“It’s part of our landscape, our backyard. We take it for granted,” Paul T. Zeph, Kittatinny project manager, told members of a House-Senate conservation committee Monday. “Kittatinny Ridge is the closest place you can get a good wild experience for an awful lot of people.”
The ridge is primarily known as a foot corridor for the Appalachian Trial and an important flyway for migratory hawks, eagles and songbirds viewed from such well-known lookouts at Hawk Mountain.
But the ridge is also important for its water resources – 100 waterways and public drinking water supplies – recreation opportunities, and its large undisturbed forests, Audubon officials said. The rocky outcrops are home to such threatened species as the timber rattlesnake and Allegheny wood rat.
Audubon’s involvement with Kittatinny stems from the ridge’s designation as an important birding area. Not only are the flyways important, but the deep forests provide habitat for such birds as the scarlet tanager and wood thrush.
About two-thirds of the ridge is privately owned; the rest is mostly as state gameland.
Audubon’s strategy is to work with local landowners and municipal officials to put conservation practices in place. There is no talk of creating a new public park, as might have been the case 50 years ago.
The effort with local officials involves using ordinances to guide new development. Municipal officials have stormwater management and conservation ordinances at their disposal as well as ordinances regulating building on mountain slopes.
The first step in working with private landowners is to make them aware of the importance of their property and, secondly, to find out how they want to use the land, said Zeph.
The focus on ridges as important ecosystems in their own right is relatively new. New Jersey passed a law last year recognizing the importance of its Highlands region.
The Audubon campaign also comes as energy firms eye Pennsylvania’s ridges as locations for giant windmills to harness wind energy.
The Kittatinny Ridge probably won’t have windmills because of its reputation as a migratory flyway, said Audubon Pennsylvania Director Tim Schaeffer.
While Audubon supports wind development, the organization says safeguards are needed to make sure the giant windmills don’t interfere with flyways and designated birding areas, he added.
The Kittatinny Ridge campaign will become more visible early next year with the distribution of a poster in public schools calling attention to a new Web site.
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