Santorum supports foresters’ efforts to preserve land

By TOM KANE

BUSHKILL, PA — An enlightened group of Pike County forest owners are more interested in preserving their land than making big bucks selling it to developers.

Three organizations have banded together and have applied to the federal government’s Forest Legacy Program for a conservation easement on their combined 2,600 acres.

The three groups are the Nebo Hunt Club and the Bluestone Hunt Club, both located near Lake Wallenpaupack, and the Milford Experimental Forest, owned by the Pinchot family, located in Milford.

The Delaware-Highlands Conservancy was instrumental in getting Pike County approved as a “Forest Legacy Area.” The designation permits county forest landowners access to federal and state grant funds to conserve woodlands.

The conservancy was selected by the Pike County Commissioners to be the sponsor of the grant application, which is before the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Efforts like this are very important to preserve the character of the county,” Harry Forbes, Chairman of the Pike County Commissioners said. “Land along Route 739 is being steadily gobbled up. We want to support development but we also want to protect our forest lands.”

To support their application, the group has enlisted the support of Senators Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter.

On Monday, June 6, Senator Santorum visited one of the sites and talked to representatives of the three groups behind the easement request.

“There’s a lot of high pressure development going on in Pike County and this is an excellent effort to preserve what Pike County has been and is all about,” Santorum said. “I’m not anti-development in any way, but there needs to be a grand plan to preserve what is important to this community. Pike County has developed such a plan. I am in total support of this easement request as a part of that plan,” he said.

Santorum, who is the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said that the request has an excellent chance to be funded. “The president has included $2.8 million in the 2006 budget for this project, and I think the fact that both Senator Specter and I support it will be a big plus.”

“The amount budgeted—$2.8 million—will not be enough to pay for all three easements,” said Barbara Yeaman, a member of the Delaware Highlands Conservancy Board. “That amount would only pay for one easement. We originally asked for $5.2 million.”

It will be necessary to lobby for more money from state and federal officials, she said.

“We will spend a day in Washington, seeing if we can get them to support a sufficient amount for all three easements,” said Sue Currier, executive director of the Conservancy.

The project has been ranked number one in the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry list of preferred proposals and sixth in the USDA list, Currier said.