Help available for conservation projects

There is help available for land owners in Warren County looking for dollars for conservation projects.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is accepting applications for its Sustaining Pennsylvania’s Oak Ecosystems through Partnership in Forest Management program.

Non-industrial forest land owners in north-central Pennsylvania, including Warren and 14 other counties, may apply for financial assistance for “conservation practices that enhance forest ecosystems.”

NRCS has $350,000 available that it plans to use to reimburse portions of qualified projects, according to NRCS District Conservationist Laura Ayers.

“A contract is written and signed that outlines the practices to be completed, the payment rate per practice, and a schedule for implementation,” Ayers said. “The payments are based on a flat rate, and are not expected to cover the full cost.”

The applicant does not have to accept the terms of the contract. “The payment rates will be made available to applicants before a contract is finalized, so they can decide if it is worthwhile to continue with a contract,” Ayers said.

“The first step in the process would be developing a forest management plan,” she said. “This would be done in cooperation with the local NRCS office, the landowner and a consulting forester.”

The forester would visit the land owner and walk the property before developing a management plan and a list of recommendations. The plan and recommendations would be based on the forest needs and the land owner’s goals.

“This project is largely geared at a goal of improving the health and resiliency of oak ecosystems on private lands within North Central Pennsylvania,” NRCS State Forester Peter Hoagland said. “Conservation practices will be implemented that will help non-industrial private forest landowners achieve this goal by addressing resource concerns within oak ecosystems. Practices will range from tree planting, regeneration area protection, invasive and noxious plant species control, and competing vegetation control.”

“The project will also assist non industrial private landowners with the development of forest management plans through NRCS contracts,” Hoagland said. “Forest management plans are written by technical service providers who are consulting foresters.”

“Once a landowner has a forest management plan, they are eligible to apply for funding to implement the recommendations outlined in the plan,” Ayers said. “Potential conservation best management practices in a forest management plan could include, but are not limited to, brush management, timber stand improvement, tree planting, early successional habitat management, pollinator habitat, and stream crossings.”

“After a contract is signed, and agreed-to items — forest management plan written, trees planted, stream crossing constructed — are completed and certified as meeting our standards, a payment will be issued to the landowner,” she said. “Signing a contract does not open land up for public access, either to NRCS employees or the general public. There is no reason that an NRCS employee should be on private property without an invitation or requesting permission.”

NRCS is working with the Allegheny National Forest, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry. “All partner agencies will coordinate efforts by leveraging financial and technical resources to initiate conservation activities on public lands and private lands adjacent to public lands,” Ayers said. “This unique public-private lands project, selected for the Joint Chief’s Landscape Restoration Partnership, includes an area that spans 15 counties across the predominantly forested northern tier of Pennsylvania.”

The counties included are: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lycoming, McKean, Potter, Sullivan, Tioga, Warren, and Wyoming.

“This collaboration will help meet the growing challenges that come with protecting communities, watersheds, and forests from the devastating and costly impacts of introduced and native insects and disease, non-native invasive plants, fire exclusion, and other threats to forest health, while protecting water resources, and improving wildlife habitat,” Ayers said. “Applications are accepted on a continual basis; however, those received by March 17th will be considered for the first funding cycle.”

Additional information may be found at offices.usda.gov.

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