Fernow Experimental Forest

[photo:] Fall foliage in the central Appalachian Mountains.

The forests of the central Appalachian Mountains are an important resource to the millions of people who live in and around the area, as well as to the region’s many visitors. These mixed hardwood forests cover about 78 percent of West Virginia, and timber production from them is critical to the regional economy.  However, these forests are equally important for providing clean water, biodiversity, and other benefits that contribute to forest resiliency. 

In 2019, we are celebrating the 85th anniversary of the Fernow Experimental Forest, which was established on March 28, 1934, to address water quantity, water quality, and timber quality issues. Today, forest health and clean water are still a focus, but data from the Fernow Experimental Forest are also contributing to research of issues that had not been identified 85 years ago, such as biodiversity, endangered species management, carbon sequestration, atmospheric deposition, and climate change.

In celebration of the 85th anniversary, Northern Research Station scientists are offering a tour on Saturday, May 4. Please meet at 1 p.m. at the equipment shed located on Forest Road 701.

Stops will include visits to weir ponds to hear about watershed research conducted on the forest, a 1-mile walk along the Zero Grade Trail to see the longest running forestry study on the forest, and hands-on demonstrations of forestry tools. The formal tour will end around 4 p.m. with cake to celebrate the anniversary. For more information contact Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy.

To meet current and future demands placed on these ecosystems, scientists at the Fernow Experimental Forest are developing information and techniques for sustainably managing hardwood forests in the central Appalachians. The Fernow Experimental Forest was the first monitoring site in a national network to study acid deposition on forest health.

Scientists at the Fernow Experimental Forest have  

  • Contributed to design of Best Management Practices that protect water quality while also permitting forest operations.
  • Developed two-age management as an alternative to clearcutting and provided demonstrations of different types of forest management, such as even-age and uneven-age management. 
  • Explored prescribed fire as a means to sustain central Appalachian mixed-oak forests and better understand fire effects on some wildlife species. 
  • Answered transcontinental questions about ecosystem properties related to climate change as part of the national experimental forest network.
  • Contributed to the Central Appalachian Forest Vulnerability assessment in light of anticipated global changes in climate over the next century.
  • Hosted scientists and students from around the world, throughout the U.S., and from local universities.  
  • Provided hydrological and stream chemistry data for the past half-century that are freely available on the internet and are one of the most commonly downloaded Forest Service data sets nationally.
  • Demonstrated that the upland woodland salamander community is resilient to low to moderate intensity prescribed fires.
  • Contributed to demonstrating that the central Appalachian Mountains provide important winter habitat for golden eagles.

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