New National Wildlife Refuge Established in Cherry Valley

WASHINGTON, DC, December 30, 2008 (ENS) - A new national wildlife refuge in eastern Pennsylvania's Cherry Valley has been approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service has established a boundary for the refuge, encompassing 20,466 acres in Monroe and Northampton counties, within which it may now acquire habitat for wildlife as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The announcement on December 23 marks the culmination of a grassroots movement to protect Cherry Valley.

"The Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge will protect a rare and important landscape for both people and nature," said Bill Kunze, Pennsylvania state director for the Nature Conservancy, which was instrumental in creating the new refuge.

"This project not only benefits rare plants and animals, but also a landscape of working farms and private homes scattered through a beautiful valley only 75 miles from Philadelphia and Manhattan," said Kunze. "We're very happy for the people of Cherry Valley, who have loved this land for generations, and have worked hard to bring this refuge to life."

In 2005, Pennsylvaia Congressmen Paul Kanjorski, a Democrat, and Charles Dent, a Republican, co-sponsored a bill on behalf of their constituents to consider a prospective national wildlife refuge within the valley.

The legislation was in response to a petition advocating for refuge establishment endorsed by community leaders and local elected officials in Monroe County.

Identical legislation was introduced in the Senate by then Senator Rick Santorum and co-sponsored by Senator Arlen Specter, both Republicans.

Congress approved the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge Study Act in 2006. The study and an environmental assessment required under the National Environmental Policy Act were completed earlier this month, at which time the Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Region recommended that Director Dale Hall establish the refuge boundary.

The Service completed the Cherry Valley study in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and many other organizations, including the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Game Commission, National Park Service, Monroe County Planning Commission, Monroe County Conservation District, Northampton Community College, East Stroudsburg University and the Pocono Avian Research Center.

"It is with great enthusiasm that I supported the creation of a new national wildlife refuge in the beautiful Cherry Valley of Monroe and Northampton counties," said Congressman Dent. "This refuge contains many critical ecosystems in the valley, and its protection will provide the greatest opportunity for wildlife preservation, public use and scientific research."

"The partnership approach to the planning for the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a model for future planning efforts," said Hall. "The collaboration of officials from local, state, and federal offices, as well as nongovernmental organizations made sure the process was efficient and comprehensive. The strong, grassroots support for the project shows that this habitat is nationally significant and Cherry Valley is the right place for a new national wildlife refuge."

Of the 538 national wildlife refuges in the United States, only two others are in Pennsylvania - the John Heinz at Tinicum National Wildlife Refuge and the Erie National Wildlife Refuge.

The new Cherry Valley refuge harbors rare ecosystems, several plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act, and many more species of concern within the conservation community.

Cherry Creek, at the valley bottom, flows into the Delaware River. Following the creek's path, Kittatinny Ridge is a major flyway for migrating birds and bats.

"Today is a wonderful day for Cherry Valley, and it makes the perfect holiday present for the residents of Monroe County," said Congressman Kanjorski. "It is amazing to see such overwhelming grassroots support for an initiative."

"The federal approval of Cherry Valley as a national wildlife refuge will help provide important habitat to many species that are threatened, particularly majestic birds like broad-winged hawks and bald eagles," said Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell said. "It also supports Pennsylvania's work to conserve natural resources in the Pocono Region, recognizing that they are critical to sustainable communities and economies."

Debra Schuler, president of the Friends of Cherry Valley, said, "The establishment of the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge will now give conservation-minded landowners the additional option that has been needed to assist them in preserving their land as a legacy for future generations."

"Cherry Valley is such a unique place!" said Schuler. "Much of it has remained untouched, which is why it has the qualities it does. Now we can move forward with protecting the environment, the animals that inhabit it, and its rich history."

{Photo: This stand of trees in Cherry Valley, Pennsylvania is on the new national wildlife refuge.(Photo courtesy DOI)

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