Charles "Chip" Brown cupped his hands around the top lip of the four-foot plastic tube, peered down into it and shook his head, frustrated by the gnawed edges of a stunted silky dogwood. White-tailed deer prefer the dogwoods over the sycamores he planted.
Brown and his wife, Diane, have owned the Fox Gap Rod and Gun Club, 30 miles east of State College, for a decade. Creating a mature streamside buffer has been a priority for the 3.1 acres that parallel Elk Creek, because planting 450 trees benefits anglers, wildlife, and the water quality of the winding, Class A stream.
"Our long-range goal with the buffer, is get some terrestrial habitat for trout," Brown said. "It provides cover for all types of wildlife and enhances the stream by stopping the erosion. So everything we're trying to do is keep the siltation from moving away from here and stabilizing our bank."
Frank Rohrer, restoration specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, agreed that the buffers offer multiple benefits. "It's about water quality and the wildlife habitat created," Rohrer said. "It provides nesting and food, like acorns. For water quality, the buffer provides shade. Anything we can do to get shade helps lower the water temperature and raise fish survival. If you had a crop field it also catches and filters the runoff and pollution."
Leading up to the week that includes Earth Day and Arbor Day, Brown and his crew replenished the buffer with 150 new seedlings. The trees were part of 10,000 donated Arbor Day trees restoration specialists like Rohrer delivered to CBF projects within the Susquehanna River watershed.
Forested streamside buffers like the one hoping to mature on the Centre County property, are among the most cost-effective pollution-reduction tools. Streamside trees trap and filter nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, the Commonwealth's most problematic pollutants, before they run off into waters like the 20 miles of Elk Creek, the Susquehanna River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.
Brown's passion for maintaining the 108 acres of club ground, and dedication particularly to success of the buffer, rings clear by the excitement in his voice, the wealth of knowledge he shares about land and water issues, and the time he spends at it.
Brown was the first to receive a national volunteer award from the National Wildlife Federation. Fox Gap shares its facilities with wounded warriors for a hunt in the fall of each year.
Brown receives funding for his buffer project from Pennsylvania's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP pays 90 to 140 percent of the installation cost and annual rent, which is usually $40 to $240 per acre, per year. CBF and CREP partners in the Commonwealth have leveraged $95 million in state and federal funds and assisted more than 5,000 rural landowners to install over 20,000 acres, roughly 2,200 miles of forested buffers.
So far, the buffer has been able to maintain the three-year, 70 percent survival rate of its trees, as required by CREP. "We're probably at 75 percent, except they are not getting to where they need to be," Chip Brown added, looking again at the tree tube. "Survival and growth are two different things."
If only the deer would cooperate.
—B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator