A broad swath of West Virginia’s iconic mountain landscape, from high-elevation spruce forests to subterranean sinkholes, is now protected for future generations by The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service.
In an agreement closed recently and funded through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, nearly 1,100 acres of forest has been added to the Monongahela National Forest, not far from the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area and the proposed Roaring Plains Wilderness Area, as well as the Conservancy’s Bear Rocks Preserve. The Conservancy purchased the in Randolph County property in June 2010 from Thunderstruck Conservation, LLC, and maintained ownership until federal funds were available for the purchase.
“This is a significant conservation accomplishment for the Monongahela National Forest and the 1.3 million people who visit it each year,” said Clyde Thompson, the forest supervisor. “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 retains these values is a benefit to the public as well as to the natural resources of the area.”
Efforts to protect this property date back more than a decade, when the Conservancy and the former landowner, MeadWestvaco, identified the high ecological value of the property and began making plans to protect it, said Thomas Minney, director of the Conservancy’s Central Appalachian Initiative.
“Purchase of this land not only 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,” Minney said. “We are pleased to have helped protect this extraordinary piece of Appalachian Forest.”
The diverse elevation, geology and climate of the Thunderstruck property provides habitat for a wide range of plant and animal species, from red spruce and hardwood forests to rare species like the Cheat Mountain salamander, Minney said. The globally rare white monkshood can be found growing in the spring seeps and native brook trout swim in the streams.
“But there is more than meets the eye here,” he added. “Beneath the surface there are caves and sinkholes that provide habitat for rare species like the Virginia big-eared bat and cave-dwelling insects – called springtails – that spend their entire lives in the caves of West Virginia.”
The Monongahela National Forest was established in 1920 and occupies more than 920,000 acres in 10 West Virginia counties. The forest 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.
This purchase is part of an ongoing project to bring together a private landowner and state and federal agency partners to protect a 2,000 acre area priority conservation tract.
The purchase price of $1.73 million was funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that uses royalties from offshore oil development to protect land and water resources for all Americans.
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.