Vassar College Digital Library
Pennsylvania's forests share a long and deep history that has been affected throughout the years by a number of external factors. The most recent threat to forest health is the development of unconventional shale gas production from the Marcellus Shale, which underlies much of Pennsylvania. Unconventional gas production has a large surface footprint as it is enabled by two key technologies—horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. This study explores the effects of gas development upon forests that are part of a quarter-million hectare old-growth plan for the state of Pennsylvania. Because of severed mineral rights and State gas leases on State Forests, gas development poses an imminent threat to the future of Pennsylvania's old-growth forests.
By examining the effect of gas development in the region from 2008 to 2012, this study indicates the early stages of fragmentation in an increasingly segmented landscape. Landscape ecology was key in evaluating this area. Landscape metrics-specifically contagion, mean fractal index, percent forest cover, core forest, and total edge were used to evaluate the study area. In addition to these data, extensive research into the effects of fragmentation and surface disturbance upon both long and short-term forest wellbeing was made. The study found that development increased edge length and the number of forest patches and decreased interior forest cover. It is recommended that no further leasing be allowed in these regions and that the forest management and regulation budget be increased through gas royalty payments and used to enhance the old growth characteristics of Pennsylvania's forest.
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