While working on a couple of personal projects recently involving the animals and plants here in Pennsylvania, I've gained a new appreciation for the amount of biodiversity we have in the Keystone state. To have the variety of flora and fauna we enjoy requires a variety of habitats to support their specific needs, and although Pennsylvania ranks 33rd in size among the 50 states, the amount of ecological diversity here is quite remarkable.
Pennsylvania means "Penn's Woods," and that continues to be an apt description as 60 percent of the state is covered with trees. Another encouraging statistic for those of us who love the outdoors is the amount of forestland that has been set aside in the public trust. Pennsylvania's state forests alone comprise 2.1 million acres of woodlands. State game lands purchased largely with hunting license dollars add another 1.4 million acres. The Allegheny National Forest located in northwestern Pennsylvania covers 512,998 acres. Our 117 state parks total more than 330,000 acres, many of which contain unique and valuable wildlife habitat or geological features.
In spite of being a "landlocked" state, we are blessed with an amazing amount of water resources. No other state, including Alaska, has more than the 86,000 miles of rivers and streams Pennsylvania contains. From the Allegheny and Ohio rivers in the west, the mighty Susquehanna and the Juniata in the central and the Delaware in the east, these three major river systems and their countless tributaries make flowing water a common feature throughout the state. About 4,000 lakes and ponds covering 160,000 acres also dot the landscape, along with the 470,000 acres of Lake Erie that are within Pennsylvania's borders.
About 7,400 species of fungi have been identified in Pennsylvania. More than 3,300 species of vascular plants, which include everything from mosses, ferns, grasses, flowers, shrubs and trees, currently grow here. Of that total, about 2,100 (60 percent) are native species, with rest being designated as so-called exotic species that were introduced either accidentally or on purpose. These introduced species include many common wild plants such as dandelions and daisies. Others like purple loosestrife or mile-a-minute weed are classified as invasive species because they tend to spread vigorously once established in some habitats, often to the detriment of native species living there. Because of competition with invasives or loss of habitat, about 30 percent of all our native plants are listed as species of special concern, and than 300 species of native plants are considered threatened or endangered.
About 160 species of fish swim in Pennsylvania waters. Approximately 30 percent of those are considered as species of special concern and around 20 species are listed as threatened or endangered. Many of those in trouble tend to be species of darters, madtoms, shiners or other minnows. Ironically, some of our "exotic" fish species tend to be the most popular with anglers, such as brown trout, rainbow trout, and striped bass, none of which are native to Pennsylvania.