Restoring Beauty, One Mine at a Time

 

 

 

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The Appalachian Mountains that make West Virginia rugged and beautiful owe much of their splendor to the red spruce. Old-growth red spruce forests once                  covered Cheat Mountain in seemingly limitless numbers. These trees can live up to four hundred years and used to sustain all kinds of unique wildlife, such as salamanders, flying squirrels and golden eagles. The forest ecosystem is also particularly effective at filtering water, and flowed with the crystal-clear streams.

Between 1880 and 1940 nearly the entire red spruce population within these forests went through a series of clear cuts and devastating wild res. They went from covering 1.5 million acres to roughly 30,000. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, coal mines were opened up in the rugged hills where red spruce once thrived. Once these mines were tapped out and depleted, non-native species were planted in a well-intended, but misguided restoration attempt. One of such invasives was a grass that quickly became a compacted sod, choking out all other vegetation and disrupting an ecosystem that relied on biodiversity.

Even though most of the mines were shut down in the 1970s, this sod has prevented the normal process of reforestation from occurring. Without intervention, the interrupted areas could never get back to their natural ecosystem, even though they are on federally protected land. Compacted soil must be broken in order to bring the ecosystem back to balance, which makes restoration a much more di cult process than it might be elsewhere.

This is why we trust American Forests to do the job. As the nation’s oldest national conservation nonprofit, they bring an expertise and strategy of incorporating key partners like the U.S. Forest Service to restoration projects like those on Cheat Mountain. They’re celebrating 143 years of forest-enthusiasm this fall, and have planted more than 50 million trees since 1990. They planted 75,000 trees in the Mower Tract of the Monongahela National Forest this year, making a significant jump-start in the restoration process for this embattled ecosystem.

We are proud to support their work and look forward to continuing reforestation efforts on stripped mine land in West Virginia.