U.S. defense officials cancel proposed Low Military Operations area over the Pennsylvania Wilds

U.S. Defense Officials Cancel Low Military Operations Area Over the Pennsylvania Wilds  

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 tourism industry

Harrisburg, PA – 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 (NGB) to rescind the proposal to establish the Duke Low Military Operations Area (MOA) 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 MOA plan, which was intended to accommodate myriad military aircraft at close to ground level, specifically the A-10 Warthog flown by the Maryland ANG and F-16s flown by New Jersey and District of Columbia guard units.

“The PA Wilds is a very patriotic region, so much so that patriotism is called out as a theme in our brand values and memorialized in resources like the PA Wilds Design Guide for Community Character Stewardship,” said Ta Enos, CEO of the nonprofit PA Wilds Center, which helps coordinate a public-private partnership strategy, now 20 years old, to sustainably grow the region’s outdoor recreation and tourism sectors to help revitalize rural communities.

“This was never about whether we support our military,” Enos said. “This was about believing in the future of rural PA, and in the value of appropriate planning and community engagement for something as potentially consequential as the proposed Duke Low MOA, which posed a real threat to the region’s $1.9B tourism and outdoor recreation sectors, and the many rural small businesses and families who depend on these industries for their livelihoods, in addition to other potential environmental and quality of life impacts. Rural PA deserved better research, planning and transparency, and a wide variety of people and organizations — including U.S. and state Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle — pushed back to demand it. I’m really proud and thankful for that, and appreciate the U.S. Air Force’s and National Guard’s decision not to move forward on the low-level flights.”

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 MOA 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 (EIS), public meetings within the region, and full analysis of the cumulative impacts over time.

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

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