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After Shapiro Administration Warning of Significant Environmental Impacts, U.S. Defense Officials Cancel Low Military Operations Area Over the Pennsylvania Wilds

05/08/2024

Governor Shapiro and DCNR fought to protect the Pennsylvania Wilds region which contains the largest concentration of public lands in the Commonwealth and helps sustain a $1.7 billion in tourism industry

Harrisburg, PA -- Today, Governor Josh Shapiro and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn applauded the decision by the U.S. Air Force and National Guard Bureau to rescind the proposal to establish the Duke Low Military Operations Area over the Pennsylvania Wilds.

The Pennsylvania Wilds is a decades-long collaboration built on public and private investments; a place many call home and millions more visit each year to experience its vast wilderness, rural character, and rich heritage.

“The Pennsylvania Wilds, which is nearly as large as Yellowstone National Park, is home to dozens of state parks, game lands, forests, and an impressive array of wildlife. These remarkable natural landmarks help sustain a $1.7 billion outdoor recreation and tourism industry that is vital to Pennsylvania’s economy,” said Governor Shapiro. “My Administration fought to protect the Wilds -- and I am glad that this final decision protects our people, our environment, our natural resources, and this entire region that is so critical to our Commonwealth.”

For nearly five years, DCNR and a diverse and bipartisan collection of partner organizations, elected officials, and constituents, fought the Duke Low Military Operations Area plan, which was intended to accommodate myriad military aircraft at close to ground level, specifically the A-10 Warthog flown by the Maryland Air National Guard and F-16s flown by New Jersey and District of Columbia guard units.

In 2022, the U.S. Air Force announced the decommissioning of the A-10 Warthogs.

DCNR voiced concerns about the establishment of an airspace intended primarily for an obsolete aircraft that would be out of commission within just a few years.

Pennsylvania counties within the proposed Duke Low Military Operations Area footprint included Cameron, Clinton, McKean, Potter, and Tioga.

This portion of the Pennsylvania Wilds region includes 10 state parks, among them an internationally renowned dark sky preserve.

Just beyond the proposed low-flying area are five additional state parks, 395,647 acres of state forests, 35,690 acres of state game lands, the Hammersley Wild Area, an ever-growing population of majestic elk, the Austin Dam, the Pine Creek Gorge and more.

“The Pennsylvania Wilds is a destination with a thriving outdoor recreation economy, which is why we are so pleased to see this plan rescinded,” Dunn said. "The coalition of partners understood that the plan to fly planes at low altitudes over the Pennsylvania Wilds would drastically alter the character of the region, adversely impacting residents, visitors, and the businesses that rely on the natural aesthetics for their livelihoods. We applaud the decision of the Air National Guard to rescind their proposal and we thank the local, county, state, and federal officials and partners who spoke out on behalf of protecting this beloved landscape.”

In addition to expressing concerns that the proposal would adversely impact the wildlife and natural resources of the region and the quality of life held dear by so many residents and visitors, DCNR advocated for more transparency throughout the process, requesting a full Environmental Impact Statement, public meetings within the region, and full analysis of the cumulative impacts over time.

Visit the Pennsylvania Wilds website for more information on the region and check out DCNR’s Calendar of Events for events on public lands.

MEDIA CONTACT: Wesley Robinson, DCNR, 717-877-6315

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