By John-Miguel Dalbey
A bill has been introduced in the Pennsylvania House which would make it easier for industries such as gas to drill and develop in forests that could possibly be home to endangered plants or animals or other sensitive species.
The ecological significance of “core forests” — forests surrounded by other forests — cannot be overstated. Compared to “fringe” forests or habitats —those surrounded by human development such as towns or roads — core forests provide a much more stable home for species, protecting biodiversity. The continuity of the ecosystem allows individual members of a species to have a wider range in which to search for food and shelter. Habitat fragmentation is seen as one of the leading causes of species decline and prevents the recovery of endangered or threatened species, such as the spotted owl in the Angeles National Forest or the jaguarondi and ocelot in the Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge — both areas which American Forests has worked to help restore to an unfragmented state.
However, this protected biodiversity often attracts the attention of industries such as timber, natural gas and mineral extraction, as these untouched areas are often heavy with natural resources. In the case of the new bill introduced in Pennsylvania, the State Representative sponsoring the bill, Jeff Pyle, sees a conflict between the missions of the industry and the Pennsylvania State agencies like the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Game Commission. He tells NPR, “Their mission is to protect the game species of Pennsylvania. And me as a legislator, part of my mission is to make sure my people don’t see widespread unemployment.”
Yet, core forests are not only important habitats for endangered species. They are also important habitat to the game species that bring jobs and money to communities near such outdoor recreational areas. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation found that hunting and fishing brought over $1.2 billion in revenue to the state of Pennsylvania that year in trip and equipment expenditures alone.