Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

A Holistic Effort Helps All Wildlife

Monongahela National Forest’s 919,000 acres lie in a region The Nature Conservancy considers “an area of global ecological importance” thanks to its many and varied habitats. This working forest is home to many kinds of wildlife and provides clean water, timber products, and recreation for humans from rock climbers to hunters.

“As far back as 1996,” says forest wildlife program manager Dan Arling, “we recognized that we needed a better age-class distribution of trees across the forest.” That balance would be arrived at, in part, by increasing the amount of young forest on the landscape.

Partnering with The Nature Conservancy, National Wild Turkey Federation, Ruffed Grouse Society, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, and WMI, Monongahela staffers use timber harvests, prescribed burns, tree planting, and mechanical shrub- and tree-mowing to create thousands of acres of new young forest each year. Through the Forest Service’s stewardship contracting program, proceeds from timber sales fund habitat improvement projects that employ local West Virginians. Those timber operations also put renewable, locally produced timber products on the market.

Periodic mowing keeps wildlife openings (including some as large as 30 acres) in a brushy state. Timber harvests restore stands of spruce, and harvests and prescribed fires help regenerate oak and hickory woods. Efforts are also underway to restore wetlands and vernal pools.

Ruffed grouse and woodcock thrive in the dense young forest that springs back following timber harvests and controlled burns. In partnership with the Ruffed Grouse Society and the state of West Virginia, managers designated two areas of approximately 10,000 acres each for grouse management. Notes Arling, "We harvest timber on short rotations" in those areas, with up to four or five cuttings over 50-year periods. "We're not as concerned with timber value on those units," but rather are focused on benefiting grouse, woodcock, and other young forest wildlife.

Golden-winged warblers nest in the patchy habitat of young, regenerating hardwood stands. Snowshoe hares find shelter in new young spruce stands and in turn are preyed on by bobcats. Timber rattlesnakes hunt rodents in regrowing forest. Songbirds that breed and nest in mature woods escort their fledglings to areas of young forest; there, the inexperienced birds can feed on high-protein insect life while protected from predation to some extent by the dense stems of the young trees. Goshawks also nest in mature forest, and they nab some of the smaller birds drawn to the young forest tracts.

There's an abundance of life and productivity in those regrowing woodlands.

Says Arling of the young forest projects occurring throughout the Monongahela National Forest: “This is a holistic effort benefiting the entire community of wildlife.”