A vast swath of Penn's Woods in Elk and McKean Counties will be conserved, thanks to a Virginia-based nonprofit.
The Conservation Fund, in a news release, said the Clarion Junction Forest consists of 32,598 acres of "sustainable timberland" around the city of Johnsonburg, Elk County, in the "Pennsylvania Wilds," just under 300 miles northwest of Philadelphia. It may be the largest conservation acquisition by a nonprofit in Pennsylvania history, a spokeswoman said.
In a deal finalized Wednesday, the Conservation Fund said its purchase will bridge Pennsylvania Game Commission lands and the Allegheny National Forest, while also securing the confluence of the East and West Branches of the Clarion River.
"We are in an entirely new era of private forest ownership in America," Brian Dangler, vice president and director of the Conservation Fund's Working Forest Fund, said in the news release. "The transfer of large, industrial-size forests is happening so quickly, we only have a very short window to protect these forested landscapes to ensure their ecological benefits and that they can remain the backbone of rural economies and traditional uses nationwide."
A spokeswoman for the Conservation Fund said she couldn't disclose the cost of the purchase, due to a confidentiality agreement. A 9,894-acre property is for sale in Elk County for $31.5 million.
Last year, the Inquirer and Daily News wrote about Pennsylvania's privately owned forests and all the ways that nonprofits, estate lawyers, and Penn State's Center for Private Forests are trying to prevent them from being divided and sold as smaller properties.
Pennsylvania is one of the most heavily forested states in the country, with nearly 740,000 individually owned parcels. That number grows every year.
"There are a lot of large parcels sold every day in Pennsylvania," Jim Finley, a retired Pennsylvania State University forestry professor who founded the center in 2011, said last year. "What you're seeing is these parcels being broken up."
Allyson Muth, the Center for Private Forests associate director, could not immediately be reached for comment.
For nonprofits and other private forest owners, maintaining those properties does not mean total "preservation." Professional foresters work with owners to make money off the land to pay taxes and upkeep. The Conservation Fund said the Clarion Junction Forest "will be sustainably managed as a working forest, maintaining its role as a steady source of timber for local mills and jobs for timber crews."
"Our commonwealth is blessed with an abundance of forestland, and Pennsylvanians have a rich heritage of working, hunting, fishing, and recreating in these woods. But we cannot take for granted that the same opportunities will be available for future generations," said Kyle Shenk, Pennsylvania state director for the Conservation Fund.