Despite Allegheny National Forest's reputation as a wilderness haven, it has always been a man-made habitat and its wildlife should be managed to reflect that fact, said the author of a new book on the region.
"A Season on the Allegheny," written and independently published by biologist and outdoors writer Robert T. Hilliard of Beaver County, is a well-researched, well-written account of his family's hunting and exploring adventures on the 513,175-acre patch of the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Comprising much of the Game Commission's Wildlife Management Area 2F in Warren, McKean, Forest and Elk counties, the National Forest is known for its rare tracts of old-growth timber. But they are on small parcels in a large environment that Hilliard described as "very different than it was 200 years ago." Proper management of the region's white-tailed deer, he said, is key to maintaining and improving the habitat for all of the National Forest's species.
"The native forest where early European pioneers found white pine and beech was originally cut for farming and later for the logging and wood chemical industries," he said. "The native trees were virtually gone. When it became a National Forest in 1923 people called it 'The Allegheny Brushland.' "
Trees returned -- smaller and in different proportions -- and so did the deer, which had been practically eliminated in Pennsylvania and repopulated by the Game Commission. The National Forest we now know, said Hilliard, is mostly second growth hardwoods that are greatly impacted by the deer.
"First, there are more deer than before. They stop regeneration and selectively browse some species over others, changing the composition of the forest," he said. "What we see now is really different from the original forest. The deer impact every habitat and by extension every species."
One thing hasn't changed, said Hilliard. While researching documents from the 1920s, he found a letter with Game Commission biologists saying there were too many deer and hunters saying there weren't enough.
A severe storm July 26 caused moderate to high levels of damage across Allegheny National Forest. Trees fell on trails, roads and camping and administrative areas. Forest Service employees are assessing damage and clearing trees. For details call 814-723-5150.
"A Season on the Allegheny" is available at Amazon.com, at the National Forest bookstore in Warren and at the Forest County Visitor Center.