HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III and Maryland Gov. Martin J. O’Malley today announced the signing of the Highlands Action Program charter, a regional partnership that seeks to preserve the ecological and cultural resources of the Mid-Atlantic Appalachian Highlands.
“The mid-Atlantic region offers an array of recreational opportunities and thousands of acres of public lands that draw visitors from throughout the world, yet also supports robust timber, agriculture and mining industries that have been the mainstay of our economy since colonial times,” Rendell said. “Our challenge is to seek common ground and develop policies that will manage the many demands on this land while preserving the natural beauty and heritage of the Appalachian Mountains.”
In 2001, Congress directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement the Highlands Action Program. At the urging of Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV), the Environmental Protection Agency, in consultation with the states, created the Highlands Action Program to work with community-based programs to revitalize the region’s ecosystem, create long-term employment opportunities and improve the quality of life for people who live in and visit the multi- state region.
“The Appalachian Highlands region is a unique area, both from a cultural and ecological standpoint. It has species and landscapes found nowhere else in the world,” Kaine said. “I am pleased to join with these Appalachian region governors to support efforts to restore ecologically damaged areas, and to work together to improve the region’s economic viability.”
“In the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, people have always had a direct connection to the natural resources around them,” Manchin said. “We understand that job creation and long-term economic stability go hand-in-hand with improving and maintaining our rich natural and cultural resources. West Virginia is pleased to partner with other Highlands states on restoration initiatives to improve natural resources and build a more diverse economic base for the region.”
“In Maryland, we welcome the creation of a program that is community-based and connects the economic and environmental future of the Highlands. This effort is especially important since the region’s natural resources were crucial to the establishment of our great nation,” said O’Malley.
Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia have committed to help link communities, non-governmental organizations, local, state, and federal governments, and businesses to:
— Highlight places of ecological and cultural importance;
— Revitalize damaged ecosystems;
— Empower citizens and communities to strengthen linkages among cultural heritage, economic viability, and the environment;
— Enhance restoration industry opportunities providing lasting employment for highland residents; and
— Leverage existing funds.
States will focus on enhancing “green infrastructure” as a basis for targeting restoration and protection. Green infrastructure refers to the network of hubs and corridors that are essential to maintaining the health of natural ecosystems and resource-based working lands.
In Pennsylvania, the Blue Mountain/ Kittatinny Ridge Conservation Project is guiding the conservation efforts of 24 partner agencies and organizations to establish a comprehensive corridor of protected lands for the ridge through Pennsylvania, a globally-important migration flyway for hawks and eagles.
Also, the Appalachian Trail Protection Initiative is helping the Appalachian Trail Conference with its effort to focus public attention on the Appalachian Trail through Pennsylvania, and to identify ways to increase protection measures on lands adjacent to the trail. In Virginia, the Highlands Action Program is working with partners on Blacks Run, a degraded stream in Harrisonburg. In West Virginia, initial efforts have focused on Abram’s Creek and the Coal River. And in Maryland, a Highlands Environmental Leadership Program for high school students has been created, along with a state park ‘greening’ project and a fish passage project on Cash Valley Run in La Vale.