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. 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.

Scientists on the Fernow Experimental Forest are celebrating the recent announcement to delist the running buffalo clover (Trifolium stoloniferum, listed in 1987). The plant was first found on the Fernow Experimental Forest in 1993, when Clay Smith was the project leader and research forester. Smith worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the plants and allow for long-term silviculture research to continue; those actions became an un-planned experiment in the ecology of running buffalo clover when more plants were discovered on the new skid trails built to avoid the other plants. Staff and volunteers have monitored running buffalo clover populations on the Fernow Experimental Forest since 1994, and a recent analysis of 20 years of monitoring data lends support for the published findings showing the association between sustained periodic disturbance and running buffalo clover abundances. Station science and monitoring of running buffalo clover on the Fernow has been shared with partners in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources and directly contributed to the decision to de-list the species. Through the years, NRS scientists have also been members of the recovery team and helped in development of management plans for the species.

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.