Picea rubens, most commonly known as red spruce, was once abundant in the West Virginia highlands covering over one million acres until the late 1800s. Its natural ecosystem contributions include providing food and cover for many animals such as the Northern flying squirrel and the Cheat Mountain Salamander. The dense canopy cover found in a red spruce forest creates a moist cool climate that provides a thriving environment for many of its inhabitants. Streams are also shaded by this canopy which helps to regulate temperature and light, thus sustaining water quality and biodiversity.
Forest Stand Reduction
Starting in the mid-1700s, clearing of red spruce forests for grazing and farming by slash and burn practices started the reduction of these forest stands. The mass harvesting of the late 1800s for lumber, paper, and musical instrument manufacturing, destroyed most of the spruce forests by 1920. This reduced spruce stands in West Virginia to approximately five percent. Today, only about 30,000 acres of red spruce remain in the West Virginia highlands.
Red Spruce Restoration
In an effort to help restore red spruce forests, Allstar Ecology was contracted by the U.S. Forest Service to work in the Monongahela National Forest within 27 timber stands totaling 1,095 acres in both Randolph and Pocahontas Counties, West Virginia. These forest stands were dominated by hardwood tree species, but had a red spruce component within their understories.
Beginning in 2016, Allstar Ecology Environmental Scientists started treating selected species of trees with herbicide utilizing a hack-n-squirt application method. Targeted trees included shade tolerant species such as beech and striped maple that compete with the red spruce in the understory. After the treatment of each stand, the Forest Service planned timber sales of the overstory hardwood trees. The following regeneration should result in the reestablishment of red spruce in these stands.
The project was completed in July of 2018 with the expectation that red spruce populations in these treated areas will not only thrive, but will continue to expand to form large-scale red spruce forests where they once historically flourished to sustain this unique ecosystem.
Three low-head dams (West Milford, Highland and Two Lick Dams) on the West Fork River in Harrison County, West Virginia, were planned for removal by the Clarksburg Water Board with assistance from the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). These dams were constructed in the early 1900’s for flood control and drinking water supply but no longer served their purpose and were a hazard to recreation along the river.
In September 2015, AllStar Ecology staff led efforts to relocate all live freshwater mussels from the work areas downstream of each dam. In West Virginia, all freshwater mussel species are now of conservation concern due to severe declines in their populations. In fact, freshwater mussels are the most imperiled species across the United States. With assistance from the USFWS and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR), a total of 116 freshwater mussels of eight species were collected and relocated outside of the dam work areas.
Dam Removal & Mussel Salvage
The demolition of the three dams occurred in the spring and summer of 2016. Each dam was demolished in increments so that water levels upstream receded gradually over time. This exposed 12.5 miles of river bank on the West Fork River home to freshwater mussels that were now stranded without water. AllStar Ecology, USFWS, WVDNR, and numerous other partners and volunteers used canoes with apple pickers and litter grabbers to collect stranded mussels. In total, 1,476 live freshwater mussels of eight species were relocated to newly exposed riffles within the West Fork River with help from 34 volunteers searching for a total of 646 hours.
Restoration & Future Goals
Removing the three dams opened a continuous 35 miles of river on the West Fork and returned 13.5 miles of lake type habitat to river type habitat. This will improve fish movement, sediment transport, and freshwater mussel populations and increase recreation opportunities. The project has also spurred the removal of tons of trash and litter from the areas and has lowered the cost of drinking water treatment for the City of Clarksburg.
The USFWS and its partners hope to continue river restoration on the West Fork River through additional dam removal and modifications. AllStar Ecology will continue to lead efforts to relocate freshwater mussels from work areas and along exposed banks.
The AllStar Difference
We develop mussel survey plans and conduct the necessary surveys to fulfill the needs of various industries, land managers and the scientific community. AllStar has performed hundreds of mussel surveys throughout West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania for industries including oil and gas, utilities, loading and dredging facilities, municipalities, non-profits, and government agencies, etc. to meet the needs of our clients. Learn more about our mussel services by clicking here or contact us for more information.
AllStar Ecology was formed in 2007 to provide sound environmental consulting on natural resource issues for industry, engineering firms, government agencies, non-profits, developers and other businesses.