Fernow Experimental Forest

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

The Appalachian mountain chain represents the backbone of the Eastern United States. The heart of these renowned highlands—the Central Appalachians— represent one of the world’s foremost examples of intact, diverse temperate forests and well-connected waterways. 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. Both people and nature rely on the benefits its forests and rivers provide, from important habitat for more than 200 globally rare plants and animals, expansive spaces for outdoor recreation, to safe drinking water and clean air for millions of Americans. These mixed hardwood forests cover about 78 percent of West Virginia, and timber production from them is critical to the regional economy. 

The Fernow Experimental Forest, designated as a special research area, is administered by the Northern Research Station, and is part of the Monongahela National Forest.  In 2020, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Monongahela National Forest which was established on April 28, 1920. The first tract of land purchased for what would become the Monongahela is now part of the Fernow Experimental Forest. That tract, known as the Arnold Tract, was purchased under the authority of the Weeks Act of 1911.  This landmark legislation allowed the federal government to acquire burned and cut over lands in the eastern United States for long-term river and watershed protection.  The Fernow Experimental Forest was established in 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 issues of today, such as biodiversity, endangered species management, carbon sequestration, atmospheric deposition, and climate change.

To meet current and future demands placed on these ecosystems, scientists at the Fernow Experimental Forest are developing information and techniques for sustainably managing forests, maintaining resiliency, and supporting biodiversity in the central Appalachians.

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 and throughout the U.S.
  • 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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