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History of Spruce Reforestation in the Southern Appalachians

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Excerpt from Mount Mitchel & the Black Mountains, An Environmental history of the highest peaks in Eastern America.

by Timothy Silver, 2003, University of North Carolina press, pages 170 & 171 Between 1923 and 1931, as the lumbermen retreated, researchers from the newly established southeastern Forest Experiment Station in Asheville laid out seventy-seven small plots (each spanning about a tenth of an acre) at an elevation of 5,500 feet on the Southeastern face of Clingman’s peak. along with native red spruce and Fraser fir, foresters planted a variety of alien trees, hoping to find some fast growing species that might be used to repopulate the fire-ravaged mountains.

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History of the Resource

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Red spruce and red spruce-northern hard-wood forests once dominated the highest elevations of West Virginia, covering more than 500,000 acres, with some estimates of over one million acres.  Extensive logging in the late 1800s and early 1900s reduced much of the mature forest in the Appalachians, including the red spruce-dominated stands.  Today only about 29,600 acres of high elevation red spruce remain in the State. Besides being reduced in over-all size, the remaining spruce forests have been fragmented into many small spruce “islands.” Much of CASRI’s efforts are focused on connecting and expanding these islands to restore the habitat of species depending on spruce forests for their survival.

The late West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd once said, “West Virginia is one of the most beautiful and unique of all places. It is the most southern of the northern and the most northern of the southern; the most eastern of the western and the most western of the eastern. It is where the East says good morning to the West, and where Yankee Doodle and Dixie kiss each other good night!”  The Central Appalachians are indeed a meeting of the northern and southern ecosystems and forest types.  This is what makes them one of the most diverse forests on earth.  They provide extensive forested south to north habitat corridors and they also vary significantly in elevation. 102 wildlife species in the Central Appalachians have been identified as species of conservation concern. For rare plants and animals on the move, the opportunity to head upward in elevation and south to north, without running into habitat obstructions, means a better chance of survival in the face of climate change. This greater possibility for migration and adaptation ultimately will help to maintain the region’s high level of biodiversity which keeps ecosystems more resilient to any challenges climate change may bring.

Gymnosperm Database entry on Red Spruce

Encyclopedia of Life: Red Spruce

Wikipedia: Picea rubens

Endagered: Appalachian Red Spruce Forest

A History of Tree Planting in West Virginia

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Clearly, West Virginia has had a rich and varied past with regard to harvest, tree species planted, development of Christmas tree plantations, and associated research. This diverse history has a significant influence on current forest composition and has provided a wealth of information for future forest practices in the State.

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A Relic of the Ice Age: West Virginia's Balsam Fir

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Wild Wonderful West Virginia Magazine, a Relic of the Ice Age: West Virginia's Balsam Fir by Ray Hicks and Ken Carvell.

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Abies intermedia, The Blue Ridge Fir, a new species

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Taxonomists today would disagree, but this is none-the-less an interesting article from Volume 1 of Castanea, the Journal of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Club, printed in 1936 about taxonomy of the central appalachian fir.

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Who are we?

This website has been established and is being managed by the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy to support the work of the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (CASRI).

CASRI is a partnership of diverse interests with a common goal of restoring historic red spruce-northern hardwood ecosystems across the high elevation landscapes of Central Appalachia. It is comprised of private, state, federal, and non-governmental organizations who share a recognition of the importance of this ecosystem.

Contact Us

For more information, and volunteer opportunities, please contact :

Julie Fosbender

Partnership coordinator

US Forest Service

Monongahela National Forest

P: 304-636-1800

f: 304-637-0582