Bartramian Audubon Society's Certified Wildlife Sanctuary Program
By Jon Hartman, Communications Coordinator
In 1982, three Slippery Rock University students founded the Bartramian Audubon Society (BAS). Today, this local chapter serves all of Lawrence and Mercer Counties in addition to most of Butler and Venango Counties. BAS executes a number of programs that focus on rescuing, recovering, and rehealing the Earth's integrity to secure the future of all life and to teach ourselves, our children, and the public that whatever humans do to the web of life, we do to ourselves."
One of the chapter's most successful programs is its Wildlife Sanctuary Program (WSP). Initially implemented in 1995, the WSP conserves undisturbed tracts of land critical to preserving certain species of neo-tropical birds as viable breeding species in Pennsylvania. The program is a response to the idea that private property owners can do anything they want to their land, water and air. Yet, because so much of Pennsylvania's land is privately owned and because so much of our Commonwealth's public lands are undergoing extreme human impact, private property owners must take a greater responsibility in preserving the state's biodiversity.
The BAS Wildlife Sanctuary Program offers landowners an option unlike a land trust or conservation easement. Landowners do not receive financial rewards or tax breaks for their involvement in the program. Participants in WSP agree to maintain their property in an undisturbed natural state in perpetuity while retaining ownership of their land. The program's success clearly illustrates that some landowners are thinking in long-range terms.
To qualify for the WSP program, tracts must contain at least 20 acres of land. Participants receive a number of other benefits. BAS erects a wooden sign identifying the property as a Certified Audubon Society Wildlife Sanctuary, presents an official Bartramian Audubon Society "Certificate of Recognition," and provides a one-year Associate Membership in the BAS chapter.
To date, BAS has entered approximately 50 landowners in the WSP, with the largest tract containing 545 acres. BAS also boasts nearly 50 members in their Bird & Butterfly Sanctuary Program (BBS), which is similar to WSP but includes less stringent rules for properties of any size. BAS' ultimate goal for WSP and BBS is to connect these smaller land areas with much larger tracts like Important Bird Areas, providing a more overarching habitat protection. By 2008, when BAS will have celebrated its 25 anniversary, the goal is to have 100 WSP. In fact, BAS expects to add 20 more sanctuaries in 2007.
Gene Wilhelm, chair of the sanctuaries program, underscores the importance of WSP, saying, "the longer we wait, the less chance we have to protect these corridors." As a result, BAS advertises WSP in local newspapers, on the radio, and during their typical workshop programs. They encourage property owners to think toward a long-term future by committing their land to nature and thus providing a natural preserve for wild native plants and animals.