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Chapter 5 : Biological Resources
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The Swatara Creek watershed has managed to survive the intense commercial, industrial, and transportation development that the eastern portion of Pennsylvania has succumbed to. The majority of the watershed has historically been and still is used primarily for agricultural purposes (Figure 2-1). Indications of the past still remain along the hillsides, in the form of well-preserved farm complexes built by the German and Scots-Irish settlers of the 18th century, who set out to clear the land for farming. Prior to this time, this area of Pennsylvania was located within the original Oak-Chestnut Forest Region (Braun, 1950). Along with the clearing of these lands by settlers, this forest region was virtually eliminated during the destruction of the American chestnut (Castanea dentata) by chestnut blight fungus (Endothia parasitica) in the early 1900’s. Although, some populations of American chestnut have been noted in Lebanon County.
Currently, the old-growth forests in this area are non-existent and forestland is confined to a few extensive, contiguous areas within the more mountainous terrain typical of the northern portion of the watershed. The existing forest is located within the Appalachian Oak Forest Region or Mixed Oak Forest Region (Bailey, 1980) and is dominated by numerous oak species (Quercus spp.), along with red maple (Acer rubrum), beech (Fagus grandifolia), and tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipfera). This forest type occurs on the slopes and tops of mountain ridges as well as in some of the narrower valleys of Dauphin County. Most understory areas are composed of blueberries (Vaccinium sp.), huckleberries (Gaylussacia spp.), and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia).
Some areas that have remained undisturbed, particularly those located in the southern portion of Dauphin County, contain native vegetation, including native grasses such as little blue stem (Schizachyrium scoparium), big blue stem (Andropogon spp.) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), and small trees such as sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) (Nature Conservancy, 1999). Other native small trees, such as red bud (Cercis canadensis) have also been noted within the watershed.
Any plant growing where it is not wanted and having objectionable characteristics, such as aggressive growth or noxious properties that cause allergic reactions or poisoning are considered as invasive vegetation (Haber, 1997). The introduction of these invasive species dates back to the earliest arrivals of explorers and settlers to the region. Their ships were carriers of a wide variety of seeds and invasive animals. Seeds were present in hay bales, natural packing materials, and in food products. Even some of the seeds brought for cooking ended up being invasive weed species. Once established, clearing of these lands for logging and agricultural purposes aided in the spread of these invasive species.
Photo 5-1: Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
When invasive species become established in forestlands, prairies, and wetlands, they tend to suffocate out the native vegetation. This then leads to the reduction of the biological diversity of the area, decrease in wildlife habitat of the area, and in some situations, the degradation of water quality and reduction of the recreational value of an area. A good example of this situation is the introduction of the chestnut blight fungus (Endothia parasitica) that so greatly influenced the health and composition of the forests in the watershed.
There is a long list of plants considered invasive within the United States and the Swatara Creek watershed including the Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissma), garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), tall reed (Phalaris arundicacea), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), kudzu vine (Pueraria lobata), mile-a-minute weed (Polygonum perfoliatum), and Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum). Invasive floating or submerged aquatic vegetation, such as pondweed, (Potamogeton spp.) has also become the dominant plant species in some areas of the watershed.
The problem associated with these species is controlling the invasion. This is related to the biology of the species, especially its propagative characteristics. Species that reproduce both sexually by seed and vegetatively by adventitious roots require the traditional mechanical means of controlling such as hand pulling, tilling, cutting, and mowing. Special care needs to be taken with these measures, as there has to be great care in the timing of pulling. This usually works best prior to seed production. It is also important to pull the whole plant including all roots. This can be a very labor-intensive process with large well-established populations. Tilling creates some of the same situations but also ensues the problem of the soil seed bank. Sometimes by tilling the soil, the seeds can be brought to the surface and germinate.
Animals can also be considered as invasive species. In recent years, two invasive mussels, the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) and the Asiatic clam (Corbicula fluminea), have created numerous problems in Pennsylvania waterways. These mussels have been introduced through the ballast of ships and have quickly spread. Neither of these species has become established within the watershed; although, the zebra mussel has been identified in the Susquehanna River Drainage. Being rapid reproducers, these animals have the potential to clog water intake pipes and reduce nutrient levels in water bodies that native species need to survive. Suggested methods of control for these species include screening off water pipes and releasing small amounts of chlorine or bromine to kill juvenile individuals.
Chemical means of control bring their own concerns with polluting waterways, killing other desired species, and the potential harm to the user. Biological controls can be used to control the main mass of the population. A biological control works by using the plant’s natural enemies against it. Recently, the loosestrife beetle has been released within the Hershey property to try to control purple loosestrife.
Therefore, it has been suggested that the best solution for the control of invasive species is an integrated pest management strategy. This includes a combination of several methods including mechanical, chemical, and biological controls. Mechanical and chemical efforts should be focused around the edge of the population to prevent further spreading but thorough and extensive care should be taken with these methods.
Related to the vegetation of the area, wildlife species present within the watershed are common for the habitats of the area. Oak, maple, and beech all provide food sources for black bears, beavers, foxes, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and white-tailed deer (Martin, Zim, and Nelson, 1951). Numerous birds, both game and non-game species, also utilize these resources. Table 5-1 summarizes wildlife species located within the watershed. A listing of avian species located within the watershed can be located in Appendix F.
Although not conducted directly within the Swatara Creek watershed, the Forest Bioblitz ’99 was organized adjacent to the northwest portion of the watershed in a 10 square mile area of State Game Lands 211 in the Stony Creek watershed. A group of individuals including agency personnel recorded 1,250 species of plants and animals within this area. It was estimated that 414 plant species, 146 beetle species, 106 moth species, 90 bird species, 50 moss and liverwort species, and 36 lichen species were identified. Counts for mammals were too large to estimate but did include the sighting of a black bear (Ursus americanus) and a pygmy shrew (Sorex hoyi thompsoni).
Further discussions of fauna and assessments of fish and macroinvertebrate species are presented in the Water Resources section of this report. Recently, a new cooperative trout nursery was started within the watershed in Pine Grove Township, Schuylkill County. This was a joint effort by sportsmen’s clubs, businesses, and individuals to provide fish for stocking Swatara Creek. Two thousand brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), 1,300 rainbow trout (Salmo gairdneri), and 100 golden rainbow trout (Salmo gairdneri sp.) fingerlings were initially released in the hatchery. It is estimated that by stocking time next year these trout should grow to 13 to 14 inches and weigh over a pound. There are also cooperative nurseries on Indiantown Run and Bachman Run in Lebanon County and on Spring Creek in Derry Township. The nursery located on Indiantowm Run raises 4,000 brook trout, 2,000 rainbow trout, and 2,000 brown trout. The facility on Bachman Run raises 4,000 brook trout, 1,000 rainbow trout, and 400 brown trout (Salmo trutta) every year. This hatchery also provides 400 brook trout for a children’s fishing derby in Derry Township, Dauphin County. The nursery on Spring Creek raises 5,500 brook trout and 500 brown trout for release. All of these fish are released into waters open to the public for fishing.
The following waters are stocked with trout by PFBC and/or the local cooperative nerseries: Mill Creek and Little Swatara Creek in Berks County; Manada Creek in Dauphin County; Trout Run, Quittapahilla Creek, Bachman Run, and Snitz Creek in Lebanon County; and Upper Little and Lower Little Swatara Creeks in Schuylkill County. There was also verified trout reproduction in Mill Creek in Schuykill County, Indiantown Run in Lebanon County, and Manada Creek in Dauphin County. In a 1999 survey of Trout Run (in Lebanon County), conducted by the PFBC, an American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) was collected from the stream. The last survey of this stream, prior to 1999 was conducted 22 years ago and identified no American Eels. Table 5-2 summarizes the macroinvertebrates historically collected within the Swatara Creek watershed.
Species of Special Concern have become an ever-increasing topic of discussion in the 1990’s. The authority for all of Pennsylvania’s biological resources lies with four resource agencies. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) holds jurisdiction over the management of the plants and general information for the state, while the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is responsible for the management of the fish, reptiles, amphibians, and aquatic organisms within the state. Management of the state’s wild birds and mammals is the responsibility of the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is responsible for federally listed, proposed and candidate species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Responses received from these agencies in regards to Species of Concern in the Swatara Creek watershed are located in Appendix F.
The Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) is a site-specific information system to identify and describe Pennsylvania’s rarest and most significant ecological features. DCNR, the Nature Conservancy, and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy maintain PNDI. The system includes data on of plant and animal species of special concern, exemplary natural communities, and unique geologic resources. DCNR stated that there were 52 species of special concern reported to occur in the Swatara Creek watershed (24 plant species, 10 invertebrate species, 5 bird species, 5 insect species, 3 mammal species, 3 geologic features, and 2 species of reptiles).
Photo 5-2:Regal fritillary butterfly (Speyeria idalia)
The response received from USFWS indicated the following federally listed species are or maybe located within the Swatara Creek watershed: the bog turtle(Clemmys muhlenbergii) and the regal fritillary butterfly (Speyeria idalia). According to this response, the bog turtle, a federally threatened species, has been identified in the four counties that make up the watershed, but not specifically in the Swatara Creek watershed. This species, has had a decrease in its population by approximately 50% over the last 15-20 years. It is suggested that this decline is due to the loss of the turtle’s wetland habitats to man made disturbances, fragmentation of existing habitat, and invasive native and exotic plant species. Bog turtles have also been known to be collected for illegal pet trade.
The regal fritillary butterfly is known to occur within the watershed area at Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation in portions of Dauphin and Lebanon County. According to studies conducted in the early 1990’s by the Nature Conservancy, most of the species’ habitat appears to be located between Blue and Second Mountains, but some areas were also located south of Blue Mountain near Memorial Lake State Park. The population at Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reserve is considered the only remaining viable population of this species in the eastern United States, giving this area special ecological significance.
In August 1999, the Pennsylvania National Guard, responsible for administering and care of Fort Indiantown Gap, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to set aside 158 acres of property to protect the species of butterfly. The NTC will maintain and manage the area for the regal fritillary butterfly. More recently in October 1999, this group and others have begun to investigate expanding the butterflies’ habitat, possibly to areas just over the Blue Mountain, near Memorial Lake State Park.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) indicated the following species were historically located and may still be present within the watershed.
The PFBC indicated that the following species were located within the counties of the watershed.
As defined by the National Audubon Society, an Important Bird Area (IBA) is a site of special significance to breeding or non-breeding birds that, on some basis, can be distinguished from the surrounding area. An IBA should exist as an actual or potential protected area, or it should have the potential to be managed in some way for the benefit of birds and other wildlife. A site must meet one of the following five criteria to qualify as an IBA: 1) Sites where birds concentrate in significant numbers when breeding, in winter, or during migration 2) Sites for endangered or threatened species 3) Sites for Pennsylvania species of concern 4) Sites containing representative, rare or unique habitats, with characteristic birds 5) Sites for long-term avian research or monitoring.
Within the state, 73 sites have been designated as IBA, with the following 3 areas being located within the Swatara Creek watershed: St. Anthony’s wilderness - SGL 211, Hershey special habitat, and Second Mt. Corridor - SGL 211 (Figure 5-1).
St. Anthony’s wilderness - SGL 211 is located in Dauphin County and has been recognized within Pennsylvania, as having an exceptional concentration and/or diversity of birdlife, was a site for Pennsylvania species of concern, and was a site with an exceptional representative of a characteristic natural or near-natural habitat within its physiographic province. This site was listed as containing Northern Goshawk (Accipter gentilis) and Whip-Poor-Wills (Caprimulgus vociferus).
The Hershey special habitat is also located in Dauphin County. This site was a site for Pennsylvania species of special concern and the site contains a habitat type that is rare, threatened, or unusual within the state or region. It was stated to provide for the wintering of the Long Eared Owl (Asio otus). This site also shows up as a "Bird Sanctuary" on local mapping.
The Second Mt. Corridor - SGL 211 is located within Lebanon County. This site is a "bottleneck" for at least 10,000 raptors during fall migration and was also a site for long-term avian research or monitoring. Sightings of sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus) and red-tail hawks (Buteo jamaicensi) are common. Other species including the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) have also been recorded.
A riparian forest buffer is defined as an area of trees, usually accompanied by a scrub/shrub component and other vegetation that is adjacent to a body of water (Siesholtz, 1997). This buffer maintains the integrity of the stream channels and shorelines; reduces the impact of upland sources of pollution by trapping, filtering, and converting sediments, nutrients, and other chemicals; and supplies food, cover and thermal protection to fish and wildlife. Riparian buffers are extremely beneficial in river conservation. These buffers once protected most rivers and streams in North America; but due to deforestation and development, most of these buffers are gone. The removal of riparian buffers results in adverse effects on water quality, wildlife and aquatic habitat, stream bank stabilization, and aesthetics of the waterway.
Related to the physiographic provinces, land use practices, and water quality trends, it was determined that there appear to be more riparian buffers located in the northern portion of the watershed where forest land, public lands, and less agricultural runoff occurs are more prevalent. As 57 percent of the Swatara Creek study area is agricultural land, these areas tend to have no riparian buffers or minimal riparian buffers.
The PGC offers two related programs, the cooperative Farm Game program and the Forest Game Co-op, both are designed to increase recreation opportunities for hunters while promoting management of the state’s wildlife resources. A table indicating the state game lands, state forests lands, and state parks within the watershed can be located in theCultural Resources section of this report.
The cooperative Farm Game program represents a statewide network of private landowners who permit the use of their lands for public hunting. To enhance this use, the PGC may provide landowners with seedlings for creating or augmenting wildlife habitat, informational and directional signs, law enforcement patrols, technical assistance from the Commission’s natural resource specialists, wildlife seed mixtures, and border cuttings around agricultural fields to provide edge and transitional habitat. The Forest Game Co-op is comprised of forest, coal and gas companies, water authorities, and private individuals. To qualify for this program, a minimum of 1000 acres is required. In return for permitting public access to their properties, cooperators receive the same incentives as participants in the Farm Game program.
The agricultural land use prevalent throughout much of the Swatara Creek watershed makes these programs attractive mechanisms for improving both terrestrial habitats and recreational opportunities. As indicated on Figure 5-1, several hundred acres of Farm Game and Forest Game Co-op lands are concentrated along the rural northern perimeter of the watershed.
County Natural Heritage Inventories typically identify and map the most significant natural areas of the study county. These inventories are lists of existing plant and animal species and natural communities that are unique or uncommon to the county. The inventory holds no legal authority or protection, it’s intent is to be used as a planning tool for municipal decision-making, developers, utility companies, and government agencies. Natural Heritage Inventories have been completed on Berks and Dauphin Counties. Lebanon and Schuylkill Counties have not undertaken this type of study.
a) Berks County
The Nature Conservancy completed the Berks County Natural Areas Inventory in 1991. An update to this report was conducted in 1999. According to these reports, Berks County contains 1 natural area of statewide significance and 3 areas of local significance (Figure 5-1).
Blue Mountain is the only identified natural area within the watershed of statewide significance. This mountain is the boundary between the Appalachian Mountain and Great Valley sections of the Valley and Ridge province. This area represents the largest, continuous tract of forest within Berks County and provides important habitats for numerous animals including some threatened or endangered species and a migration corridor for hawks. This area is also the headwaters for many of the creeks in the area including Little Swatara Creek. State Game Lands and State Forest land provide numerous hunting and fishing opportunities and comprise significant portion of this area and the Appalachian Trail meanders along the ridge top. For these reasons, Blue Mountain has been designated by the Nature Conservancy as a priority one critical area to be maintained in the state.
The three areas identified for local significance include the Little Swatara Floodplain Forest, the Appalachian Trail, and the Boulder fields.
b) Dauphin County
The Nature Conservancy completed the Natural Area Inventory for Dauphin County in conjunction with Cumberland and Perry Counties in 1999. There are 9 natural areas of statewide significance and 1 site of local significance located within the Swatara Creek watershed (Figure 5-1).
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