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At 80 Years, Fernow Experimental Forest Still Shedding Light on the Future

Weir WS4 on the Fernow Experimental Forest Parsons, WV, March 27, 2014 - When the Fernow Experimental Forest was signed into being on March 28, 1934, the research questions it was established to address – water quantity, water quality, and timber quality – said a lot about the nation’s circumstances. Most of the country was withering under a drought that would scorch on for several more years, and eastern forests were beginning to rebound from exploitive logging that had ended just a couple of decades earlier.

Today, 80 years of data from the Fernow Experimental Forest are being used to address issues that would astound the scientists who first collected it.

Originally a 3,640-acre experimental forest within the Monongahela National Forest, in 1974 the Fernow was expanded to include 4,600 acres. The forest, which is named in honor of Bernhard Fernow, a pioneer in American forestry, is one of 80 experimental forests and ranges established in the United States since 1908.

“Research has always been a linchpin for the Forest Service to effectively achieve its mission,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “America’s forests provide essential goods and services that we rely on, from forest products to clean water and air to open space for all to enjoy.  Count on Forest Service research to remain a vital part of keeping our rural and urban forests healthy, sustainable and more resilient to disturbances now and for future generations.”

Research at the Fernow Experimental Forest has:

  • Led to a better understanding of traditional forest management practices and to the development of new techniques for managing forests in the Central Appalachians, including two-age management and the use of prescribed fire to sustain mixed-oak forests.
  • Demonstrated that acid deposition in precipitation has been influencing forested ecosystems for decades and also has provided evidence that the Clean Air Act has improved water quality in the Central Appalachians.
  • Showed that proper use of best management practices can reduce erosion and sedimentation of streams associated with many forest management actions.
  • Provided new insight into the extent and use of the Central Appalachians for winter habitat for golden eagles.      
  • As part of the national experimental forest network, answered transcontinental questions about ecosystem properties related to climate change.             
  • Provided hydrological and stream chemistry data on the internet and has become one of the most commonly downloaded Forest Service data sets used by educators and researchers from across the Nation.

“With each passing year, the value of our long-term research grows,” according to Tom Schuler, Project Leader at the Northern Research Station’s lab in Parsons. “Data collected over the last half-century or more, both at the Fernow and throughout the entire experimental forest and range network, gives scientists the opportunity to compare the past with current conditions and future projections. This long-term perspective gives us a better understanding of how forests change through time. Significant departures in productivity, water quality, and species diversity can be signs that forest health could be at risk.”

The Fernow Experimental Forest is located on the Arnold Tract, also known as Tract No. 1, from which the Monongahela National Forest grew by authority of the Weeks Act of 1911.

“National forest managers and scientists working at the Fernow have worked together for decades to address issues of water quality, forest sustainability, and management of sensitive species on the Monongahela National Forest, which benefits those using the forest today and will rely on it in the future,” said Clyde Thompson, Forest Supervisor of the Monongahela.

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The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of our nation’s forests, amounting to 850 million acres including 100 million acres of urban forests gracing the nation’s cities, where 80 percent of Americans live. The mission of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov/.

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Last modified: March 27, 2014