U.S. Water News Online
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Thousands of acres of prime watershed
and forest land in northeastern Pennsylvania, known as the Theta
Lands, are being protected with an agreement signed recently by
officials from Luzerne County and The Conservation Fund.
"This is a landmark day for land conservation in northeastern
Pennsylvania," said Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
(DCNR) Secretary Michael DiBerardinis. "For decades, these lands were
managed by a water company for watershed protection purposes. That
ownership provided significant protection of the water supply in that
region as well as habitat for many species. Public ownership of these
lands will continue that needed protection, while allowing for timber
management and public outdoor recreation."
At the meeting in Wilkes-Barre, county commissioners approved $4
million for the acquisition of four tracts in Luzerne and Lackawana
counties, totaling more than 7,000 acres, from the Theta Lands Corp.
A $1 million grant from DCNR is expected early next year to complete
the deal. Luzerne County will acquire almost 5,000 acres of the
Arbutus Peak Oak Barrens and two parcels near Nescopeck State Park
from The Conservation Fund.
The county and DCNR have had preliminary discussions about a joint
management agreement for the Barrens property. The Conservation Fund
will transfer the remaining acreage -- more than 2,000 acres in
Lackawanna County known as the Watres property -- to DCNR for
inclusion in its Lackawanna State Forest. The Conservation Fund
expects to transfer the land in Spring 2004.
"This project represents a lot of work over a long period of time,
and I am pleased we reached an agreement before the end of the year,"
said Luzerne County Commissioner Thomas A. Makowski. "I believe the
people of northeastern Pennsylvania will realize this was clearly one
of the most important environmental endeavors in which the county has
ever been a participant."
The Barrens was identified as one of the priority sites for
preservation in Luzerne County for its watershed attribute and
critical habitation in the Lackawana Bi-County Open Space, Greenway
and Outdoor Recreation Master Plan. The area was also listed on the
Natural Areas Inventory as one of the richest barrens for butterflies
and moths in the Northeast.
"Thanks to the leadership of Luzerne County, support of the
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and commitment of
the Theta Lands Corp., we are protecting critical wildlife habitat
and expanding important recreational lands," said Larry Selzer,
president of The Conservation Fund. "This public-private partnership
demonstrates the extraordinary results that can be achieved when
corporations and public agencies work together to find balanced
This acquisition represents the latest Conservation Fund and DCNR
project protecting important watershed lands in Pennsylvania. Earlier
this year, the Fund worked with the state to acquire and protect more
than 9,000 acres of prime woodlands in Columbia and Northumberland
counties from Pennsylvania Suburban Water Company.
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