Penn State Misses Trees for Forest Fragmentation

delaware riverkeeper - Jim Willis reports

Jim Willis
Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)

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In a recent Penn State study, partially funded by the anti-drilling Heinz Foundation, researchers claim pipelines cause forest fragmentation.

Researchers from the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management at Penn State have just published a new study/paper in the Journal of Environmental Management titled, “Linear infrastructure drives habitat conversion and forest fragmentation associated with Marcellus shale gas development in a forested landscape” (abstract below).

Their thesis: “Fragmentation of ecologically important core forests within the northern Appalachians — driven by pipeline and access road construction — is the major threat posed by shale-gas development, according to researchers, who recommend a change in infrastructure-siting policies to head off loss of this critical habitat.”

forest fragmentation

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the hazards of so-called forest fragmentation. Back in 2013 the U.S. Geological Survey published a meme on it too. The Penn State researchers maintain clearing pathways for pipelines, and keeping them cleared of trees, is damaging the habitat of some species. The study mentions a lot of other studies, but nowhere (that we could find) does it identify a single, specific species that has supposedly been harmed by such “fragmentation” in forests.

The aim, the upshot of this research, seems to be an appeal to regulators to clamp down on the siting of pipelines on PRIVATE (not public) land. It aims to be something the DEP can clutch in its hand and say, “Sorry, we can’t authorize that pipeline ’cause it will cause a break in the forest canopy and certain canopy-dwelling species will be affected.” Right.

Excuse us Ms. & Mr. researchers: What about the species that BENEFIT from fragmentation? We didn’t read anything about that in the study. The telltale sign that this is bought-and-paid for propaganda and not real research comes at the end, when you find out it was funded, in part, by the virulently anti-drilling Heinz Foundation.

Here’s how Penn State News is spinning this latest “research”:

Fragmentation of ecologically important core forests within the northern Appalachians — driven by pipeline and access road construction — is the major threat posed by shale-gas development, according to researchers, who recommend a change in infrastructure-siting policies to head off loss of this critical habitat.

Expansive tracts of continuous forest provide critical habitat for some species of forest-dependent wildlife, and habitat fragmentation resulting from “industrial linear corridors” in forested landscapes can have many impacts on wildlife populations, noted research team member Margaret Brittingham, professor of forest resources, College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State.

She said that forest edges created by corridors have higher rates of predation compared to interior forest for some species, and barrier effects created by linear corridors can restrict movement by other species and alter their home ranges, decreasing gene flow and genetic diversity. Linear corridors also may be used as travel lanes for some species or facilitate the invasion of exotic plant species into previously inaccessible habitat.

Although development of natural gas from deep shale formations has occurred in Pennsylvania for slightly more than 12 years — the first successful nontraditional gas well was drilled in Washington County in November 2004 — the Marcellus play currently is just 10 percent of what it is expected to be when fully mature, Brittingham said.

“So if Pennsylvania is to have core, interior forests left after shale-gas development ramps up in coming decades, policies regulating placement of well pads, pipelines, access roads and other infrastructure need to change.”

In findings reported this month in the Journal of Environmental Management, the researchers pointed out that current trends of land-use change resulting from shale-gas development suggest that the greatest loss of core forest will occur with well pads constructed farthest from pre-existing pipelines, requiring new pipelines and roads to be built to connect pads.

“Our results suggest that to reduce future forest fragmentation, new pads should be placed near pre-existing pipelines, and methods to consolidate pipelines with other infrastructure should be used,” Brittingham explained. “Without these mitigation practices, we will continue to lose core forest as a result of new pipelines and infrastructure, particularly on private land.”

The research revealed a distinct difference between shale-gas development taking place on public land versus that occurring on private land, noted lead researcher Lillie Langlois, a doctoral candidate in wildlife and fisheries science. Nearly three fourths of all shale-gas development is located on private land. However, the number of wells drilled per pad is lower on private property compared to public land.

“As a result, loss of core forest is more than double on private land than public land, which likely results from better management practices implemented on public land,” she said. “We think these differences occur because public land tends to benefit from greater expertise and landowner size.”

Until now, knowledge about specific infrastructure effects on forest habitat has been limited by a lack of spatial tracking of infrastructure development in different land uses. This study used high-resolution aerial imagery, land-cover data, and well-point data to quantify shale-gas development across four time periods — 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 including, the number of wells permitted, drilled and producing gas — a measure of pipeline development; land-use change; and forest fragmentation on both private and public land.

forest fragmentation

The researchers conducted this work in Lycoming County, located in Pennsylvania’s northcentral region in the northern Appalachian Mountains. Most of the county, which encompasses more than 1,200 square miles, is underlain by the Marcellus Shale formation and is highly forested — 84 percent prior to shale-gas development in 2005.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection database reports that Lycoming County ranks fifth in the state for active well drilling, with 926 wells or a well density of 22 pads per 100 square miles, as of April 2016.

The majority of shale-gas development in the study area occurred since 2010, Langlois said, resulting in almost 4 percent loss of core forest within just six years. “Similar to other studies, we found that while a small portion of the total land area — less than 1 percent — was directly converted for infrastructure, indirect impacts caused by habitat fragmentation were far greater.”

Also contributing to the research was Patrick Drohan, associate professor of pedology, Penn State.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forestry, the Heinz Endowments, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture supported this work.

Here’s the abstract:

Highlights

  • Pipelines comprised the largest portion of the shale gas industry footprint.
  • Pipelines were the largest contributor to the fragmentation of core forest.
  • Loss of core forest was double on private land compared to public land.
  • Methods to consolidate pipelines with other infrastructure should be used.
  • New pads should be placed near existing pipelines to reduce further fragmentation.

Abstract

Large, continuous forest provides critical habitat for some species of forest dependent wildlife. The rapid expansion of shale gas development within the northern Appalachians results in direct loss of such habitat at well sites, pipelines, and access roads; however the resulting habitat fragmentation surrounding such areas may be of greater importance. Previous research has suggested that infrastructure supporting gas development is the driver for habitat loss, but knowledge of what specific infrastructure affects habitat is limited by a lack of spatial tracking of infrastructure development in different land uses. We used high-resolution aerial imagery, land cover data, and well point data to quantify shale gas development across four time periods (2010, 2012, 2014, 2016), including: the number of wells permitted, drilled, and producing gas (a measure of pipeline development); land use change; and forest fragmentation on both private and public land. As of April 2016, the majority of shale gas development was located on private land (74% of constructed well pads); however, the number of wells drilled per pad was lower on private compared to public land (3.5 and 5.4, respectively). Loss of core forest was more than double on private than public land (4.3 and 2.0%, respectively), which likely results from better management practices implemented on public land. Pipelines were by far the largest contributor to the fragmentation of core forest due to shale gas development. Forecasting future land use change resulting from gas development suggests that the greatest loss of core forest will occur with pads constructed farthest from pre-existing pipelines (new pipelines must be built to connect pads) and in areas with greater amounts of core forest. To reduce future fragmentation, our results suggest new pads should be placed near pre-existing pipelines and methods to consolidate pipelines with other infrastructure should be used. Without these mitigation practices, we will continue to lose core forest as a result of new pipelines and infrastructure particularly on private land.

Yes, we do have a copy of the full paper, however it is a copyrighted study and we’re not able to share it here.

Editor’s Note: Penn State’s acceptance of special interest money from the Heinz Endowments, funder of one phony fractivist initiative after another and radical organizations such as PennFuture, the Clean Air Council, the Delaware River Povertykeeper (a/k/a Riverkeeper), the Mountain Watershed Association, the Southwest Pa Environmental Health Clinic and even the CELDF, to do a study involving natural gas development to which the funder is wholly opposed is utterly reprehensible.

Like Jim, I’m also tired of this forest fragmentation junk science that fails to consider the wildlife benefits to turkeys, deer and the Golden-Winged Warbler, for example. I’m even more tired of all this nonsense about losing forest cover when we’ve been adding it relentlessly for more than half a century. Knock it off. Enough already. As a Penn State alumni (from its College of Agriculture no less) I’m thoroughly disgusted.

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The post Penn State Misses Trees for Forest Fragmentation appeared first on Natural Gas Now.

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