ANF health plan in Sheffield moves forward

Federal officials have signed off on a nearly 9,000 acre project on the Allegheny National Forest in Sheffield Township aimed at addressing forest health issues – as well as recreation improvements at Hector Falls.

According to a statement from the ANF, Bradford District Ranger Rich Hatfield signed off on the decision for the Hoover Project.

“This project addresses forest health issues within the 8,780 acre project area,” Hatfield said. “The early successional habitat created within the project area will help to implement forest objectives. Recreation opportunities for Hector Falls will also be improved by this decision.”

A scoping document published in November 2017 explained that “proposed actions include improvements to forest health through tree harvesting and reforestation in response to recent forest health issues, stream water quality restoration and the treatment of non-native invasive plants.”

That’s in response to a need to “ensure a healthy, diverse, resilient and well stocked forest” in response to black cherry decline, beech bark disease and emerald ash borer ‘infestations’.”

“The compounding effects of these and other forest health threats and disturbances are causing overstory stocking levels (numbers of trees) to decline to the point where naturally regenerated diverse stands would be lost in the absence of management,” the scoping document states. “In the absence of management, overstory tree mortality would continue, resulting in canopy gaps that would encourage growth of interfering vegetation, like fern, grass, striped maple or beech brush. These conditions would prevent other tree species from becoming established and the ability to naturally regenerate these areas to a diverse mix of species would progressively diminish.”

Trees will also be felled into streams to enhance stream conditions in the project area.

Access improvements for Hector Falls are also a key element of the project.

“Hector Falls is a unique landscape area where a small stream cascades down a 25 foot drop through medium size rocks,” the document states.

The current trail is “user-created” without signage or blazes and no parking.

“The Forest Service proposes to add the Hector Falls trails to their official trail system,” the scoping document states, “thereby allowing trail maintenance money to be spent on constructing erosion control structures, a properly engineered and built bridge, surfacing for wet spots on the trail, and parking for four or five vehicles near the Forest Road 258H gate.”

“Currently, the Hoover Project’s timber sales will start rolling out in the 2020 and 2021 timeframe,” Public Affairs Officer Christopher Warner said. “The work at Hector Falls, which is a sustainable trail alignment, kiosk and small parking area, will not happen this year either, it will mostly likely begin sometime in 2020 or 2021.”