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.