More than 400 acres of mountain forest along Mount Porte Crayon is protected for future generations through a partnership involving The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Agreements protecting the 415 forested acres were announced today (Nov. 16) during an event along the ridge-top property about 25 miles east of Elkins. The land is to become part of the Monongahela National Forest.
“This area will be a wonderful addition to the National Forest system,” noted Monongahela National Forest Supervisor Clyde Thompson. “Connecting high elevation habitats and providing additional land available to the public is a winning combination, and we’ve been extremely fortunate to have The Nature Conservancy as a partner to make this a reality.”
The property includes 300 acres that will be sold the U.S. Forest Service using funds from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, and 115 acres that will be purchased through a grant from the West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel Conservation Fund administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
With this transfer, The Nature Conservancy is nearing the culmination of a 10-year project aimed at protecting nearly 2,000 acres of former timber company land in a wide swath of red spruce and hardwood forest not far from the Dolly Sods and Roaring Plains wilderness areas and the Conservancy’s Bear Rocks nature preserve.
“Protecting this land has been a goal of ours for a decade,” said Rodney Bartgis, state director for The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia. “Protecting more than 400 acres of high elevation forest is important in its own right, but completing the entire project will be a significant conservation achievement for everyone who values West Virginia’s wild places.”
In 2008, 275 acres were protected through a conservation easement with the most recent owner, Thunderstruck Conservation LLC. This property, protected by the Conservancy through the Terrestrial Mitigation Fund established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, included ecologically significant caves and – in one of the caves – the fossilized skeleton of an ancient elk. In 2011, the Conservancy helped the U.S. Forest Service purchase 1,100 acres for addition to the Monongahela National Forest. In March, 2012, the Conservancy purchased the remaining 590 acres, of which 415 acres will be transferred to the Forest Service in the coming weeks. The partnership will continue to seek funding to transfer the remaining 176 acres to the national forest, Bartgis said.
This most recent purchase is also the highest in the project, with elevations reaching to 4,600 feet – the optimal range for a mixed red spruce forest and spruce-dependent species. The threatened Cheat Mountain salamander has been found there, and it provides suitable habitat for the endangered West Virginia northern flying squirrel.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proud to be a part of this outstanding partnership to preserve red spruce forests that will help recover four federally listed threatened and endangered species and other native wildlife,” said Deb Carter, project leader for the Service’s Ecological Services program in West Virginia.
The land protection project that became known as “Thunderstruck” was first envisioned by Conservancy staff a dozen years ago during biological surveys they conducted for its former owner, MeadWestvaco.
The total project area covers a rugged landscape of red spruce and northern hardwoods blanketing the western slope of Mount Porte Crayon, from the ridgeline to the valley floor. It shelters the waters of Spruce Run and a labyrinth of subterranean sinkholes. Rare animals like saw-whet owls and the endangered Virginia big eared bats live on the property, which is adjacent to the Roaring Plains Wilderness Area, and near Dolly Sods and the Conservancy’s Bear Rocks Preserve. The globally rare white monkshood can be found growing in the spring seeps and native brook trout swim in its streams. Running buffalo clover, an endangered plant, also grows on the mountain slopes.
Beneath the surface there are caves and sinkholes that provide habitat for rare species like the Virginia big-eared bat and cave-dwelling invertebrates – called springtails – that depend upon the caves of West Virginia.
Purchase of this land provides direct long term protection to important habitats and species, increasing wildlife benefits, but also reduces the threat of fragmentation near adjacent iconic and well-visited recreation areas like Roaring Plains and Dolly Sods North.
“From an ecological perspective this is a very valuable piece of land,” said Kent Karriker, a forest ecologist for the Monongahela National Forest. “We’re glad to have it under conservation management.”
The project is located at the heart of the Central Appalachian Forest, a region that spans across Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia into Kentucky and Tennessee. The Central Appalachians are among the most diverse temperate broadleaf forests in the world and are a protection priority for the Conservancy.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.