One of the trees often associated with Christmas is the Red Spruce, Picea rubens. Before settlers arrived, forests of red spruce and northern hardwoods covered more than 1 million acres of West Virginia’s highest terrain.
But America was a fast growing nation with a burgeoning population. There were houses, cities and ships to build and a demand for news print. So the light, soft pulp of the plentiful tree was logged extensively in the late 1800s and early 1900s, just like trees of many forests across the eastern United States.
Now, as the Gazette-Mail’s Rick Steelhammer reported Dec. 13, about 50,000 acres of red spruce-dominant second-generation forest remain in West Virginia, mainly in isolated patches within or adjacent to the Monongahela National Forest.
While the forest will likely never return to its original scale, a coalition of government agencies and conservation groups is working to restore much of the forest. In 2007, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative project. To date, they’ve planted 584,000 red spruce seedlings in and around the Monongahela National Forest, home to most of the evergreen’s natural range in West Virginia.
Next spring, the coalition plans will plant 80,000 more red spruce seedlings.
“The idea is to use planting to connect those patches of red spruce, and then let nature take over” the restoration process, said Keith Fisher director of land conservation for the West Virginia chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
The coalition wants to establish about 150,000 acres of connected red spruce-northern hardwoods forest on the Monongahela, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Preserve and other adjacent private and state-managed lands.
Stands of red spruce provide a dense, all-season canopy that provides a cool, moist micro-climate during the summer months, creating habitat for 240 rare plant and animal species.
“We’re bringing back our iconic mountaintop forests through restoration efforts in the Monongahela National Forest and elsewhere, providing habitat for everything from migrating songbirds to native brook trout,” said Thomas Minney, state director of The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia.
West Virginia has always been a place of natural beauty. This coalition is helping to preserve notable areas of the state and make them as wild and wonderful as they can be.