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Blue Mountain's military value lies on the Pennsylvania Ridge with parts of Utah and Hawaii

A mountainous swath of Pennsylvania is doing its part to defend America as it is, and a new federal program aims to ensure it stays that way.

Kittatinny Ridge on Blue Mountain was added to the federal Sentinel Landscapes program last week.

This program represents a partnership between the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Defense and Interior. Each Sentinel landscape features natural open spaces and sustainably managed working lands used for agriculture, livestock and forestry, federal officials said.

According to a press release, these landscapes support partners' work to mitigate the impacts of climate change and improve sustainable land and water management practices around military installations.

They provide vital environmental and recreational services and support the country's economy through agriculture and forestry, while also providing important buffers for their military installations and firing ranges by ensuring that the country remains compatible with their test and training missions, that is it in the press release.

There are 17 Sentinel Landscapes in the United States. On Tuesday, May 14, the newest additions to the program were announced alongside Kittatinny Ridge lands in eastern New Mexico; at the Great Salt Lake in Utah; Kauaʻi, Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi in Hawaii; and California's Mojave Desert.

“Through the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, we have worked with private landowners to permanently protect more than 515,000 acres and implement sustainable management practices on an additional 2.7 million acres surrounding military test and training areas,” said Terry Cosby, chief of Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA, released in the press release. “These efforts, among other things, preserve wildlife habitat, strengthen agricultural and forestry production, and support climate resilience. At the same time, we are simultaneously ensuring our military has the space it needs to conduct its operations. “This work demonstrates the power of collaboration and partnership to help us achieve our mission.”

According to the Kittatinny Ridge Sentinel Landscape (KRSL) partnership description:

“In the Lenape language, Kittatinny means 'Big Mountain,' which well describes the geography of the Kittatinny Ridge Sentinel Landscape. Located in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, it includes forested ridges and fertile valleys that provide clean water, sequester large amounts of carbon, and serve as an important corridor for the migration of rare wildlife and songbirds.

“Anchoring the landscape is Fort Indiantown Gap, the National Guard's busiest training center, the Army's second-largest helipad and one of only three Army National Guard specialized aviation facilities.

“With the primary mission of maintaining military readiness, deployment, testing and training capabilities, KRSL partners are focused on expanding coordinated and holistic land protection, natural resource protection and stewardship initiatives; Supporting the productivity and economic development of work areas; and improving nature-based recreational resources and access to sustainable small-town economies.”

Tuesday's announcement includes an interactive and detailed look at the 250-mile-long ridge that stretches from northern Maryland to the Catskill Mountains in New York, available via a link at nrcs.usda.gov.

Pennsylvania is home to 185 miles of mountain range natural and recreational resources, including more than 160 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Blue Mountain's Kittatinny Ridge was added to the federal Sentinel Landscapes, a partnership between the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense and Interior, on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.

Although the ridge extends through the Lehigh Valley region into northwestern New Jersey, it is the western portion of the ridge that is specified for Sentinel Landscapes and extends to the Lehigh County line.

“The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership demonstrates the remarkable successes that can be achieved through collaborative, locally-led conservation efforts,” said Martha Williams, director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “This program connects private landowners with voluntary state and federal assistance programs that provide tax relief, agricultural credits, disaster relief, educational opportunities, technical assistance and conservation funding.

“By concentrating the resources of multiple agencies on one sentinel landscape, the Service and its partners use taxpayer dollars more efficiently and achieve better conservation outcomes.”

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Kurt Bresswein can be reached at kbresswein@lehighvalleylive.com.

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