Environment & Energy
10:15 am
Fri May 24, 2013

Lovers of PA’s Loyalsock Forest Fight to Limit Drilling There

"We have to be the voice of the birds," said Paul Zeph, of the Pennsylvania Audubon Society.
"We have to be the voice of the birds," said Paul Zeph, of the Pennsylvania Audubon Society.
Credit Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks

Deep in the Loyalsock State Forest, where no cell phone signal reaches, the sounds of rushing waterfalls and forest birds are suddenly interrupted by the sound of a helicopter.

Paul Zeph of the Pennsylvania Audubon Society says the noise could be related to gas drilling. Drillers will often drop seismic testing equipment into remote areas that are difficult to reach by roads. And that leads Zeph to cite one of the many worries that naturalists and outdoors lovers have with plans to expand drilling in the Loyalsock.

“Song birds identify one another through singing and they identify their territory through singing,” says Zeph. “With a very noisy environment, studies are starting to show that it’s impairing the ability to find mates.”

The Loyalsock State Forest consists of more than 100,000 acres of pristine wilderness 120 miles north of Harrisburg, stretching across Bradford, Lycoming and Sullivan counties. It’s home to black bear, wild turkey, bobcats, native brook trout, and rare and endangered birds. It also sits above some very productive natural gas deposits of the Marcellus Shale.

So the Loyalsock is now the site of a tense three-way dance among energy companies, environmentalists and state regulators over whether, where and how drilling should be allowed in this state forest. Zeph, who has a bird-call app on his phone, says the Loyalsock serves as a nursery for migratory birds that come from the tropics. He says more drilling will fragment the forest, leaving miles of clearings for new roads and pipelines that will welcome bird predators like raccoon, opossums, and bluejays.

Read more of this story on the website of our partner StateImpact Pennsylvania.