After the ground was prepped, planting could begin. A bio-diverse mix of high-value hardwood seedlings were planted, as well as smaller trees and shrubs. Because these were all native to this forestland, wildlife would benefit. And because the soil was exposed, native wildflowers would be able to establish on their own as well.
Within a couple years — with this first 90 acres doing well — more work commenced. Now 100–200 acres of the National Forest are restored each year through this unique partnership. Land is prepped, trees are planted, and wetlands are created in an effort to reestablish the original ecosystem.
The Importance of the Red Spruce
Restoring red spruce stands on the Monongahela National Forest is critical. At one time, more than 500,000 acres of red spruce forest sprawled across West Virginia. Due to decades of industrial logging and mining, however, only approximately 50,000 acres remain today. And that has caused problems for a number of endemic and migratory wildlife.
Incorporating native red spruce in the restored areas of the forest helps to ensure that these animals have access to the habitat they need for survival. One example is the Cheat Mountain salamander, a threatened species found only in this region. It requires the moist, peaty soils found amid the red spruces. And the northern flying squirrel relies on these trees for its food source: a fungus that grows on the roots of the red spruce.
The golden-winged warbler, a bird facing declining numbers, also relies on this forest type. “We're working in a priority area of conservation for the golden-winged warbler, which relies on young forest habitat,” said Michael. “We're creating that young forest habitat by creating more tracts every year over this past decade that we've been working. But because it is a slower-growing forest type, that young forest habitat will persist for a longer term as well.”