Allegheny National Forest

The Allegheny National Forest is a National Forest that can be found in northwestern Pennsylvania. The forest covers 513,175 acres of land. In the forest is the Kinzua Dam, which impounds the Allegheny River to create Allegheny Reservoir. The administrative headquarters for the Allegheny National Forest can be found in Warren. It has two ranger stations, one in Bradford, McKean County and one in Marienville, Forest County.

The forest lies in the heart of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas region. It is only 40 miles from the site of the first commercial oil well within the United States at Titusville, Pennsylvania. In 1981, about 17 percent of the state’s total crude oil production originated from mineral rights that were owned by private individuals within the boundary of the forest.

Today, the forest is known for black cherry, maple, and other hardwoods, but 200 years ago these species were less numerous. Today’s forest is largely the result of two different things: the exploitation of timber at the turn of the 20th century and being managed by the Forest Service since 1923.

In the 18th century, the forest in northwest Pennsylvania was mainly Eastern Hemlock and American beech, with white pine along the river bottoms and oak on the slopes of the river valleys. Black cherry accounted for less than 1 percent of all the trees on the plateau. This old-growth forest contained rich and vibrant biodiversity, and was characterized by large trees, fallen logs, and a multi-layered forest canopy. Predation by the native wolf and cougar kept the deer populations at naturally-regulated low levels, estimated at 10 deer per square mile. The understory vegetation was richly diverse and dense.

Disturbances such as tornadoes, blowdown, and ice storms were common natural events that produced a random mosaic of small openings within the forest canopy across the landscape before the arrival of human beings to the North American continent. Later, Native Americans burned small areas of the understory of the forest in certain places in order to improve berry and oak mast production, ease of travel, and hunting.

Today, the Forest Service carries out various management and research activities, providing multiple benefits with a strong scientific basis. Occasionally managers must designate different locations for activities that aren’t compatible, such as wilderness hiking and snowmobiling. It is hard to actually manage a forest while benefiting the vegetation, wildlife, recreationists, and the industry.

Defining the way a National Forest is to be managed can be controversial. The National Forest Management Act of 1976 required each National Forest to implement a Forest Plan with extensive public involvement, outlining a vision for how and where the management activities will be emphasized. The ANF’s initial Forest Plan was approved in 1986 and recently underwent some revisions. The revision process started in the fall of 2003, and was anticipated to be complete by early 2007. Additional parcels of the ANF are expected to be recommended to Congress for permanent protection as wilderness areas under the Wilderness Act of 1964 as a result of the Forest Plan revision process.

Recently, some conflict has arisen in the forest over mineral rights. In 1923 the land that is now the Allegheny National Forest was bought by the Federal Government, but the federal government didn’t buy the subsurface or mineral rights of the land due to financial issues. Private citizens own 93 percent of the subsurface land within the forest. Since the spike in oil prices around 2000, oil companies that own mineral rights have placed more drilling equipment in the forest. During an out of court settlement in April of 2009, the United States Forest Service made the decision that the National Environmental Policy Act will govern all oil and gas drilling in the forest. The National Environmental Policy Act will make any oil or gas drilling in the forest subject to public judgment. On June 1 of 2009, the Minard Run Oil Co., Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association, Allegheny Forest Alliance and Warren County Government filed suit in the United States District Court in Erie, Pennsylvania over the National Forest Service’s usage of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Image Caption: Mead Run in the Allegheny National Forest. Credit: IvoShandor/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)