North Lookout, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Kempton, Pa

Written by: Jamal Childs

In eastern Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mountains, the Kittatinny Ridge Sentinel Landscape stands as a testament to the power of collaborative conservation. This remarkable region, named “Big Mountain” in the Lenape language, boasts forested ridges and fertile valleys that play a critical role in preserving clean water, capturing carbon and serving as vital migration corridors for rare wildlife and songbirds. Beyond its natural beauty, the Kittatinny Ridge is a linchpin in Pennsylvania’s agricultural and outdoor recreational economies and a key area for military readiness.

The Chesapeake Conservation Partnership celebrates last month’s announcement from the Governor Shapiro Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of the Interior (DOI) and Department of Defense (DOD) designating the Kittatinny Ridge Sentinel Landscape.

“The newly designated Kittatinny Ridge Sentinel Landscape marks the third sentinel landscape within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, representing the DOD’s ongoing commitment to protecting water quality and conserving natural resources within this key region for national defense, working lands and outdoor recreational economies,” said Kristin Thomasgard, program director for the DOD’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program. “Through this collaborative partnership between federal agencies, state and local governments, non-profit organizations, and landowners, the Department looks forward to supporting critical conservation work in the Chesapeake Bay watershed for years to come.”

Kittatinny Ridge Sentinel Landscape

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, a coalition initiated in 2013 by the USDA, DOD, and DOI, embodies a pioneering approach to conservation. This partnership brings together federal agencies, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations to work with landowners and managers. The partnership’s goal is to promote sustainable land use around military installations and ranges. By doing so, they aim to strengthen military preparedness, conserve natural resources, support local economies, provide public outdoor recreation and enhance climate resilience.

Kittatinny Ridge is particularly significant as it supports the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Fort Indiantown Gap (FTIG). FTIG is the busiest National Guard training center, housing the Army’s second busiest heliport and one of only three specialized Army National Guard aviation facilities. However, rapid population growth and development around major highways threaten this unique landscape. The encroachment has reduced open space and increased light pollution, complicating nighttime training for the military.

These developments also affect sensitive species and impact crucial ecosystem services like drinking water, farm products, timber and recreational resources.

Despite these pressures, only 20 percent of the Kittatinny Ridge Sentinel Landscape is currently protected. This has spurred numerous partners to join forces, aiming to safeguard the natural resources that define this region. The collaborative efforts in Kittatinny Ridge exemplify the broad benefits of the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, demonstrating how federal funding and strategic actions can be used to conserve essential ecosystems while bolstering military readiness.

“In a study conducted by the Nature Conservancy, the Kittatinny Ridge was determined to be the most climate resilient landscape in Pennsylvania, providing an unbroken area for plants and animals to move to higher elevations as the climate gets increasingly warmer and habitats change,” said Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “The benefits to this designation are many and varied.”

Fort Indiantown Gap

Other Sentinel Landscapes in the Chesapeake Watershed include:

  • A year ago, the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership celebrated the second designation of a sentinel landscape in the watershed: The Virginia Security Corridor covering more than 2.9 million acres.
  • Another example of the model within this partnership is situated along the Chesapeake Bay: the Middle Chesapeake Sentinel Landscape is the watershed’s first sentinel landscape. This area is renowned for its ecological and economic significance. Anchored by Naval Air Station Patuxent River, a premier location for Navy aircraft testing, the Middle Chesapeake region also includes the Nanticoke River. This historically significant waterway supports many threatened and endangered species. Since its designation, the Middle Chesapeake Sentinel Landscape has pursued projects to preserve natural resources, protect agricultural land and enhance military preparedness.

The success of these sentinel landscapes highlights the importance of such partnerships in driving conservation efforts across the country. By securing federal funding and coordinating actions among various stakeholders, these initiatives can effectively address environmental and military challenges. They offer a blueprint for other regions seeking to balance development pressures with the need to protect natural and strategic resources.

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership is proving that conservation and military readiness are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they can mutually reinforce when approached with foresight and cooperation. The Kittatinny Ridge, Virginia Security Corridor and Middle Chesapeake sentinel landscapes are leading examples of how this model can be implemented effectively. These efforts not only preserve the ecological integrity of vital regions but also ensure that military installations can continue to operate efficiently and effectively without disturbing civilians.

As the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership expands, it promises to bring similar benefits to new regions across the United States. By fostering sustainable land use practices, supporting local economies and enhancing resilience to climate change, these landscapes offer hope and inspiration for a more balanced and sustainable future with the use of conservation.

Those interested in coordinating with partners on shared conservation goals in the Kittatiny Ridge can contact Rose McCarthy, the special projects liaison for the governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Office of Policy and Planning, at [email protected].

Lightning Update is a regular communication of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions of the Partnership or member organizations.
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Support for the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership is provided by:
National Park Service Chesapeake
EPA Chesapeake Bay Program
USDA Forest Service
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Virginia Outdoors Foundation
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Chesapeake Conservancy

The Chesapeake Conservation Partnership is co-convened by: