The Kiski-Conemaugh Cooperative Weed Management Area (KC-CWMA) was formed out of the 1999 Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin Conservation Plan to address the threats of existing and emerging invasive plant species in the Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin by pulling together partners for coordinated management. The term Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) refers to a local organization that integrates invasive plant management resources across jurisdictional boundaries to benefit the entire community. A CWMA is led by a steering committee and is formally organized under an agreement. The goals of a CWMA are to facilitate cooperation among partner organizations and to network across jurisdictional boundaries. The CWMA concept has taken off in recent years and there are currently numerous CWMAs operating throughout the United States. A current map of CWMAs in the U.S. is available at https://www.naisn.org/cwmamap/.
The Kiski-Conemaugh Cooperative Weed Management Area is geographically defined as the lands and waters in the Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin, located in south-western Pennsylvania, encompassing 1,888 square miles, and parts of 5 counties. It is part of the Allegheny River Watershed and is a headwaters basin to the Ohio River Watershed. The Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin includes parts of Armstrong, Cambria, Indiana, Somerset and Westmoreland Counties. All together, there are 130 municipal political subdivisions.
The Kiski-Conemaugh is approximately 67.1 percent forested, 19.6 percent agriculture, 10.6 percent developed with the rest comprised of mine lands, water, or miscellaneous. Approximately 10% of the basin is public owned with the remaining 90% being considered private. (2017, State of the Kiski-Conemaugh River Watershed: Community Shift) Steep slopes of 25 percent or more occur throughout the basin typically in stream valleys and on mountain ridges. Abandoned coal mines including both deep and surface mines dot the landscape contributing immensely to acid mine drainage and invasive plant problems. Overall, 54 percent of the basin has been mined. (1999 Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin Conservation Plan).
Approximately 273 species of terrestrial vertebrates potentially occur within the basin. These include 28 amphibians, 25 reptiles, 166 birds (breeding species), and 54 mammals. Aquatic species typically associated with riverine habitats include Bull Frog, Norther Water Snake, Green-backed Heron, and Muskrat. Beaver exert a strong influence on stream ecosystems in many areas. Representatives of terrestrial species in riparian habitats include Acadian Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, and Mink. Important game species include Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, White-tailed Deer, Gray Squirrel, Eastern Cottontail, and Black Bear. (1999 Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin Conservation Plan)
Approximately two-thirds of the Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin is forested, although this was not always the case. Prior to European settlement, the amount of forestland was greater, as only a few scattered areas were cleared for agriculture. The predominant natural forest zone in the watershed is Appalachian Oak Forest, with small areas of Northern Hardwoods interspersed throughout the dominant zone of oaks. Major forest associations in the basin include White Oak, Northern Red Oak, Sugar Maple, Bitternut Hickory, Beech, and Tulip Poplar. Deciduous trees are predominant, although stands of Eastern Hemlock and White Pine are scattered throughout the landscape. Other common trees and shrubs include White Ash, White Pine, American Basswood, Yellow Birch, and Mountain Laurel. (1999 Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin Conservation Plan)
The Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) is a site-specific information system that tracks species of special concern as well as unusual or unique habitats. PNDI is a cooperative effort of the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the Nature Conservancy, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. A total of 116 species and features tracked by the PNDI are reported from the basin including 69 species of concern with the majority of those being terrestrial plants. (1999 Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin Conservation Plan)
Due to pollution as the result of acid mine drainage, sedimentation, and nutrient pollution among others, the aquatic biota of the basin have been severely affected. The original fish community would have included up to 102 different species. Fish species now include Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Brown Bullhead, Channel Catfish, Sunfish, Minnows, Trout and various other species. Macroinvertebrates can be found within the basin including crayfish, damselfly nymphs, dragonfly nymphs, hellgrammites, and many others. (1999 Kiski-Conemaugh River Basin Conservation Plan)