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WV Wildlife: Cheat Mountain Restoration

Cheat Mountain, part of the highest elevations in eastern West Virginia, has been logged and mined over the years. This has negatively impacted the native vegetation there, particularly the Red Spruce Trees--which play a crucial role in this high-altitude ecosystem. (WCHS/WVAH)

Cheat Mountain in Randolph County--with its beautiful views and wind-swept, red spruce trees--is a high-elevation habitat.

Above 4,000 feet in altitude, life can be tough for both plants and animals alike, but in some places--it's been even tougher.

Shane Jones, a District Wildlife Biologist for the Greenbrier Ranger District and the Monongahela National Forest, says the habitat simply isn't what it should be here.

"These areas were mined for coal in the 1980's. And then, as part of the reclamation process--they followed all the laws--they got rewards for the reclamation that they did. But 30 years later, these areas were stuck in what we call, arrested succession--which basically means they're dominated by mainly non-native grasses and trees, because the goal back in the 80's was to get it vegetated as quick as possible to reduce erosion", said Jones.

The soil was also compacted here, which hasn't made it easy for the few native trees left, either.

"These trees over here are some of the biggest trees you'll see, but they're still really small for being 30-35 years old. We've partnered with a group called Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative to do ecological restoration on these areas. So, we come in, on these areas that were reclaimed, and we use a D7 or D8 bulldozer to de-compact the soil--deep rip it's called--and then after we plant with native vegetation. We've planted well over 100,000 seedlings", said Jones.

Restoring this area, from a barren habitat with mostly non-native plants, will especially be appreciated by the wildlife.

"We expect over the course of the next five to ten years, these areas that we deep-ripped and planted trees and knocked trees down, that it's going to be really good habitat for early successional critters, like Ruffed Grouse and Wild Turkey", said Jones.

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