope exists that remaining bat populations will build a resistance or develop ways to combat this deadly fungus.”
In the meantime, the Game Commission’s Northeast Region will continue efforts to improve, protect and preserve the critical habitat these bats species rely on so that their populations can exist for years to come.
||For Immediate Release
Game Commission To Host Bradford County Game Lands Tour
Agency maintenance crews scramble to make popular event possible
Pennsylvania Game Commission Northeast Region Director Daniel Figured announced the Northeast Region will host a tour of State Game Lands 12 in Bradford County on Sunday, Oct. 15 from 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. This tour will highlight habitat enhancements, infrastructure improvements, and hunting opportunities.
“There was a tremendous effort by our wildlife habitat crews and contracted workers in repairing a flood-damaged game lands road along the Schrader Creek to make this tour possible and keep the road accessible to disabled hunters,” said Figured.
The tour will showcase what Game Commission wildlife habitat crews, as well as dedicated volunteers from several conservation organizations, have accomplished on public land.
The 28-mile, self-guided, circular driving tour through State Game Lands 12 will take about two hours to complete. State Game Lands 12 consists of nearly 24,480 acres in Bradford County. The route will start at the game lands parking lot on top of Wheelerville Mountain on state Route 154, just south of Canton. Vehicles with good ground clearance are recommended.
The route travels east to the Barclay Cemetery, then down the hill to Laquin before turning west onto the railroad grade to Wheelerville. The tour ends at the intersection with state Route 154 in Wheelerville. From there, those on the tour can travel north on state Route 154 to Canton, or south to Shunk in Sullivan County. The tour goes by Sunfish Pond County Park so a picnic lunch may be the order of the day!
Those taking the tour will find the local history of the mountain and the Game Commission’s refuge system intriguing. A pocket guide with historical information and photographs will be provided to each vehicle at the start of the tour.
The tour is free and open to the public.
||For Immediate Release
Game Commission To Host Game Lands Wildlife Habitat Tours
Pennsylvania Game Commission Northeast Region Director Daniel Figured announced the Northeast Region will host two state game lands wildlife habitat vehicular tours to highlight habitat enhancements, infrastructure improvements and hunting opportunities.
“These tours showcase what Game Commission food and cover crews, as well as volunteers from several conservation organizations, have accomplished for wildlife on public land,” said Figured. “The habitat improvements have immediate and long-term benefits for both game and nongame species, particularly where the forest canopy hinders understory growth and invasive plants choke out native plants.”
All tours are free and open to the public.
Carbon County: Sunday, Oct. 1, on State Game Lands 141, which is nearly 17,048 acres. Registration will be held from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the large parking lot along state Route 93 on State Game Lands 141, Nesquehoning Township. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for this 9-mile, self-guided driving tour. The tour will begin at the large parking area on the east side state Route 93 and travels east on a game lands road toward the Lehigh Gorge State Park, and back to state Route 93, exiting at the parking lot across from the game lands shooting range. The tour will pass habitat-improvement projects completed by the game lands food and cover crew stationed in Carbon County, along with help from the National Wild Turkey Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Ruffed Grouse Society. Game Commission personnel will be on hand to explain various points of interest, including wildlife habitat improvement projects.
Directions: Take state Route 93 north from state Route 209 and proceed 3.5 miles and turn right into the parking lot. Proceed through the gate on a dirt road. Each vehicle will be provided a map and brief explanation of wildlife and habitat management programs being carried out on this magnificent tract of public hunting land.
Luzerne and Wyoming counties: Sunday, Oct. 8, State Game Lands 57, which is nearly 44,600 acres. Registration to be held from 7:30 a.m. until noon at the headquarters on State Game Lands 57, Ricketts Station, Forkston Township, Wyoming County. Game Commission personnel will be on hand to explain various points of interest, including wildlife habitat-improvement projects. Four-wheel-drive vehicles with high clearance are required for this 30-mile, self-guided driving tour. The tour will pass habitat-improvement projects completed by the State Game Lands 57 food and cover crew with help from the National Wild Turkey Federation, Whitetails Unlimited, and Ducks Unlimited. Representatives from the Game Commission and conservation organizations will be on hand to explain the projects and answer questions.
Directions: Take state Route 487 north from state Route 118 and proceed 7.5 miles. Turn right onto the dirt road near the game lands sign on the right. Travel 0.1 miles to “Y” intersection and proceed 0.3 miles to the headquarters complex. Each vehicle will be provided with a map and brief explanation of wildlife habitat management programs being carried out on this magnificent tract of public hunting land.
Bradford County: The status of a state game lands wildlife habitat tour being conducted on State Game Lands 12 in Bradford County is pending due to extensive road damage caused by flooding. The Northeast Region of the PA Game Commission will issue a future press release if a tour on State Game Lands 12 can be held this year and provide additional information.
PGC Photo: Buck in food plot
||For Immediate Release
Game Commission Partners with Delta Waterfowl to Improve Waterfowl Habitat
Project on State Game Lands 239 to benefit ducks and geese
The day was hot, humid and downright uncomfortable. However, the searing heat did not deter Pennsylvania Game Commission employees and volunteer members of the North Branch Susquehanna Chapter of Delta Waterfowl from recently planting over 50 pounds of browntop millet along the banks of two waterfowl impoundments on State Game Lands 239 in Athens Township, Bradford County.
The cooperative effort will create additional food for several waterfowl species during their fall migrations. Browntop millet was chosen because it matures quickly, tolerates flooding, and produces a large quantities of hardy, nutritious seedheads.
The Game Commission manipulates impoundment water levels to provide optimal planting conditions and the timing of the SGL 239 project took place when its ponds were going through a drawdown. Drawdowns reduce the volume of water in impoundments and provide seed with the most favorable conditions for germination and growth.
“In some years, there is not a great response from the wetland-plant community, so we supplement the existing growth with additional plantings,” explained Game Commission Land Management Group Supervisor Phil Kasper. “Supplemental plantings also benefit fish and amphibians by providing broader vegetative diversity once the water level is brought back to full pool.”
In addition to planting food for ducks and geese, Delta Waterfowl volunteers checked wood-duck boxes for nesting success and picked up litter around the ponds.
“The Game Commission would like to thank the members of Delta Waterfowl and their families for taking part in this valuable project,” said Kasper. “Wildlife always wins when volunteers step up to make a difference.”
PGC Photo: Dillon Holmes spreading millet seed on SGL 239.
||For Immediate Release
NE Game Commission Office Open Saturday, July 8
Pennsylvania Game Commission Northeast Region Director Daniel Figured announces the Northeast Region Office will be open from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 8, to accommodate persons wishing to purchase a hunting license.
“There is an annual rush to purchase general hunting licenses just prior to the initial sale of antlerless deer licenses,” Figured said. “We try to accommodate the increase in demand by offering additional office hours for license sales.”
On Monday, July 10, county treasurers will begin accepting antlerless license applications by mail from residents only, one per person, statewide.
Normal business hours of the Game Commission Northeast Region Office are from 7:30 a.m. to
4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The office is located at 3917 Memorial Highway in Dallas. The office phone number is (570) 675-1143.
||For Immediate Release
Long Pond Barrens Project Showcase VPA-HIP
Cooperative program benefits wildlife and hunters through controlled burns
Background – Unique habitat in Northeastern Pennsylvania
The Pocono mesic till barrens are a unique group of fire-maintained shrub communities that support a variety of wild birds, mammals, and rare plants. One of the state’s largest mesic till barrens can be found in an area of the Pocono Plateau near Long Pond, stretching across portions of State Game Lands 38, State Game Lands 129, Bethlehem Water Authority property, and The Nature Conservancy Long Pond Preserve, in Monroe County.
The landscape, known collectively as the Long Pond Barrens, is dominated by scrub oak, pitch pine, and blueberry, interspersed with swamps, bogs, marshes, boreal forests, and grasslands. The area is home to a diversity of wildlife including deer, bears, turkeys, ruffed grouse, snowshoe hares, whip-poor-wills, golden-winged warblers, and timber rattlesnakes.
History – Fire is vital to barrens survival
The specialized ecology of scrub oak barrens was maintained for thousands of years by lightning-induced and native-set fires that promoted blueberry production and oak regeneration. Statewide suppression instituted in the 1960s ended fire’s influence on barrens habitats and trees that were minor components in healthy barrens began expanding and changing habitat structure from an early successional to a closed canopy forest.
Scrub oak barrens depend on frequent disturbance (especially fire) to maintain their unique habitat structure. This oak is adapted to fire and requires disturbance to remove other plant species so that it can receive sunlight. It sprouts prolifically after fire burns away its above-ground parts.
Management of barrens habitat in Pennsylvania involves restoration of the oak component and maintenance of early successional habitat through the use of controlled burns that restore wildlife populations dependent on this habitat type. The use of controlled burning has been the primary management tool for barrens habitat in Pennsylvania since 2007.
Wildlife – Scrub oak communities provide essential requirements
The scrub oak (also called bear oak) is a small shrubby tree native to the eastern United States, from Maine to North Carolina. It provides food and shelter for many animal species. White-tailed deer eat the acorns, stems, and foliage. Bears feed heavily on the acorns, especially when preparing for hibernation. Wild turkeys prefer scrub-oak acorns over other types of available food. Insectivorous birds such as golden-wing warblers rely on insect species that live on the tree.
VPA-HIP – Funding aims at benefiting wildlife and hunters
Both the Bethlehem Water Authority (BWA) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) partnered with the Game Commission in the Volunteer Public Access and Habitat Improvement Program (VPA-HIP).
Through a competitive grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, the VPA-HIP program helps state agencies increase public access to private lands for wildlife-dependent recreation such as hunting.
VPA-HIP has helped the Game Commission’s Northeast Region increase public access and improve wildlife habitat on over 9,000 acres of private land owned by BWA and TNC in Tunkhannock and Tobyhanna Townships, Monroe County.
Enrollment – Private lands become open to the public and habitat work begins.
The Bethlehem Water Authority enrolled its Tunkhannock Property of 8,588 acres into the VPA-HIP program in 2003. In 2011, the BWA agreed to landscape-level prescribed burning in an effort to restore almost 2,000 acres of barrens habitat. This property is bordered to the east and southeast by State Game Lands 38.
The Nature Conservancy enrolled its 1,070-acre Long Pond Preserve complex into the Game Commission’s public access program in 2007. Recently, TNC has taken advantage of the habitat-improvement opportunities for preservation of the mesic till barrens, which harbor rare butterflies, moths and birds that are declining throughout most of Pennsylvania. The Long Pond Preserve borders State Game Lands 129, State Game Lands 38 and Bethlehem Water Authority.
By the Numbers - Long Pond Barrens acreage treated.
2007 188 acres burned on TNC Long Pond Preserve
2009 42 acres burned on SGL 38
2012 474 acres burned on BWA
2013 596 acres burned on BWA and SGL 38
2014 368 acres burned on BWA and SGL 38
2015 20 acres burned on TNC Long Pond Preserve
2017 Planting of 13 acres of native warm season grasses on BWA. Additional acreage on TNC Long Pond Preserve is planned to be treated with controlled burns in fall 2017.
State Game Lands – Adjacent state game lands treated with fire.
State Game Lands 38 is located between Big Pocono State Park, Bethlehem Water Authority lands, and portions of TNC’s Long Pond Preserve. In 2009, the Game Commission began managing scrub oak and pitch pine barrens habitats on State Game Lands 38 through controlled burns using Pittman-Robertson funding. In 2018 and beyond, additional restoration work using controlled burns will continue.
Cooperation Wins - Benefits for wildlife and hunters
VPA-HIP funds and cooperation between the Game Commission and private partners have been keys to success for this valuable project. Without envisioning a “landscape-scale” preservation effort, the Long Pond Barrens would have slowly reverted into a more typical closed canopy forest, and the populations of many wildlife species would likely become diminished or extirpated in this area. Three separate organizations working in concert toward a common goal is helping preserve this unique wildlife habitat while keeping these lands open to public hunting. The use of VPA-HIP funding has, and will continue to be, instrumental for its ongoing success.
||For Immediate Release
Game Commission Conducts Controlled Burns For Wildlife
Pennsylvania Game Commission Northeast Region Director Daniel Figured announces more than 4,000 acres of state game lands in the region are scheduled to be treated using controlled burns in 2017. Controlled burning is a habitat enhancement tool that can be used effectively to promote healthy forests, oak regeneration, and grass lands.
Fire helps to promote oak forest regeneration by reducing competition from less desirable tree species (such as black birch and red maple) through a controlled and slow-moving fire. After fire moves through an area, more fire-tolerant oak trees and seedlings remain and become the dominant species as the forest grows. Oak acorns benefit a variety of wildlife because of their high nutritional value and are sought after as a fall food source by a variety of birds and mammals as they prepare for winter.
“Controlled burn operations are scheduled to be conducted on over 20 different game lands, located in ten counties of the Northeast Region this year. The Game Commission has been using controlled burns to improve wildlife habitat since 2008, with outstanding results,” said Figured.
Throughout controlled burn operations, safety is the primary consideration from planning through implementation. The entire operation is overseen by a “Burn Boss,” who develops a detailed plan required to be approved by the Game Commission and other agencies. Timing of the burn is weather dependent and takes into account the amount of moisture both in the ground and the growing vegetation. Access to the burn site is restricted to only highly trained fire personnel and all necessary local fire and emergency personnel are notified in advance.
In the weeks prior to a burn, fire breaks are established or maintained around the entire area. Just prior to initiating burn operations, a small and easily extinguished “test fire” burn is conducted to check fire behavior and smoke-dispersal patterns. If the Burn Boss approves the fire to proceed, an experienced crew made up of personnel from the Game Commission and other natural-resources agencies uses a regimented process to burn the site.
Work crews are assigned to various jobs including interior ignition, wind and temperature monitoring, and perimeter containment using specialized Utility Task Vehicles, water packs, and a variety of hand tools. As the fire begins to burn out, areas with flames near the perimeter are extinguished and those on the interior allowed to burn out gradually. The entire area is then closely monitored over the next few days.
State game lands in the Northeast Region, and the acreage scheduled to receive controlled burn treatment, include SGL 40 (Carbon, 194); SGL 141 (Carbon, 805); SGL 226 (Columbia, 50); SGL 165 (Northumberland, 624); SGL 84 (Northumberland, 861); SGL 91 (Luzerne, 1,028); SGL 13 (Sullivan, 402); SGL 180 (Pike, 793); SGL 183 (Pike, 338); SGL 300 (Lackawanna, 247); SGL 292 (Luzerne, 157); SGL 172 (Bradford, 12); SGL 36 (Bradford, 979); SGL 123 (Bradford, 202), and SGL 70 (Susquehanna, 45).
Additionally, the Game Commission will assist landowners in conducting controlled burns on public access properties within the northeast region.
“Controlled burn operations were initiated in March and will continue through late fall,” Figured explained. “Keep in mind that areas treated with prescribed fire will not be a pretty sight initially, however, these operations will ultimately result in areas with excellent habitat that is beneficial to wildlife.”