ELKINS, W.Va. — The Nature Conservancy completed a major restoration project in the high-elevation forest of West Virginia’s Randolph County this month, planting 34,000 red spruce trees on land that is now part of the Monongahela National Forest, the group said.
The trees were planted during a three-week period on the slopes of Mount Porte Crayon, about 30 miles from Elkins. The project was funded by a $250,000 climate-adaptation grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society and is part of a larger effort by the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative to bring back West Virginia’s iconic mountaintop forests.
“These little spruce trees are only about 12-18 inches tall now, but when they’re older they’ll be the foundation of a thriving forest ecosystem,” said Andrea Brandon, coordinator of the Conservancy’s Central Appalachian Program. “This forest serves as a natural stronghold in the face of climate change. It is home to a wide variety of birds, including the Blackburnian warbler, to Virginia big-eared bats, native brook trout and to the threatened Cheat Mountain salamander.”
The high-elevation spruce forest targeted for restoration also provides habitat for the West Virginia northern flying squirrel – an animal that was recently removed from the national list of endangered species after a recovery effort of more than 25 years.
Brandon said less than 10 percent remains of the over 500,000 acres of high-elevation red spruce that once blanketed West Virginia’s high country. The Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative, a partnership of public agencies and conservation groups created through the leadership of the conservancy, has re-planted more than 1,000 acres of red spruce during the past few years.