Wednesday, February 21, 2018

DCNR Initiative To Replace, Renovate Fire Towers Across The State

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn Wednesday announced newly renovated and replaced fire towers will be added to the Commonwealth’s wildfire fighting arsenal to support the Bureau of Forestry and volunteer fire company efforts answering forest fire calls across the state.
"We must always take wildfires seriously. That’s why I’m delighted to note our Pennsylvania wildfire fighters are getting yet another weapon in their detection and suppression efforts -- a new tool with a rich, storied past in the form of newly constructed fire towers,” said Dunn. Pennsylvania’s wildfire fighting force is viewed as among the best in the nation, and for good reason. They have excellent training; the latest equipment; and a ‘can do’ spirit that sets them apart when they fly out to help other states or fight wildfires here in the woodlands of Pennsylvania.”
In September 2017, DCNR began a $4.6 million Department of General Services capital project to replace 16 forest fire lookout towers on state forestland. Many of the original towers still in operation today were constructed in the 1920s through 1940 and needed to be replaced.
The new fire towers are sturdier to meet today’s structural and foundation code requirements. They will be safer to ascend, with improved stairs and railings, and be topped with weather-proof cabs.
“Mountaintop fire towers continue to provide an excellent vantage point for spotting wildfire smoke along the horizon and conveying fire locations to bureau-led firefighting crews,” Dunn noted. “We still use aviation, but its costs and insurance rates for these flights have made fire towers more economically feasible. Fire detection relies on fire towers, aviation, and people on the ground. We don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket.”
Considering their historical significance, at least one of the original fire towers will be carefully dismantled and repurposed at other locations.
In Delaware State Forest, the original tower at Big Pocono State Park, Monroe County, has been delivered to the grounds of Gifford Pinchot’s summer residence at the U.S.D.A. Forest Service’s Grey Towers National Historic Site in Milford.
Though winter weather crimped replacement work, construction will be resuming close to Pennsylvania’s Wildfire Prevention Week, March 3-10.  
DCNR issues an annual warning of springtime danger when bright sun, strong winds, and warming temperatures quickly can increase wildfire dangers across Pennsylvania’s forests and brush lands.  
Statistics show nearly 85 percent of Pennsylvania’s wildfires occur in March, April and May, before the greening of state woodlands and brushy areas. Named for rapid spread through dormant, dry vegetation, under windy conditions, wildfires annually scorch nearly 7,000 acres of state and private woodlands.
Besides the Big Pocono tower, others targeted for replacement include: Tamarack, Coffin Rock and Snowshoe, in Sproul State Forest; Rockton, Chestnut Ridge (Knobs), Rattlesnake, Summit and Black Hills, Moshannon; Dry Land, Mehoopany and Bear Springs, Pinchot; Brooks Run and Bootjack, Elk; and Bears Head and Mauch Chunk, Weiser.
A key component of the tower replacement projects is coordination with radio and data communication antenna systems.
Because of their location and elevation, many of the towers will be outfitted with various state and federal radio communication antenna systems. These towers are anticipated to remain safe and functional for many decades.
Secretary Dunn noted DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry is responsible for prevention and suppression of wildfires on the Commonwealth’s 17 million acres of state and private woodlands and brush lands.
The bureau maintains a fire-detection system, and works with fire wardens and volunteer fire departments to ensure they are trained in the latest advances in fire prevention and suppression.  
DCNR owns 50 fire towers that are still standing. Many were removed in the 1970s and 1980s. About 20 still are actively staffed in periods of high fire danger, and that number will grow as replacements come online.
Click Here to watch a video of a visit to a now retired 87.5 foot fire tower in Cook Forest State Park, Clarion County, built in 1929.
More information about wildfires is available by visiting DCNR’s Wildfire webpage.
For more information on state parks and forests and recreation in Pennsylvania, visit DCNR’s website, Click Here to sign up for the Resource newsletter, Visit the Good Natured DCNR Blog,  Click Here for upcoming events, Click Here to hook up with DCNR on other social media-- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
(Photo: Fire tower at Bald Eagle State Forest, Union County)

Penn State Researchers Team Up To Tackle State’s Acid Mine Drainage Problem

As Penn State researchers stood on the banks of Scalp Level Run, an acid mine drainage (AMD)-polluted stream in Cambria County, a scientific question formed: How is nature removing toxic metals from the drainage at a rate faster than any other tested waters in the state, under pH conditions deemed too low to do so?
For decades, cleanup efforts have involved raising the pH of AMD before using chemical oxidation to remove iron and other metals. And yet, at Scalp Level Run, the pollutants were being removed at a pH of around 3, and importantly, before entering the stream.
“We initially started this work because of an observation that was intriguing,” said Jennifer Macalady, associate professor of geosciences. “Some of these natural spring sites do a really good job of removing iron so that heavy metals can be treated more effectively, and that’s great because those metals are very toxic. Some AMD treatment methods are not effective because iron coats the treatment bed. Based on observations at Scalp Level Run, we wanted to see if there was a microbial component that was helping facilitate the removal of iron.”
The initial research that began nearly a decade ago sparked an interdisciplinary effort to better understand the important role microbiology plays in mitigating AMD, Pennsylvania’s largest non-point source water pollutant, impacting 2,500 miles of streams, according to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Understanding AMD
AMD is the acidic metal-rich water formed when water reacts with rock containing sulfur, such as those exposed from abandoned coal mines. When sulfur reacts with air and water it forms sulfuric acid. Rainwater and other drainage then carries the AMD to nearby streams, rivers or lakes, creating environmental risks.
Macalady said AMD is treated using two methods: active or passive mitigation. Active treatment, where drainage is collected and then chemically treated, is expensive and labor intensive.
Passive treatment, where drainage is exposed to wetlands or limestone beds, is less costly, and is more commonly used to treat AMD, especially because Pennsylvania has so many points of pollution.
But sometimes these passive treatments fail. Macalady, wondering if the cause for failure could be answered by a better understanding of its ecology, joined a team of researchers to assess these systems.
“We wanted to understand how microbes behave in passive treatment sites and the answer is we still don’t know because they’re complicated,” Macalady said. “But we have made some important discoveries.”
Because Scalp Level Run did the best job of mitigating AMD on its own, Macalady figured assessing the ecology there might offer the strongest clues.
“Using microbiology, we have started to investigate these systems to find out if we can improve them, Macalady said. “Our main focus is not building a better treatment system but providing info to people who do.”
At Scalp Level Run and other polluted waters across the state, the team began looking at the water’s microbiology but also other factors such as pH, iron levels and turbidity to see how physical, biological and chemical factors impact AMD mitigation. Knowing these relationships, Macalady said, could be key to designing better systems.
One takeaway so far is that pH level determines which microbes are present.
“At Scalp Level Run, there was no change in which microbes were present and that was initially very surprising but it allowed us to confirm a hypothesis, which was that pH is the main driver of which AMD microorganisms succeed,” Macalady said.
At areas such as Brubaker Run the pH shifted, as did the types of microbes.
“An application of that finding would be if you’re going to design an acid mine treatment system and you know that the pH is going to change you should expect a variety of unrelated microbial species to be involved in the job of cleaning up the waste,” Macalady said.
Science In Action
In a lab at Penn State, a team of researchers led by William Burgos, professor of civil and environmental engineering, got a break.
They enriched microbial communities from Scalp Level Run and Brubaker Run and fed equal concentrations of iron to each while controlling the pH and water flow rate. They expected that Scalp Level’s microbes would continue to dominate. Luckily, they were wrong.
“What was proven instead was that diverse microbial communities that exhibit diverse kinetics in the field converge to similar kinetics when the hydrodynamics and the geochemical conditions are held constant,” Burgos said. “That’s a good thing from an engineering standpoint because we won’t have to make these passive treatment systems site-specific.”
Together Macalady and Burgos’s results mean that engineered systems could rely on existing microbes in acidic wastewater for mitigating most of the state’s AMD sources. Burgos’s group has since focused on other variables, such as increasing the surface area for acid-neutralizing bacteria to colonize, as a means of improving AMD treatment.
Burgos first learned about mother nature’s ability to treat AMD after touring DEP sites across the state. They measured pH at the point it surfaces and contrasted it with drainage after it passed through the so-called "kill zone," the rust-stained soil where trees and other vegetation were destroyed by the pollution.
The results were stark. Much of the iron and acidity was being removed naturally.
“One of the first things the DEP would often do is build their treatment system right in the kill zone,” Burgos said. “So we were able to convey the message to them — and this was an important one — don’t bulldoze the kill zone because the kill zone was giving you a remarkable amount of treatment.”
Now, when possible, treatment systems are installed after the kill zone. For especially problematic areas, engineered terraces, which increase the contact time microbes have with the AMD, are added.
Solution Spans Disciplines
Christy Grettenberger, now a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at University of California, Davis, spent years wading through Pennsylvania waters, studying AMD en route to earning her doctorate in ecology under Macalady’s guidance.
Like Macalady, she has a background in geosciences and ecology, and was drawn to the project because it crossed disciplines in an effort to combat a daunting environmental issue. Grettenberger has published several research papers on AMD at Scalp Level Run.
The project offered her two things: the ability to study microbes in a simplified environment due to life-restricting pH levels and the chance to work within a team capable of putting science into action.
“I like the applied portion of science because I can conduct research and work with engineers tasked with building something that uses that science,” Grettenberger said. “I can work with watershed groups or others to implement it. It’s really getting to see your science put into action in a way that you could never do by yourself, which results in making a difference in the environment and hopefully in the state budget.”
The Why In Science
Macalady grew up in Colorado but her parents shared stories with her about a problem that’s plagued Pennsylvania for generations.
“There are two things that come together nicely in this project for me, one is that both of my parents grew up in this area and dealing with AMD issues was part of their childhood,” Macalady said. “The other reason is it’s such a beautiful system for learning about the interactions between microbes and minerals. It’s really a nice combination for me. I feel like I’m doing something to help with a problem that has been a problem for generations.”
Burgos said he’s compelled to tackle the state’s AMD problem.
“Penn State is the land-grant university of Pennsylvania, which has more than 2,500 miles of streams that have some sort of negative impact from AMD. It’s the state’s No. 1 water quality problem. I feel a personal obligation to address such a major issue for the state’s future.”
(Photo: Bill Burgos, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Lance Larson, who earned his Ph.D. from Penn State in environmental engineering and biogeochemistry in 2013, investigate an iron oxide mound surrounding an acid mine drainage spring impacting a Pennsylvania watershed.)

NRCS-PA Seeks Proposals For Farm Conservation Innovation Grants

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service-PA is now accepting applications for up to $225,000 in funding through the Conservation Innovation Grants to promote the development and adoption of innovative approaches for agricultural production in Pennsylvania.
The deadline for applications is April 27.
Grants will be awarded for projects between one and three years’ duration with individual awards not exceeding $75,000. State and local units of government, non-governmental organizations, and individuals are eligible for these grants
This year, NRCS is seeking proposals focused on non-industrial private forestland, urban and micro scale agriculture, soil health, and pollinators. CIG does not fund research projects but makes an exception for on-farm conservation research as defined in the funding announcement.
Projects must involve landowners who meet eligibility requirements for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
“CIGs explore on-the-ground conservation pilots and field demonstrations that can offer new opportunities for technology transfer to communities, governments and other institutions,” says NRCS PA State Conservationist Denise Coleman. “We have provided over $1.4 Million in funding for 24 state CIG projects since 2010, and look forward to working with our partners on the next crop of CIGs to offer Pennsylvania farmers more options for sustainable production methods.”
Applications must be submitted electronically on the website, and emailed in PDF format to Denise Coleman, Pennsylvania State Conservationist, at  
Questions about this announcement can be directed to: or 717-237-2173.
For more information on programs, funding and technical assistance opportunities, visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service-PA webpage.

Lancaster County Solid Waste Authority CEO Jim Warner To Retire

Jim Warner, CEO for the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, announced this week his plan to retire from the organization by end of year.
Warner is a 32-year veteran of the solid waste industry, with 22 years at the helm for LCSWMA, guiding the organization through many crucial and strategic moves to position LCSWMA as an industry leader.
Under his direction, LCSWMA has grown to an $85 million organization, managing close to 1 million tons of waste annually.  LCSWMA has also invested in resources, projects and initiatives that not only fulfill its core mission, but also enhance the livability of the community it serves.
For LCSWMA’s Board of Directors, hiring a successor for Warner will be no easy task, with Steve Dzurik, Board Chair, saying, “During his tenure as CEO, Jim’s vision and entrepreneurial leadership has had a profoundly positive impact on LCSWMA.  His strategic decisions have helped shape the organization’s growth and development, transforming it into an innovative industry leader.”
A sub-committee of LCSWMA’s Board is working diligently to find the right person to lead LCSWMA into its next chapter.  Dzurik notes that Warner’s retirement has been planned for some time, which afforded the search committee the ability to engage in a thorough process to find his successor.  
Further announcements on CEO succession will be forthcoming in future months.
As for Warner, his transition at the end of the year marks a new beginning.  He says, “I’m proud of the great work we accomplished at LCSWMA over these few last decades.  And I now look forward to the next great adventure.”
To learn more about programs, initiatives and services, visit the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority website.

Game Commission Asks Public For Information On Bald Eagle Harassment By A Drone In Mercer County

The Game Commission is asking the public for any information they have on bald eagle harassment by a drone at Goddard State Park in Mercer County. Please report tips on this incident to the NW Region Office: 814-432-3187 or to 1-888-PGC-8001.

Stroud Water Research Center/Wildlands Conservancy Citizen Science Volunteer Training April 28

The Stroud Water Research Center and the Wildlands Conservancy will host a Citizen Science Volunteer Training Workshop on April 28 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in Emmaus, Lehigh County.
Are you interested in making a difference in your community by volunteering to assist with real research projects? Join Wildlands Conservancy and Stroud Water Research Center for a day of hands-on instream training in Emmaus!
Learn about the Delaware River Watershed Initiative data quality standards, methods for testing and tools for reporting. Gain the knowledge you’ll need to assist with future monitoring projects, meet like-minded individuals and have fun!
A parent or guardian must be present if you are under 18 years of age.
Click Here for all the details and to register.
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the Wildlands Conservancy website. Like on Facebook, Follow on Twitter and Join on Instagram.  Click Here to support the Conservancy.
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the Stroud Water Research Center website, Click Here to subscribe to UpStream.  Click Here to subscribe to Stroud’s Educator newsletter.  Click Here to become a Friend Of Stroud Research,  Like them on Facebook, Follow on Twitter, include them in your Circle on Google+ and visit their YouTube Channel.
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Wildlands Conservancy Highlights March Education Programs, Hiring Naturalists, Citizen Science Workshop

The Lehigh Valley-based Wildlands Conservancy Wednesday highlighted educational programs and activities in March, including--
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the Wildlands Conservancy website. Like on Facebook, Follow on Twitter and Join on Instagram.  Click Here to support the Conservancy.

Help Wanted: Wildlands Conservancy Seasonal Naturalists, Intern Opportunities

The Lehigh Valley-based Wildlands Conservancy is seeking qualified candidates to fill seasonal naturalist positions to assist with environmental education programs.
Gain leadership and practical skills, inspire a love of nature in others and have fun, all the while spending time in the outdoors!
Click Here for all the details and other employment and internship opportunities with the Wildlands Conservancy.
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the Wildlands Conservancy website. Like on Facebook, Follow on Twitter and Join on Instagram.  Click Here to support the Conservancy.
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Help Wanted: Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA Director Of Major Giving In PA

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA is seeking qualified candidates for the position of Director of Major Giving in Pennsylvania. The deadline to apply is March 2.  Click Here for all the details.
For more on Chesapeake Bay-related issues in Pennsylvania, visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA webpage.  Click Here to sign up for Pennsylvania updates (bottom of left column).  Click Here to support their work.

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