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Outside Auditor Praises Pennsylvania Forest Management

An uptick in Marcellus Shale development last year didn't keep an independent auditor from certifying Pennsylvania's state forests as sustainably managed.

The report from the Rainforest Alliance marks the 14th consecutive year Pennsylvania earned that certification for its management of 2.2 million acres of state forests, the best record of any publicly owned forestland in the United States.

"This continued certification of our state forests is a reaffirmation of the pride we take in managing our state forest system for many values and uses, while maintaining its long-term health and viability," said Richard Allen, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

When the New York based auditor SmartWood came to Pennsylvania last September, it monitored five development sites in addition to reviewing regular forest functions. Those sites included several road upgrades, a compressor and water storage site, a test well, proposed pipeline corridors and an active drilling pad. The group applauded the DCNR for addressing numerous drilling-related issues over the past year, such as improving its review of the potential impacts of fragmentation on certain species, monitoring invasive species at older conventional drilling sites and taking steps toward making the results of monitoring activities more public.

The group said it received fewer comments than last year about the oil and gas leasing program on state land, and that the comments it did receive mostly covered similar ground as those made last year. The audit for the previous report occurred around three months before Pennsylvania imposed a moratorium on leasing any additional state lands for oil and gas drilling (see Shale Daily, Oct. 27, 2010).

Although Gov. Tom Corbett said he wants to continue leasing, Allen recently suggested that might not occur until gas prices improve (see Shale Daily, March 7).

As of Tuesday, Marcellus gas in northeastern Pennsylvania -- where most of the forest related development in the state is occurring -- traded for a combined average price of $1.99/Mcf, equal to the week before, according to NGI's Shale Price Index.

The continued certification is not only a feather in the cap of the DCNR, but potentially a few dollars in the pockets of its residents, too. "Just as recycled products have become common in the marketplace, many environmentally conscious timber consumers look for 'green' wood grown in certified forests," Allen said, noting that the $5 billion state timber industry employs almost 100,000 people.

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