Research shows that grassland birds and other grassland species are declining more than any other group of Pennsylvania species. Many areas within Gettysburg National Military Park (NMP) and Eisenhower National Historic Site (NHS) are grassland habitat — considered by many as one of the most endangered ecosystems globally.
As part of its efforts to return major battle action areas at Gettysburg to their appearance at the time of the fighting in 1863, the National Park Service (NPS) is increasing grassland habitat in the 6,000 national park in south central Pennsylvania.
Abundant in the 1800’s when settlers had cleared much land for hay fields and pastures, today grasslands face danger from fires, human development, and changes in agriculture technology. Grasslands are important because they protect large amounts of open space and provide wildlife and nesting habitat for specialized species.
The habitat is especially important to birds such as the Bobolink, Savannah sparrow, and the Eastern meadowlark. Grassland birds require large contiguous patches of grassland habitat for successful breeding. Many grassland birds will only nest in this type of open grassland habitat and decline in grasslands causes decline in breeding birds.
Gettysburg NMP and Eisenhower NHS have been designated one of several “Important Bird Areas” in Pennsylvania by the Audubon Society, set aside to protect birds and grassland habitat.
The NPS is returning areas on the Gettysburg battlefield to its 1863 condition which is improving visitor understanding of the battle and also presenting a major habitat opportunity for these grassland species. By modifying the park’s agriculture program and returning some forested lands to meadow and pasture, we are better representing the 1863 conditions as well as providing improved habitat conditions for these rare, threatened and declining Pennsylvania animals and plants.
In addition to preserving and protecting wildlife habitats, park staff fights back several invasive plant species such as the multifloral rose, Japanese barberry, ailanthus, and mile-a-minute, treating it through chemical methods, mechanical methods, hand pulling and sprays.
Battlefield rehabilitation was evaluated in an environmental impact statement, approved in 1999. Every action is carefully managed to comply with best management practices as well as with the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Federal Water Pollution Act and Water Quality Act, floodplain management, protection of wetlands, and all other applicable laws and policies that protect the environment.
Our partners in this project share our commitment to habitat and the environment. They include the Gettysburg Foundation, the Pennsylvania Nature Conservancy, Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Pennsylvania Audubon Society, the CREP program of the USDA, twelve local farmers, park volunteer groups, and others.
Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, December 1, 2011
Many more birds than Bobolink, Savannah Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks can benefit from grasslands, and the larger the area, the better the birds. Grasslands over 75 acres can attract rare breeding species including: Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Henslow’s Sparrow. In the winter, when breeding birds have gone south, these areas could attract Short-eared Owls, Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, Horned Lark and others.