Over 120 people, including scientists, conservation practitioners, federal and state agency staff, and landowners, gathered at Snowshoe Mountain Resort recently for the Conference on Ecology and Management of High Elevation Forests of the Central and Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Once dominating the high ridges throughout the Central and Southern Appalachians, high elevation forests with their mix of red spruce and northern hardwoods were impacted heavily during the logging boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s and the intense wildfires that often followed. Despite the heavy impacts associated with this period of exploitation, the remnants of these great forests continue to support some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the eastern United States, including iconic species such as the Cheat Mountain salamander and the West Virginia northern flying squirrel. These beautiful forests also remain important areas for recreation such as trout fishing, hiking and camping, and skiing and draw tourists from across the mid-Atlantic region.
High elevation forests have been slowly recovering for the past century, however other threats are beginning to come to the forefront such as climate change. “Raising awareness of the ecological and economic importance of high elevation forests, understanding past impacts and how these impacts affect the ecology and structure of the forest now, and how we might use science and management to restore and enhance these forests today were key motivators for organizing this conference,” said Jim Rentch, Assistant Research Professor with West Virginia University Division of Forestry and Natural Resources.
During the two day conference participants explored how the red spruce forests developed in the Central and Southern Appalachians, the large-scale impacts from the exploitive logging practices of a century ago, the current state of the red spruce forests, restoration efforts and techniques, and large-scale threats such as climate change, invasive species, and acid deposition. Snowshoe Mountain staff also helped lead participants on field visits throughout the red spruce forests on the resort property.
The Conference, sponsored by the Northern Research Station and the Monongahela National Forest of the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, West Virginia University, and The Nature Conservancy, with support from the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, was designed to bring together academics, conservation practitioners, business owners, and private landowners to share science, information, and best practices for the conservation of red spruce-northern hardwood forests. “For many years there have been ongoing efforts by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy and many others to study high elevation forests and protect and restore areas that have been impacted. Many of these actions have been done independently. The Nature Conservancy is glad to be a sponsor because conferences like this one increase collaboration and partnership opportunities and will help take efforts to the next level of scale and coordination,” said Thomas Minney, Central Appalachian Program Director for the Nature 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.
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