PIPELINE BENEFITS WILDLIFE HABITAT Corporate World and PA. Hunting Club Team Up to Demonstrate Benefits of Natural Gas Pipeline

 By Jon Cooner

Oil and natural gas pipelines offer huge opportunities to benefit wildlife if they’re managed correctly. In this article, we’ll focus on a reclamation project in north-central Pennsylvania that shows what can be accomplished when a hunting club and an international natural-gas exploration corporation work together.

Tom Losch can tell you about the many benefits that come from enhancing the wildlife habitat potential of land. He also knows how to do it. Perhaps that’s why he’s been involved in the management of food plots for the 3,000-acre Elbow Fish and Game Club in northern Pennsylvania for more than 30 years. His substantial knowledge and experience also led him to an idea that has been turned into an exceptionally successful pipeline reclamation project on the club’s property. The idea? To develop a partnership where Elbow and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. would work together in creating a pipeline demonstration area to show the public the benefits a pipeline can provide when properly managed for wildlife. Eight years ago, the Elbow Game and Fish Club in north-central Pennsylvania leased its oil and natural gas rights to Anadarko Petroleum Corp., one of the world’s largest independent oil and natural-gas exploration and production companies. Pursuant to the lease and related agreements, Anadarko began construction of the main trunk of a natural-gas transmission line through the club’s 3,000 acres three years ago and completed it the following year. Losch pitched his idea to Mark Barbier, senior Anadarko environmental representative, and other Anadarko representatives during a post-construction review on site in the spring of last year. “The idea was that the club and Anadarko should work together to actively manage the pipeline right of way to improve wildlife habitat,” Losch said. “I wanted them to see what a huge opportunity we had to prove to the public that a pipeline can be a huge benefit to wildlife — not just show others what we did, but go farther and let them see the results themselves as the project continues to evolve over time.” The idea of pipeline reclamation certainly isn’t new to Anadarko. It restores its rights of way as a matter of standard practice. The significance of Losch’s partnership approach is what prompted them to accept Elbow’s proposal virtually immediately. Patrick Marty, Anadarko staff government relations representative explained: “Anadarko consistently works with landowners to ensure that their land-use objectives are met by our pipeline reclamation activities," he said. "At Elbow, we immediately recognized the ecological value in Elbow’s idea of actively managing conservation plots on the pipeline right of way as a collaborative conservation demonstration area, and we hope our joint efforts with the Elbow Fish and Game Club will serve as a catalyst for more of these types of partnerships.”

First-Year Plan and Implementation

As a result of the partnership of Elbow and Anadarko, acreage devoted to food plots was substantially increased the first year from the 36 acres the club already had under cultivation to 65. The 29 additional acres are along the pipeline’s main trunk adjacent to private roads within the property and are approximately 100 feet wide to allow more sunlight to reach the ground. Losch and Anadarko started the process of planting the new food plot sites the right way: by performing laboratory soil tests on each of the new food plot sites. As they had anticipated, soil conditions were less than optimum for the growth of high-quality forages. “A lot of the area burned back at the turn of the century, and that burned up a lot of the humus.” Losch said. “As a result, the soil types on our property are pretty poor. You don’t really have quality soils for growing timber or anything else. The soil pH of our mountain soil is typically very acidic — generally about 5.2 to 5.4 — and raising it into optimum range of 6.5 or higher requires the addition of several tons of lime per acre.” When the new seedbeds had been limed and fertilized, they were planted entirely in Whitetail Institute forage products, in some cases with a cover crop. “We’ve always used Whitetail Institute products,” Losch said. “We’ve used Imperial Whitetail Clover ever since the 1980s. It’s easy to grow, it grows well, and the deer love it. You always want to have enough clover in the spring because it’s the first thing to green up after winter. We planted Imperial Whitetail Clover, Whitetail Oats Plus, Tall Tine Tubers and Winter-Greens in the new pipeline sites this year, and I also planted Chic Magnet on top of the clover. The Whitetail Oats Plus really worked well as a first-year crop on the pipeline, and the deer went nuts over the Chic Magnet.”

First-Year Results — Whitetail Deer

Even though the project is only a year old, Losch says he’s already seeing a lot more deer. “In the past, you might see 90 to 100 deer over the entire property if you really had a good evening in the late summer," he said. "Now, you’ll see anywhere from 95 to 145 deer— and that’s just on the pipeline. Most of them are does and fawns at this point. I remember one night we were driving back to the cabin, and there were so many deer on the road beside the pipeline that I thought, ‘This is like a whitetail nursery.’ I was afraid I’d be the first person in the history of the club to ever run over a deer because they were all over the pipeline coming into it from all directions. It was just amazing. The attraction it had was just phenomenal.” According to Barbier, trail cameras set up along the right of way support Losch’s conclusion that deer numbers have increased. “They set up game cameras along the right-of-way,” he said. "The pictures show that deer are using the right-of-way as a food source and a travel corridor, not only at night but also during day. The deer are coming to the property, and they’re staying.” The bucks harvested on the club’s property are also starting to get bigger and heavier, according to Losch. “The size of them and the amount of body fat absolutely increased this year," he said. "We shot three that were about 190 pounds. I also have a picture of another deer that I believe weighs 230 to 240 pounds on the hoof.” Losch added that the antler size is also increasing, which says a lot considering the property is in Pennsylvania. “Deer are heavily pressured in Pennsylvania, and most bucks aren’t allowed to grow old," he said. "Also, bucks in our mountain area tend to have smaller racks than elsewhere in the state. You might shoot bucks with 140- to 150-inch racks. That’s about all the time they’re given to grow before they’re killed. “Before the pipeline project, we took about a dozen bucks a year on average, and most of them were 1-½ years old and had smaller racks. This year, we took some 120s and 130s and a 140. I also have trail camera pictures of another buck, and although I’m not the best at judging rack size from a picture, I think it might be pushing 150. “To be clear, I can’t say that the increases in antler size among the bucks we harvested this year are attributable to the additional nutrition being supplied by the new pipeline plots because we’ve only had those plots for one year. I believe we’ll see antler size improving because of increased nutrition in two or three years down the road. But I can attribute this year’s improvement to the additional attraction of the new plots. They have helped draw that class of buck to the property, and they’ve improved our chances of harvesting them by making them more visible.”


Tom has also observed a huge increase in the club’s turkey population just in the past year. “The understory on most of the club’s property is mountain laurel, which is a desert for turkeys,” he said. "Before the project, you might occasionally see turkeys in a field in spring, and maybe one turkey through summer or fall on certain parts of the property that had open timber. Now, I see turkeys almost every time I go to the property, and in multiple places. Every few days, I’ll see a flock of turkeys feeding on the pipeline. In 50 years I’ve never seen so many turkeys.”

Other Wildlife

Losch said an inherent benefit of the pipeline right away is its edge effect. “Anyone who has a biology or a wildlife background knows exactly what edge effect means,” he said. “We created open areas when we took the trees out for the pipeline. That allows more sunlight to reach the ground, and that’s going to stimulate the growth of seedlings that might have lain dormant there and create a whole new growth of understory. As a result, we’re starting to see some rabbits — definitely seeing that — and of course when you’re way up in the mountains it’s kind of uncommon to see rabbits. And it’s going to be attractive to additional species of songbirds, such as bluebirds, indigo buntings and cardinals because we’ve created a much better habitat for them.” Project Biologist Kevin Yoder also sees the huge positive effect the project has had on wildlife habitat and cites Elbow and Anadarko’s partnership approach as a major contributor. “I think that what Elbow and Anadarko are teaming up to do here is a great partnership and really an example of what reclamation and restoration of a pipeline can do for wildlife," he said. "We’re going to have brood habitat on the pipeline. We’re going to have golden-winged warbler habitat in the forest. We’re going to see more and healthier deer.” As successful as the project’s first year has been, Elbow and Anadarko are still hard at work preparing to build on their initial success. For example, the partners plan to extend habitat management to an additional 16 acres along gathering lines, which transport natural gas to the main pipeline trunk. Losch said that he will also be adjusting the club’s forage plan over the next few years to find the perfect balance of seasonal forage availability for wildlife. “Once we get the soil pH brought up in the 29 acres along the main trunk of the pipeline, those 29 acres won’t be all Imperial Whitetail Clover. We’re going to start using some of the new acreage to plant more winter food such as Tall Tine Tubers and Winter-Greens. Because of natural browse and the Imperial Whitetail Clover we already have planted, the deer have plenty of early spring, summer and early fall food, but they still don’t have enough winter food,” Losch said.

Educating Others

So far in this article, we’ve focused primarily on the project’s many benefits to wildlife. Even so, the most far-reaching benefit of the project may be the opportunities it provides for educating others. “When oil and gas companies approach you for a right of way, it shouldn’t be viewed as a negative impact to the land,” Barbier said. “In Pennsylvania, there’s quite a bit of forest, and if you do want a food plot, a lot of times you have to do some clearcutting or timbering. The cost of that is paid for by the company, and it gives the landowner an opportunity to use new food plot areas that may have been out of reach previously.” As Losch explained, “many landowners in north-central Pennsylvania simply did not have the financial resources to devote to wildlife food plots in the past. But with the explosion in oil and natural gas development of the Marcellus Shale these landowners now have the money to devote to such projects. The demonstration area has given us a way to show them what can happen when a pipeline is managed for wildlife habitat. We are giving the wildlife a smorgasbord — an overabundance of food on this pipeline — and we can show people, ‘Look at all the deer. Look at all the turkeys.’ They see for themselves the benefits a pipeline can have when it’s managed the right way,” he said. “Anadarko has also brought in government representatives, national media and people from Great Britain and as far away as Uzbekistan to witness firsthand the positive impact Anadarko’s development of natural gas on our property has had and is continuing to provide.” “Because of the partnership, we’ve been very successful here,” Yoder said. “I really like that we’ve been able to put so many people in different organizations together and make good habitat and meet multiple objectives, and I think they’ll be reaping rewards for many years to come.”

Final Thoughts

The Whitetail Institute applauds the working relationship between Elbow and Anadarko. By taking the initiative, Elbow’s and Anadarko’s efforts toward developing the pipeline as a demonstration area have helped improve wildlife habitat and create an excellent educational tool for the public. Anadarko and other companies like them are sometimes ostracized by far left environmentalists, even though the energy it helps provide is critical to our country’s economy. The Elbow pipeline project proves Anadarko’s willingness to step up to the plate and spend the money to leave the land in better shape than it found it, especially for wildlife. As we’ve discussed, the Elbow pipeline has already yielded a wide range of substantial benefits, from improvements in wildlife habitat to educating the public. In reality, though, those benefits support something much broader: the concept of stewardship or the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. Here’s how Whitetail Institute Vice President Steve Scott explained the stewardship perspective: “There are lots of anti-hunting groups and organizations out there who say they stand for conservation or wildlife, but whose only activities are negative, in my opinion. What separates all of us who plant food plots apart from the antis is that what we’re doing is a positive that actually benefits wildlife. That’s the very same thing that’s unique about the Whitetail Institute’s industry segment, which the Whitetail Institute started more than 25 years ago. What we provide is not a faster bullet. It’s not a better camo. Things like that are very important to the longevity of our way of life, but they don’t directly benefit the animal we’re hunting. Whitetail Institute develops the very best food plot products and other deer-nutrition products we can because our customers want more deer and better deer to hunt, but at the end of the day, that’s also the only thing in the hunting industry that directly benefits the animals we hunt as well as other wildlife, from songbirds to rabbits. “And when you look at the far-reaching effects of what hunters have given back in the way of protecting wild areas, helping endangered species recover, and generally improving the land for all wildlife, everyone who plants food plots are really some of the most effective environmentalists in the world. And I’ve even had a few anti-hunters actually compliment us on what we’re doing. They might not like the fact that we hunt, but they do say they appreciate the fact that what we do actually benefits the animals being targeted and other wildlife as well. It makes us feel great to know that we’re having such a positive impact on the land and on the wildlife.”