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Connecting woods, water, and wildlife in Central Pennsylvania

If you were flying over Central PA...


…you would have a great view of the distinct features that define its landscape. You would see patches of farmland, long ridgelines and valleys, dense forests and woodlands, all veined with rivers and creeks.

What you wouldn’t see, though, are any county, municipal or property lines. These invisible boundaries are important for many reasons and often determine if and how land is divided and used. Sometimes land is divided in a way that disconnects, or fragments, a large natural landscape. This fragmentation prevents wildlife from moving and migrating and thriving naturally on their own because nature is dynamic and constantly in motion. Water moves from the hills into the valleys and beyond. Plants send out seeds and pollen to colonize new areas. Animals move back and forth to find food, cover, and places to raise their young. And all life requires the ability to migrate to a new place when their current habitat becomes inhospitable (one is example can be seen here, in The Nature Conservancy's migrations in motion model).

If you were walking through the woods...


…you would see tall trees standing in a green carpet of ferns and grasses, bordered by thickets of shrubs, like honeysuckle. But what is different? Those who have been walking through the local woods for decades have noticed that the sights and sounds of nature throughout Central PA are quieter and more still now than in the past. This lack of liveliness signals that the woods, wildlife, and waterways are becoming more and more unhealthy and unbalanced. Indeed, over the past 50 years or so we’ve lost nearly 3 billion birds, even backyard birds like the Dark-Eyed Junco and Blue Jay. Others like the Northern Bobwhite have all but vanished from the Central PA landscape.


What is missing from the woods today that supported wildlife yesterday? For starters, young and old forests and complex understories. While a carpet of fern may look inviting to us, it isn’t to wildlife, and exotic shrubs like honeysuckle do not provide the benefits to wildlife that native species do. Today forests across the state are mostly the same age and young forests are especially rare. These and other disappearing habitats support the last remaining vestiges of the natural landscape that we know and cherish.

In Central PA, a stronghold still exists to support many of these declining wildlife species. This distinctly rare and important area is known as the Scotia Barrens, which lies within PA State Game Lands 176 and sits next to State College and Penn State University Park. The Scotia Barrens composes part of a region of woodlands in the heart of Central PA that includes the headwaters of Spring Creek and the Little Juniata River, and holds one of the state’s largest sections of a rare young forest habitat known as pitch pine-scrub oak barrens.


The Scotia Barrens Provide:

  • A vital source of drinking water for local communities and their residents
  • A rare habitat for a variety of endangered, threatened and otherwise declining species, including important game species and the food web needed to support them. 
  • A natural filter for the streams that support a world class trout fishery
  • A one-of-a-kind natural gem for recreation and education that treasured by hunters, hikers, fishermen and women, and outdoor enthusiasts

Losing habitat,

and time...

The Scotia Barrens is rare and cannot be replaced, yet for decades the natural region surrounding SGL 176 has been breaking down due to

….stressors such as forest fragmentation that can disrupt wildlife movements.

…invasion from exotic species that crowd out important native plants that support a healthy food supply for animals, and

…lack of forest management activities that ensure a diverse forest composition and structure.


If these activities continue unchecked, the Scotia Barrens will become increasingly more isolated, the important habitats within the Barrens will degrade and more species will be lost. We must act together today to shift our activity in a new direction and restore and protect this amazing natural landscape.

The Plan: Scotia Barrens to Ridgelines Initiative (SBRI)


The SBRI is a strategy to work with landowners and the community to protect important places for wildlife like the Scotia Barrens and restore Central PA forests to their natural beauty within a region of connected working lands, both farm and woods, that sustain our rural communities while providing places for nature and people to thrive.  


The SBRI involves four main tools, or strategies by which ClearWater will work with landowners and local authorities to keep water clean and forests healthy:

1) Forest Management & Habitat Improvements

2) Land Conservation

3) Streamside Forest Connections, and

4) Community Outreach and Education


Details about each of these strategies can be found here.


The work has begun...

Together, we can protect and restore the Scotia Barrens and surrounding woodlands by creating wildlife corridors in the right places to permanently connect forest to forest and ridgeline to ridgeline. You can help connect the forests and woodlands to each other and the Scotia Barrens by connecting with ClearWater Conservancy as a landowner or a community supporter.


...but can only continue with your help and support!

Together, we can protect and restore the Scotia Barrens by creating wildlife corridors in the right places to permanently connect forest to forest and ridgeline to ridgeline. You can help connect the forests and woodlands of the Scotia Barrens by connecting with ClearWater Conservancy as a landowner or a community supporter.

I'd like to be informed about upcoming events and news related to this initiative 
I'm a landowner in this region and would like to learn more about opportunities  
This is great work that's happening! I'd like to make a donation to ClearWater Conservancy

The Scotia Barrens to Ridgelines Initiative is a look into our future and a plan for a healthy way forward. Your contribution today will make a difference for everyone, forever. Thank you for your continued support!

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