On Friday October 26th, the PA Highlands Coalition was happy to sponsor a legislative breakfast panel with the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape and its partners at the Connections on High Café in Pottstown.
Taking place concurrently with the Schuylkill Highlands annual meeting, many partner organizations from throughout the landscape were in attendance. Pennsylvania state Senators and Representatives from the Schuylkill Highlands participated in a panel discussion about conservation topics of interest to the partners and the Highlands at large.
Participating in the panel discussion were Senator Bob Mensch (R-24), Senator Judy Schwank (D-11), Representative Tim Hennessey (R-26), and Representative David Maloney (R-130). The panel was moderated by Oliver Bass, Vice President of Communications and Engagement at Natural Lands.
Discussed were topics such as the spotted lanternfly invasion of Southeast Pennsylvania, and land conservation funding efforts in Pennsylvania like the Growing Greener III program. The panelists agreed that efforts must be taken to eradicate the spotted lanternfly, whether this be by extermination strategies or prevention. Representative Hennessey noted that the lanternfly has become omnipresent in the Southeast in Pennsylvania, swarming gas station pumps and cars. Senator Schwank emphasized the need for action, but noted that cutting down all of the lanternfly’s apparent favored host trees is not a cure-all solution. All of the panelists expressed a hope that the Penn State Agricultural Extension program would continue to research this invasive species and take prudent action to remedy the situation.
The panelists were asked about the best way to get land conservation funding mechanisms, such as Growing Greener III, through the state legislature. Senator Mensch iterated his passion for open space and the need for conservation in the region, stating that parties need to work together to exemplify the need for funding. Representative Maloney agreed that showing the immediate need for projects through funding programs is essential to their passage.
All the panelists present expressed their connection to open space and conservation in the Southeast Pennsylvania and Schuylkill Highlands region, and thanked the participating organizations for their commitment to their work.
Also in attendance was U.S. Representative Ryan Costello (PA-6), who was presented with a Recognition Award by the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape for his leadership in conservation advocacy in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Costello focused on his prior experience as Township Supervisor in the region and the revitalization of towns like Pottstown. The Representative also emphasized the need to think holistically about the political issues we all face, such as environmental conservation, outside of the lens of political parties and rhetoric. He stressed the urgency of climate change and the need for smart carbon policies, as well as urging action on the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Land and Water Conservation Fund expired on September 30th, 2018 and in the past had provided significant funding for preservation projects in the Schuylkill Highlands project area. Rep. Costello has continued to be a leader in advocating for the reauthorization of this program.
Other speakers throughout the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape Annual Meeting included Lauren Imgrund, Deputy Secretary at PA DCNR, as well as presentations made by the Montgomery County Planning Commission and Natural Lands, the Mount Penn Borough Municipal Authority Board and Liberty Environmental, and land protection updates from the Heritage Conservancy and Natural Lands.
Awards were also handed out to Drew Sonntag (Urban Research & Development Corp.) and Royersford Borough, Michael Lane (Pottstown Metropolitan Regional Planning Committee), Laura Baird (Heritage Conservancy), and Brian Swisher (Swisher Studios).