Ecological Restoration is defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration International as “The process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.” It is an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates ecosystem recovery with respect to its health, species composition and community, and its sustainability or resistance to disturbance and resilience. Restoration attempts to return an ecosystem to a state that resembles what it would have been if it had not been degraded. This restored system may not necessarily be exactly as it would have been since present conditions or activities can cause it to develop along a new path.
Thus is the state of Penn Forest. Our property has been degraded through excessive weather (e.g. windstorms), fire exposure, clearing and general damage caused by humans, with the result of diversity narrowing of flora and fauna species. We have an abundance of invasive understory plants that have taken over, and the existing native plants are showing signs of stress from this unnatural competition.
Restoration Committee Meeting
(Left to right: Janet Kikta, Pete McQuillin, Jeff Giles, Moni Wesner, Erin Copeland, Roger Westman, Mary Ruth Aull and Jeff Hodes. Absent: Kathy Raborn and Tom Bartman)
So given the present stressed conditions, what is the Restoration Committee to do to return Penn Forest to its more native state while still allowing it to meet its business plan for grave site sales and interments?
1) Removing Invasives. Presently, we are working and planning spring work on the first two acres or so of our Phase 1 burial area. We are removing invasive plants and will be reintroducing more native plants. From this first area of success, we will spread our efforts into both contiguous areas and other areas that are not prohibitively infested. This spread will allow us to manage these pests and others and prevent them from being reintroduced into cleaned areas.
These processes of restoration combine Integrated Pest Management (IPM) into a method some Australian Restoration Ecologists have named, “The Bradley Method of Restoration,” which is to simply use the most effective and economic method to remove what you do not want and replant. When accomplished to the degree planned, then work moves on while you inspect what was done for new infestations. (If you are interested volunteering to help with this effort, please let us know via the website “contact us” area).
2) Thinning Unhealthy Trees. We have a forest that needs some management. We are planning a meeting soon with a Pennsylvania State forester. With this person’s guidance, we will develop a plan (as part of our overall Restoration plan) for thinning out damaged and/or unhealthy trees from our forest. Although some areas are so dense that just doing this will not solve everything but it is a positive step that will allow us to plan for how future burial areas can be incorporated while allowing for a plan to restore some of the older growth. At this time we will introduce attempts to return our cemetery to a state that might resemble what it would have been if it had not been degraded while keeping our cemetery plan in mind.
Before and After Ground Story and Dead Tree Clearing of the Phase 1 Burial Area
3) Creating a Restoration Plan. As our resident restoration ecologist, Erin Copeland, so aptly points out, “you need a plan for your restoration.” A restoration plan entails: a clear reason why the restoration is required, defining objectives, assessing existing conditions, planning for how the restoration will meet the objectives, and evaluating success. Of course, part of the plan includes a budget for the restoration and the long term maintenance. This will be a process that we will begin here shortly with the consulting forester and an evaluation of the plant and animal life that presently exists at Penn Forest. We plan to have the plan completed before the end 2012.
Being a part of this process is a valuable asset to the cemetery and its larger Penn Hills community. We appreciate those that are helping us now with our small phases of work to remove unwanted plants and lessening some of the safety concerns for visitors. If you feel so inclined, please sign up. As Kermit would say, “It’s not easy being Green” and we could add “but it is certainly worth the effort!”
Restoration Committee Chair