Weekly Feed: Deer, Falcons and Fracking

  • Dorothy the Peregrine Falcon from the PixController, Inc. webcam at the University' of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning.

May 14, 2015
With reporting by Julie Grant

There is bad news for Pennsylvania’s deer population, and an elder Peregrine Falcon gets a Mother’s Day surprise. Plus a new fracking study says wells in Pennsylvania are disproportionately located in poor, rural communities. It's The Allegheny Front's weekly environmental update: The Feed.

New Fracking Study

A new study from Clark University finds that frack wells in Pennsylvania are disproportionately located in poor, rural communities.

Clark researcher Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger says frack wells cause air and water pollution, and potentially harm human health. She used Geographic Information Sciences, or GIS, to find out who lives near these wells.

“So it’s a very simple concept. If you’re close, then you’re more exposed to the negative effects of this industry,” she says.

Her team mapped 6000 wells in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Then they looked at demographics near these sites. She says no matter how they estimated proximity to the wells, the results were the same.

“The percent of people below poverty level was always higher in the areas that are close to the wells.”

She says that was especially true in Pennsylvania. The findings are published in the journal Applied Geography.

Joe Massaro is with an industry group Energy in Depth. In an email, he says oil and gas companies are helping poor Pennsylvania communities, by creating good-paying jobs and paying state taxes.

More Cases of Chronic Wasting Disease in Pa.

Six new cases of Chronic Wasting Disease have been found in Pennsylvania deer. CWD is a fatal neurological disorder that spreads in deer and elk populations. It was first found here in 2012. 

Tom Fazi is with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He says the latest cases were deer killed on highways in Bedford and Blair Counties. Now his office is widening their disease management area.

"We like it to a bonfire, and sparks flying from the bonfire. All we can do is try to minimize those sparks," he says.

Fazi says so far the disease is not spreading quickly.

They hope to keep it that way is by restricting hunters from taking the head or spinal tissue of the deer they kill outside of this managed area.

It's a Chick!

Mother’s Day was especially sweet for some birders, and birds, in our area. Dorothy—a wildlife cam star and the Peregrine Falcon who nests on the University of Pittsburgh’s towering Cathedral of Learning—hatched an egg. Birder and blogger Kate St. John says its a big event for Dorothy.

"She’s 16-years-old and that’s pretty old for a Peregrine Falcon. She has been very successful. She’s fledged 42 youngsters in all her years. But the last time she successfully fledged one, that year she laid five eggs, only two hatched, and one of those babies was so handicapped, it died within a week. The one that survived—he flew but within a week or two, he died  in a car accident."

St John says it was sad, and hard because people like her, who've watched these birds for so long, get invested. St. John says it's no mystery why viewers of the webcam are so interested in Dorothy and her young.

"Peregrines are very charismatic birds. The interaction with the cute fluffy, white baby and the mom is very, very endearing. For a bird that is brave, and fierce, and a top predator, to gently turn her head with a little morsel of food and place it in the open beak is just so sweet."