Environmental Practice


ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS AND CASE STUDIES: Evaluating the Scientific Support of Conservation Best Management Practices for Shale Gas Extraction in the Appalachian Basin

Scott Bearera1, Emily Nicholasa2, Tamara Gagnoleta3, Michele DePhilipa4, Tara Moberga5 and Nels Johnsona6

a1 The Nature Conservancy, Community Arts Center, Williamsport, Pennsylvania

a2 The Nature Conservancy, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

a3 The Nature Conservancy, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

a4 The Nature Conservancy, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

a5 The Nature Conservancy, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

a6 The Nature Conservancy, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania


Extensive shale gas development is expected throughout the Appalachian Basin, and implementing effective avoidance and mitigation techniques to reduce ecosystem impacts is essential. Adoption of best management practices (BMPs) is an important approach for standardizing these techniques. For BMPs to be credible and effective, they need to be strongly supported by science. We focused on 28 BMPs related to surface impacts to habitat and wildlife and tested whether each practice was supported in the scientific literature. Our quantitative assessment produced four general conclusions: (1) the vast majority of BMPs are broad in nature, which provides flexibility in implementation, but the lack of site-specific details may hamper effectiveness and potential for successful conservation outcomes; (2) relatively low support scores were calculated for a number of BMPs, most notably those relating to noise and light pollution, due to existing research documenting effects on behavior rather than directly on species' survival and fitness—an indication that more research is needed; (3) the most commonly and strongly supported BMPs include landscape-level planning and shared infrastructure; avoidance of sensitive areas, aquatic habitats, and core forest areas; and road design, location, and maintenance; and (4) actions to enhance the development and implementation of BMPs should include public education, increased communication among scientists, improved data sharing, development of site-specific BMPs that focus on achieving ecological outcomes, and more industry collaboration.

Environmental Practice 14:308–319 (2012)

(Received May 18 2012)

(Revised August 23 2012)

(Accepted September 13 2012)


c1 Scott L. Bearer, 220 West Fourth Street, Third Floor, Community Arts Center, Williamsport, PA 17701; (phone) 570-321-9092; (fax) 717-232-6061; (e-mail) sbearer@tnc.org

Scott Bearer is the senior scientist for the Pennsylvania chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Scott came to the Conservancy after completing a postdoctorate at the US Fish and Wildlife Service–Patuxent Research Center, where he helped develop the monitoring plan to remove the bald eagle from the federal endangered species list. He earned his PhD (forest/wildlife interactions) from Michigan State University, his MS (landscape ecology) from Clarion University, and his BS (forestry) from Virginia Tech. Scott has worked for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR) Bureau of Forestry. He serves on several boards and committees, including the Wildlife Society and the Pennsylvania Biological Survey Mammal Technical Committee.

Emily Nicholas is the Energy Development Research Assistant for the Pennsylvania chapter of The Nature Conservancy. She led the development of the databases and analyses for evaluating the scientific support of conservation best management practices. Emily holds a BS (environmental biology) from Michigan State University and a master's in public affairs from Indiana University, School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Tamara Gagnolet is Energy Program and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Manager for the Pennsylvania chapter of The Nature Conservancy. She was the lead analyst for the Pennsylvania Energy Impacts Assessment; manages spatial analysis, mapping, and conservation planning projects; and advances energy-related strategies in the Central Appalachians. Tamara holds a BA (human biology) from Stanford University and dual graduate degrees—master's in forestry and master's in environmental management—from the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment.

Michele DePhilip is the director of freshwater conservation for the Pennsylvania chapter of The Nature Conservancy and has been with TNC for 14 years. She focuses on protecting and restoring headwaters and floodplains, restoring connections between habitats used by migratory species, and ensuring that environmental flows support freshwater ecosystems within Pennsylvania's three major river systems and the Great Lakes watershed. Prior to coming to Pennsylvania, Michele worked with the Conservancy's Great Lakes Program in Chicago. Her areas of expertise include freshwater, its flow protection, hydrology and groundwater, geographic information systems (GIS) and data management, and fishes.

Tara Moberg is a Freshwater Scientist for the Pennsylvania chapter of The Nature Conservancy. She earned her BS in forestry from Virginia Tech and her MS in water science, policy, and management from Yale University. Tara spent four years with the Bureau of Reclamation in Colorado and Montana, and was responsible for assessing transbasin water resource management projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. In her current position with The Nature Conservancy, Tara's technical specialties include ecosystem flow research and policy, including assessments of the Ohio, Susquehanna, and Delaware River basins.

Nels C. Johnson is the deputy state director for the Pennsylvania chapter of The Nature Conservancy. He was team leader for the Pennsylvania Energy Impacts Assessment and has worked on biodiversity and forest conservation projects in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and North America. Nels has published articles in Science, the Journal of Forestry, and Conservation Biology and is author/editor of several books on sustainable forest management, biodiversity conservation, and ecosystem services. He was the deputy director of the Biological Resources Program at the World Resources Institute before joining The Nature Conservancy. He serves on the board of directors for the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and several state advisory committees. Johnson earned his BA (biology) at Reed College and his MS (forest ecology) at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.