A birding trail for the Upper Delaware
By BARBARA LEO
Logging and bluestone mining engaged in by the earlier settlers of this area inflicted scars on the landscape of the Upper Delaware River Valley, but over time, nature has restored the land, if not to its once pristine condition, at least to prime habitat for the plants and animals beloved by many contributors of this column. Because of this special habitat, Pennsylvania Audubon designated the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreation River as an Important Bird Area (IBA) in 1998.
The IBA program began in Europe in 1985 to protect and spotlight critical habitat for migrating, breeding and wintering bird populations throughout the continent. In the United States, Pennsylvania was the first to adopt the program and currently has 80 IBAs. The Upper Delaware IBA follows the Scenic and Recreational River designation and extends one mile inland. It meets three IBA criteria: first, it hosts 27 species of migrating and breeding warblers; second, it is home to migrating and breeding waterfowl; third, it is home to breeding and wintering American bald eagles. In 2003, Northeast Pennsylvania Audubon Society agreed to become its steward. Stewardship involves documenting the birdlife and educating landowners and communities about its richness, thereby leading toward responsible land-management decisions.
An IBA designation carries no legal protection or force of law, but it does celebrate the natural heritage and bird life that abounds within its area. Because most of the land within this IBA is privately owned, the same cooperation needed to manage growth in the region will be needed to protect this critical habitat along the Upper Delaware River corridor.
I spent time reviewing the history of the 1978 federal designation of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River and the conflicts that ensued. I was struck by how the voices of dissent controlled the outcome of the River Management Plan and how, after 20 years, the fears expressed then have not been realized. By law, the plan will be reviewed this year and hopefully time will have healed the wounds. The positive thread running through much of this history was a desire to preserve the natural beauty and rural character of the Delaware Valley.
The creation of a birding trail together with New York Audubon IBA #80 would be one way to form the kind of partnership that could protect this critical habitat. The designation in New York mirrors 73.4 miles on the Pennsylvania side from Hancock to Matamoras. The trail would be a cooperative effort and symbolize the role of the river in bringing people and communities together due to their common goals. Birding trails, mostly followed by auto in this case, identify places where birders can find specific habitats and species and can also add tourism dollars to the local economy. It is hoped that creation of an Upper Delaware birding trail would raise additional awareness for wise development and encourage townships to include conservation development and green space in their comprehensive plans.
Although this will take time, I have already had positive feedback from the Eagle Institute, which has accepted stewardship of New York IBA #80, the Delaware Highlands Conservancy and Pennsylvania Audubon.
(Barbara Leo is a board member of Northeast PA Audubon Society, Region 40 Coordinator for the 2nd Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas and Committee Chairperson of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational Important Bird Area (IBA) #60.)