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Forest Service Study Calls PA Highlands, 'Threatened By Development'

January 24, 2011

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Pennsylvania's Highlands provides drinking water for millions, recreation for many more and a home for hundreds of rare plants and animals. Now, a new study says development is a major threat to its well-being. The USDA Forest Service warns that too much development will cut into the Highlands' vast array of forests and streams and disrupt wildlife.

Mark Zakutansky, PA Highlands coordinator for the Appalachian Mountain Club, says the report, which was authorized in the 2004 Federal Highlands Conservation Act, is an important tool.

"Having the data provided by the Forest Service is a huge step forward in continuing to advance land preservation and continuing to protect drinking water quality for residents throughout the region."

The 2004 conservation act authorized $10 million a year for initiatives in the Highlands, but Zakutansky says the program has never been funded in full.

"This Forest Service report will provide a lot of the necessary facts and data to defend our request for $10 million this year."

Zakutansky says the study also has potential longer-term benefits concerning renewal of the act in 2014.

"We hope, through reauthorization, we can continue to show the importance of this region, continue to direct federal money to protect land on the ground, and continue to provide a high quality of life for residents throughout the four-state Highlands region."

The Highlands stretches into New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. The study's release might help secure millions in federal funds this year, Zakutansky hopes, to be shared among the four states.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA