The Kittatinny Ridge, meaning “endless mountain” and named by the Leni-Lenape, is the largest forested landscape in southcentral and eastern Pennsylvania, stretching 185 miles across 360,000 acres. It covers 160 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, 60 miles of the Tuscarora Trail, and is home to seven hawkwatch sites, including Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and Waggoner’s Gap. It offers migration and stopover habitat for millions of songbirds and raptors each spring and fall. Every autumn, tens of thousands of birds of prey, including the state-endangered Northern Goshawk, stream down the ridge, taking advantage of rising thermal winds to aid their long flights.
The upland forest of the ridge also offers a year-round home to Pennsylvania’s state bird, the Ruffed Grouse. And, it’s a globally significant migratory route designated as a Global Important Bird Area for Cerulean Warblers. From hummingbirds and warblers to raptors and game birds, the Kittatinny Ridge is a crucial landscape for more than 140 resident and migrant bird species.
Communities throughout the region also rely on the ridge for critical natural resources, including clean, reliable water for millions of people from the Delaware Water Gap to the Maryland line. As we see more frequent and stronger storms due to climate change, the ridge provides a key forest ecosystem that filters pollutants from rainwater and helps control flooding from increasingly heavy rainfall. It’s more important than ever to protect this landscape – that scientists view as one of the East’s most crucial climate refuges – for birds and people.
Economically, the Kittatinny Ridge provides significant revenue from outdoor recreation, with a number of parks and the five million annual visitors to the Delaware Water Gap. Audubon’s “Return on Environment” research demonstrates that the value of the natural resources on the ridge averages $1 billion per county, per year. The value and significance of the Kittatinny Ridge for birds, other wildlife, communities and businesses is indisputable, but it is facing numerous threats.
While the region includes five state parks and three state forests, nearly two-thirds of the 500 square miles of the ridge is privately owned by several thousand individual landowners. The region also includes nine out of the top 20 fastest growing counties in the state, making it particularly susceptible to residential and commercial development, including warehouse construction and high-voltage transmission towers that disrupt large tracts of forest and decrease water quality. Illegal dumpsites of unwanted household appliances, construction debris, and general refuse in remote areas of the corridor contributes additional pollution. And, invasive plants are damaging trees along the ridge, overtaking native flora and degrading forest and vital bird habitat.
In 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources designated the Kittatinny Ridge as a “Conservation Landscape” – one of eight such landscape-scale projects – that provides more resources and opportunity to protect the area. Since Audubon has led conservation planning and effort on the ridge since the late 1990s, DCNR selected Audubon as the external lead of a coalition of partners tasked with raising public awareness of its importance and promote conservation activities throughout the region.
Audubon’s Healthy Forest Program established an awareness, education, and training program for public and private foresters to promote bird-friendly forestry practices that improve habitat for priority bird species, such as the Wood Thrush. Audubon also works with community residents and businesses to create a connected pathway of bird-friendly urban habitat along the ridge through the Bird-Friendly Communities program. A primary partner in the Kittatinny Coalition, The Nature Conservancy and land trusts have successfully protected more than 20,000 acres of priority land parcels in the ridge. In the coming year, Audubon will lead the coalition through conservation planning to continue protecting this globally significant migration corridor and climate refuge for millions of birds.