We all love a good comeback story and West Virginia’s upland red spruce forest is making a comeback of its own with the help of Randolph and Upshur county 4-H students.
Local students recently helped the West Virginia Division of Forestry plant red spruce saplings at Kumbrabow State Forest as part of an annual program to restore the species to upland forests and woodlands.
“Historically, West Virginia’s high elevation forests consisted of about 1 million acres of red spruce and northern hardwoods,” said Josh Simons, a forester at Kumbrabow. “Sadly, only about 10 percent of that forest remains in the state today.”
Simons, who works out of Kumbrabow, wanted to do something about that.
“Kumbrabow is one of the areas that traditionally had red spruce, so we’re trying to return that tree’s footprint to the forest through programs like this,” he said.
The combination of commercial logging and fires in the late 1800s and early 1900s decimated the state’s red spruce forests.Red spruce now only covers about 178,000 acres at high elevations in the Allegheny Mountains and in places on North Fork Mountain.
Existing red spruce forests are well protected, with about 86 percent of existing trees being on public lands. However, these trees are highly vulnerable to natural and industrial pressures, including energy development and the effects of climate change. The good news is that planting programs like the one at Kumbrabow are making a difference.
“We started the project as a way to get local students involved in the forest and off tablets and screens,” Simons said. “Our goal of the replanting project is to regain some of that 1 million acres.”
One of the benefits of restoring West Virginia’s red spruce forests is that about 300 wildlife species that are endangered or in peril rely on the tree for food and shelter. Species include the Cheat Mountain salamander, Saw-whet owl and West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel, to name a few.
“Hopefully, one of these days, these kids will come back here with their own kids and see the difference this work has made,” Simons said. “If one of these kids grows up to be a good steward of the land or a resource professional, it’s all worth it.”
The Division of Forestry’s red spruce replanting project is funded by the U.S. Forest Service through its Secure Rural Schools program. Simons said the Nature Conservancy provided 1,000 saplings and that the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative has also been an active partner.
To see West Virginia’s red spruce up close, plan a trip to Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley Resort state parks or Kumbrabow State Forest. Red spruce can also be seen in the Monongahela National Forest along the Highlands Scenic Highway and at Gaudineer Knob, Dolly Sods and Spruce Knob.
To learn more about West Virginia Division of Forestry programs, visit wvforestry.com.