The river otter is once again frolicking in Pa.'s waterways thanks in part to the Wild Resource Conservation Program. Learn more about what WRCP is doing to help our endangered and threatened species here.
Resources in Danger: Biodiversity
Biodiversity is all living things and the places they call home. More than 25,000 species of known organisms—white-tailed deer, ladyslippers, rainbow trout, slugs, eastern hemlocks, black bears, timber rattlesnakes, red-tailed hawks – are found in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, more than 800 of them are considered rare or endangered, meaning they could be facing extinction throughout their range in the state.
Biodiversity impacts our health and economy in many ways:
• Photosynthesis from plants cleans the air we breathe;
• Plants and animals have contributed to the development of 30 percent of our medicines;
• Thousands of residents and visitors to our state spend many hours enjoying our natural wonders through hiking, biking, kayaking and other recreational activities:
• The forest products industry contributes billions of dollars to Pennsylvania’s economy; and
• Nearly 20 percent of Pennsylvanians hunt, fish and trap.
For these and many other reasons, we need to live sustainably, use our resources wisely and consider what impacts we might be having on other species.
The threats. The population growth of Pennsylvania over the past three centuries has taken a heavy toll on plants and wildlife. Today, only remnants of a once vast and rich natural state remain to support Pennsylvania's native species, and our sprawling population threatens our remaining natural areas. As we expand, we fragment habitats and cause pollution—two of the biggest threats to biodiversity in the commonwealth.
Most wildlife requires a specific amount of space and certain conditions to live find food and reproduce. The clearing of land for agriculture, and residential and industrial development divide that space and make it harder for wildlife to find food and produce offspring. Pollution threatens our air and water quality, or directly poisons organisms. A third factor is the introduction of aggressive, non-native species that invade habitats and can choke out or destroy native species
The future. Pennsylvania's resource agencies realized the plight of our native plants and animals and initiated management programs to halt the spiraling loss:
The Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, with support from Wild Resource Conservation Fund, try to locate and protect remaining endangered and threatened species. These agencies also are working to educate key groups about the essence of biodiversity and its importance to our economic and physical well-being.
Other efforts underway include:
• Biodiversity Conservation Plan – The Pennsylvania Biodiversity Partnership is creating a biodiversity conservation plan that will outline strategies and suggest partnerships to protect and conserve biodiversity.
• Wild Resource Conservation Program – Housed within DCNR's Office of Conservation Science, WRCP directs resources toward non-game species — both plants and animals — and strives to educate the public on recognition and preservation of Pennsylvania’s most sensitive flora and fauna. It has reintroduced otters to Pennsylvania’s waterways and ospreys to its skies, while awarding grants to projects studying and protecting plants, birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians and other species.
• County Natural Heritage Inventories – Nearly every county in Pennsylvania has critical natural areas that contain rare, threatened, or endangered species, natural communities of special concern, or significant ecological and geological landscapes worthy of protection. DCNR has provided funding to study and inventory these areas. The information is provided to local planning agencies and officials for use as a tool in land use management.
• The Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory – PNDI is a database maintained by DCNR that provides a screening tool for counties, local governments, developers, private consultants and non-profit organizations throughout the state to help them make environmentally and economically balanced decisions regarding land use, zoning and open space preservation.