WELLSBORO - Tioga County Planner and Pine Creek Waterdogs member Jim Weaver spoke Wednesday to about two dozen members of the Tiadaghton Audubon Society at the Gmeiner Art and Cultural Center here about the importance of getting The Four Corners wild area designated as a High Conservation Value Forest.
The Four Corners is the region around the four counties of Tioga, Lycoming, Clinton and Potter from the Pine Creek Gorge to the Hammersley Wild Area. It contains some of the best examples of wildlands in Pennsylvania, according to Weaver, who advocated protecting it from natural gas drilling.
The 230,000-acre area includes Slate Run, Cedar Run, Kettle Creek and the headwaters of Young Woman's Creek.
The Four Corners is home to a number of endangered and threatened species, he said, including 12 bird species.
"The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has looked at areas with potential," he said, adding "We are dealing with a whole new set of parameters when it comes to resource extraction in the state forests."
The Pine Creek Watershed Council has been working on the implementation of the Pine Creek Watershed River Conservation Plan since 2003, Weaver said.
"As part of this implementation plan, we have been actively working with DCNR to increase the protection of the watershed. By designating High Conservation Value Forests as part of the Forest Stewardship Council's certification process," he said. To that end, The Four Corners has emerged as a potential area for that designation.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will update its Forest Management Plan in 2013 and public input will be accepted, Weaver said.
Time is short, however, before the natural gas companies will push harder to drill in this pristine area, where the Cherry Springs Dark Skies also are located, said Audubon Director of Conservation Paul Zeph.
"Once the pipeline is set up in Philadelphia for export to Asia, the price will go up again so we have a short window in which to work of about one and a half to two years," Zeph said.
To help monitor the watershed for drilling impacts, the council, watershed partners Pine Creek Headwater Protection Group and Trout Unlimited have teamed up with SkyTruth, Light Hawk and the Downstream Project.
Weaver said he recently took a "flyover" of the area to conduct aerial reconnaissance. That in addition to remote sensing and on-the-ground stream monitoring is helping the groups develop baseline data on water quality.
"These data and photos act as an early warning system for impacts to the environment from resource extraction," he said.
The impact on water has and will continue to be of concern, Weaver said, as it is "important not only to us who live in the watershed, but those downstream as well."
Weaver also talked about the value of the region for hunters, anglers, bird watchers, hikers and bikers.
"For years northcentral Pennsylvania has been the environmental haven for generations of sportsmen, outdoor enthusiasts, and tourists who come here for our beautiful forests and streams, quiet communities and solitude," he said.
"The commonwealth's cultural and biological well-being are supported, whether you live here or not, by the incredible wildlands of the two million acres of state forests, state games lands and private forests," he said.
"A broader High Conservation Value Forest designation would enable our agencies, decision makers and the public to understand and implement the necessary policy and guidance to meet the demands of an ever-increasing population for the intrinsic values of intact forests and clean water," he added.