“When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” ~Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
The forests surrounding the Lehigh Valley are home to many species of wildlife and plants, and provide excellent space for outdoor recreation. In order to help the local community learn about these forests, and the ways that we can explore them, the LV Sierra Club is offering virtual lectures in a “Getting to Know Your Forests” series. This series shares information about our local state forests so Lehigh Valley community members can better understand these forests as a community to which we belong.
Delaware State Forest totals 83,519 acres of state-owned forest land in Pike, Monroe, and Carbon counties. Service Forester Garrett Beers presented about the history of the Delaware State Forest, as well as the many variations of environmental conservation management that the forest service uses there. Beers also offered insights into the many ways that LV residents can engage with Delaware State Forest through different types of outdoor recreation.
Delaware State Forest (DSF) began when George Daumann sold the state of Pennsylvania 1,521 acres of land in 1898. Most of the land was clear cut and abandoned timber or farmland. Today, DSF is flourishing thanks to an ecosystem management protocol that prioritizes long term sustainability and integrates concerns like timber, recreation, aesthetics, wildlife, and preserving habitats. There is no current natural gas extraction on DSF land thanks to a moratorium on fracking in the Delaware River Watershed. However, this moratorium is not guaranteed, as many federal and state forest lands are used for fracking across the U.S.
DSF has a substantial timber program that attempts to use sustainable logging practices to balance the age classes of the trees in the forest and promote diversity of the tree species that grow in DSF. Beers argued that this practice removes poor quality trees so other seedlings can establish. The practice of prescribed fires likewise is used to maintain native herbaceous plants so trees don’t encroach on these plant’s soil and sunlight. This helps seedlings of hardwood trees, like oaks, to regenerate.
There are many recreational activities that DSF supports, including camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, kayaking, boating, snowmobiling and ATV riding. One tip that Beers shared is that the blazes on the trails in DSF are color coded per activity allowed on that trail. For example, blue blazes designate trails that can be cross country skied, as well as hiked. Common wildlife that live in the DSF are deer, turkey, grouse, woodcock, squirrels, waterfowl, rabbits, hares, bobcats, coyotes, muskrats, and black bears. Rattlesnakes are also a not-so-friendly animal that hikers in particular should be aware of from May to October.
Unfortunately, there are also a number of unwelcome inhabitants of the Delaware State Forest. The emerald ash borer is a particular threat. This beetle infests ash trees, resulting in leaving ash trees at a 75% mortality. You can recognize dying ash trees by their shedded bark. Unfortunately, Beers predicts, within the next five years, all of the ash trees will die. However, Beers strongly suggests recreationists report healthy ash trees as they find them, as foresters are experimenting with synthetically creating immunity in the ash tree by pesticide injection. Contrary to Bethlehem, the DSF has only recently seen an influx of the invasive spotted lantern fly. However, the spotted lantern fly has not yet affected the forest’s health considerably. Effects felt in the region are related to agriculture instead.
Though the ash trees are on the decline, there are many other trees, plants, and animals that are flourishing within Delaware State Forest! You too, can contribute to your own flourishing by getting out to local green space, like the DSF, and connecting with the landscape around you.