CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A rugged, 1,080-acre tract of forest adjoining Mount Porte Crayon and Thunderstruck Knob has been added to the Monongahela National Forest through an agreement between The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service.The Nature Conservancy bought the Randolph County property in June 2010 from Thunderstruck Conservation LLC, and held the tract until federal funds were available to transfer the property to the Monongahela National Forest.An allocation of $1.73 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses royalties from offshore drilling ventures to buy and preserve public land, paid for the property.The land was once owned by MeadWestvaco, which partnered with The Nature Conservancy more than 10 years ago to identify for preservation key habitat on its holdings. The Thunderstruck land was one such tract."The land includes much of the Spruce Run watershed, and extends from a northern hardwood and red spruce forest at more than 4,000 feet in elevation down to an area of limestone seeps and caves at about 2,000 feet," said Thomas Minney, director of the conservancy's Central Appalachian Initiative."Ecologically, it's a highly important tract," Minney said. "At its higher elevations it includes habitat for the Cheat Mountain salamander," which is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, and potential habitat for the endangered West Virginia northern flying squirrel.
"At its lower elevations there are caves containing rare cave species," including the Virginia big-eared bat and insects called springtails, Minney said. Globally rare white monkshood and the endangered running buffalo clover are plant species known to live there.Minney said the eastern edge of the tract adjoins the Monongahela National Forest at Mount Porte Crayon. "It ties into the high plains section of the Monongahela National Forest that includes Dolly Sods and the proposed Roaring Plains Wilderness Area," he said."This is a significant conservation accomplishment for the Monongahela National Forest and the 1.3 million people who visit it each year," Clyde Thompson, forest supervisor, said in a statement announcing the acquisition."The Monongahela is a national treasure, within a day's drive of about half the nation's population, but much of it feels remote and offers a sense of the wild. Being able to work with partners to assure additional acreage that retains these values is a benefit to the public and to the natural resources of the area."The Monongahela National Forest includes more than 920,000 acres in 10 West Virginia counties.Reach Rick Steelhammer at email@example.com or 304-348-5169.