Dating back to the purchase of the watershed properties, the Bethlehem Authority (Authority) and the City of Bethlehem have a long history of superior forest stewardship that is distinguished from most private land owners in the region. Through the efforts of long time City Forester, John Anspach, the watershed forests have been a model for proper forest management activities. Plantations of various indigenous species were developed and nurtured under Mr. Anspach's guiding forestry principles.
In the late 1980's and early 1990's, comprehensive forest management plans were developed by a consulting forestry firm, American Forestry Consultants, for both watershed areas. Since then, and up until the early to mid 2000's, forestry initiatives took a back seat to other critical water supply issues, such as the construction of a water filtration plant and the re-construction of Penn Forest Dam.
Following several reports in early 2000 which focused on the potential timber value on the properties, particularly in the Tunkhannock Watershed, a report was commissioned by the Authority which resulted in Silvicultural Recommendations for Selected Stands in The Tunkhannock Creek Watershed by Brooks Forestry and Resource Management in January, 2005. The recommendations from this report are being used to this day under the guidance of the Authority’s Consulting Forester, Woodland Management Services.
In 2011, following over a year of negotiations, the Authority entered into a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) that was part of TNC's Working Woodland's Program. TNC is an international private nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve the plants, animals, and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. The outcome of this arrangement was the development of a comprehensive Forest Management Plan (FMP) that became Forest Stewardship Council® or FSC®-C008922 certified in 2012. FSC® is the preeminent sustainable forest certification entity in the world today. The FMP has the following overarching goals that will drive the management activities on the Authority properties:
The FMP was developed to guide the management activities of the Authority properties in the Wild Creek and Tunkhannock Creek Watersheds. These properties are part of the Working Woodlands program of TNC, and, as a result, will be managed in accordance with the FSC® US 2010 National Standard as part of TNC's group certificate. In addition, as part of Working Woodlands, these properties will be verified to the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) and provides carbon credits that are sold on the voluntary market to offset the carbon footprint of large companies. By sequestering carbon dioxide, to date through 2021 the Authority has received credits for revenue totaling over $1,369,000 from Chevy Corp. and Disney Corp. and has a commitment from Disney to buy carbon credits through 2022.
The vision for all properties within TNC's Working Woodlands, is to restore and sustain high quality ecological values within economically productive forests. The Authority properties serve as the primary and secondary drinking water supply for over 117,000 customers, and as such have considerably high conservation value. In addition, the mesic till barrens community type of the Pocono Plateau, which dominates several thousand acres of Authority property, is home to rare and endangered species of plants, birds and insects and is considered to be the only natural community of its kind in the world.
The conservation easement provides that: the properties will be retained predominantly in their natural, scenic, and forested condition, free of additional forest fragmentation or additional development; any rare plants, animals, or plant communities will be protected; and any use that will significantly impair or interfere with the conservation values or interests of the Authority will be prevented. The easement will assure long-term, professional, independent third-party certified forest management of the property for the production, management and harvesting of economically valuable timber and related forest products while ensuring the conservation values are protected or enhanced. The easement also ensures the protection of forest and other natural resources and allows for the potential of economic return from the protection, management, maintenance, and improvement of ecosystem services provided by the property, including but not limited to the protection of water quality and quantity, carbon sequestration, and the protection of wetlands, rare species and natural communities. The easement does allow for the development of renewable energy projects such as wind or solar energy.
The FMP will be periodically reviewed and updated to ensure that strategies to be undertaken are in compliance with TNC's Compatible Human and Economic Use Activity Standard Operating Procedures (CHU SOP) and are in accordance with the Conservancy's Group Certification program and the FSC® US National Standard.