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Assessing Forest Fragmentation from Marcellus Shale Gas Development

Expansion of drilling sites and associated infrastructure to extract natural gas from the Marcellus shale deposits has the potential to significantly reduce existing forest cover across the Marcellus field and leave what remains in a fragmented state.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) recently completed a project assessing the impacts of energy development in Pennsylvania, with a strong focus on the impacts of natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale, and have expanded this work into West Virginia and other states. Using this foundational research, the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture staff and partners in Pennsylvania have initiated a project to merge the recently completed Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas (PBBA) data with the TNC energy development projections to provide a rigorous evaluation of the impacts resulting from Marcellus development on forest interior birds. We are assessing the remaining forest area under varying development scenarios, focusing on the spatial characteristics of the forest to evaluate cumulative impacts across the entire state. Information generated will be used to describe the impacts to forest bird populations, especially on areas with high densities of multiple species, and to determine if there are thresholds of forest loss or fragmentation beyond which bird densities will be severely impacted. Results of this work could be incorporated into recommendations being developed for where to place Marcellus Shale drilling sites in the landscape.

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