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Diane Albright: A Conservation Legacy in the Making

On a sunny morning at her home in Pennsylvania Furnace, Diane Albright looks out her living room window. In view is the farm field that was once a part of her late husband’s family’s farmland, and behind that is the line of woods that marks the beginning of the 95-acre woodland she owns and adores. It is this view, and the life she and her husband lived in and around it, that sparked their interest in pursuing a conservation easement with ClearWater Conservancy. “We just liked having woods and we didn't want to see it get developed,” Diane said. “We started thinking about legacy options.”

Over the years, Diane and Mike Albright had ongoing conversations with ClearWater Conservancy about implementing a conservation easement on their property and are now in the process of finalizing this permanent protection. Conservation easements are voluntary agreements between landowners and conservation organizations, such as ClearWater Conservancy or governmental bodies, and are a powerful tool in the effort to protect and preserve our natural resources and cultural heritage for future generations.

These legal agreements play a crucial role in safeguarding landscapes, biodiversity, and historical sites. Beyond their immediate environmental benefits, conservation easements also foster a lasting legacy of stewardship and sustainability. Conservation easements are instrumental in protecting diverse ecosystems and habitats. They ensure that critical wildlife corridors remain intact, safeguarding biodiversity and mitigating the impacts of habitat fragmentation. By preserving natural landscapes, these easements also contribute to maintaining healthy water quality.

Diane’s home was built by Mike Albright’s parents when he was 8 years old on the 360-acre family farm in Pennsylvania Furnace. The farm, which had been in the family for over 80 years, was sold when Mike was 10, but the family kept a 95-acre parcel of woods along Beaver Branch Creek that was inherited by Mike and Diane when his parents passed away. Throughout their time together, they went to the woods to cut firewood to heat their home, enjoy walks, and experience nature.

“It's a great piece of property. It's got a wetland on it. And we wanted to preserve it from a wildlife habitat standpoint. I'm okay with hunting on it, but I really don't want to see it be developed. And from a migratory standpoint, it's a big enough piece of property that birds can use the corridor for migration. My husband and I recognize the value of woods as woods. Not just for wildlife, but for the environment as well,” Diane said.

The Albrights’ parcel of land is part of the Beaver Branch Gorge Biological Diversity Area in Pennsylvania, recognized for its ecological significance. Beaver Branch Creek, classified as a High-Quality Cold Water Fishery, flows through the property, supporting native trout and other important species. The site serves as a crucial link between strategic ecological pathways identified in ClearWater’s Scotia Barrens to Ridgeline Initiative (SBRI). Additionally, its historical connections to regional railroad and mining activities add cultural value. The property includes intact forest patches with core forest areas, wetlands, and floodplain habitats that potentially support or already host the threatened Eastern Spadefoot Toad and Marsh Bedstraw, a species of Special Concern. Overall, it represents a significant opportunity for conservation, preserving vital natural systems and habitat for rare species.

To learn more about how to improve forest management on her property for wildlife and ecosystem health, Diane completed Penn State University’s James C. Finley Center for Private Forests’ Forest Stewardship Program. “I learned so much and learned a lot about legacy options. And that's kind of when we started talking more with ClearWater,” Diane said.

Because 70 percent of Pennsylvania forests are privately held, according to PA DCNR, forest management education for landowners is crucial for the health of Pennsylvania forests. “The Forest Steward Program really taught me a lot because it's focusing on private landowners in Pennsylvania. Educating them on forest management and what their options are as far as improving their forests.”

As part of her stewardship efforts years later after completing the Forest Stewardship Program, Diane became involved with The Woodland Stewardship Network (WSN) Program, administered by the Alliance for the Bay, which partnered with ClearWater to establish several networks within the Scotia Barrens region. This program provided a free forest management plan to every member of the network and serves as an excellent outreach tool for the SBRI. “I'm not sure I would have had a forest management plan had it not been for that program. I'm really glad that I did,” Diane said. In addition to her involvement with WSN, Diane became the Keystone Landowner for the Tadpole-Marengo Woodland Stewardship Network.

"Where I learned the most was what I could do to improve the woods,” Diane said. “We always kind of had the philosophy just let it be and do its own thing and not mess with it. And now I've learned that we can actively work toward improving it, which will make it last longer in the long run. If we're looking at it from a wildlife habitat standpoint, we're not seeing many grouse up there anymore because there's no understory. Lots and lots of turkeys. But because there's no understory it's restricted some of the wildlife.”

Diane mentions possible cutting to create early successional habitat and plans for invasive species removal, but she knows it’s a slow and steady type of process.

“ClearWater has my forest management plan and they know what the long-term goal is, so I'm trusting them to manage it the way we wanted it to be managed going forward. ClearWater was great about explaining the process,” Diane said.

And the process to get to that plan was slow and steady as well. “Filling out the easement questionnaire was probably the hardest part because it asked how you wanted the land to be preserved. Did you want it to be used for timbering? Do you want it to be used for recreation? Thinking through that and thinking about when we’re not around anymore, what are we going to want to be able to preserve? But to really put that down in writing that this is what you want and this is what you want to allow. Do you want to allow hunting? Do you want to allow people hiking through?”

In 2022, Michael Albright sadly passed away, creating even more need to honor him and continue the preservation of the land, creating a legacy of the land he and Diane nurtured together to grow strong and healthy throughout time. When two people are in love with the land where they had so many memories and connection, that legacy can live on through the health of the forest, stories from neighbors, sustainability of the land, and vitality of the space.

Diane chose to continue the conservation easement process after the loss of her husband through the support of her family, friends, community, and ClearWater Conservancy team. “He got sick and he passed away right in the middle of all of this. Now we're full steam ahead. It's been an interesting process that we've gone through. Ryan and Suzy have been wonderful,” said Diane.

Finalizing a conservation easement marks a pivotal moment for landowners, instilling a profound sense of assurance in the future preservation of their land and its legacy.

“It gives me peace to know that the woods are going to stay there,” Diane said, her beagles resting in their spots on an ottoman made from an antique crate with a pillow and on the hardwood floor of her living room. “And that somebody who knows what they're doing is going to be actively managing it to make sure that it reaches its full potential."


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