Experimental forest celebrates preservation

ELKINS – As of March 27, the Fernow Experimental Forest in Tucker County is celebrating 80 years of preservation and research and officials say that their work will continue for many more years to come.

Originally established on March 28, 1934, to monitor water quality, water quantity and timber quality, the now 4,600 acre experimental forest is one of 80 such forests established by the U.S. Forest Service since 1908. According to their website, the overall mission of the Forest Service, which is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of the present and future generations.

According to Thomas M. Shuler, Project Leader and Research Forester for Fernow, within the Research mission area of the Forest Service, the researchers of Fernow conduct research at all scales from the very small (like nano-scale in wood product development) to the very large, including transcontinental assessments of temperature and precipitation changes over decades or longer.

Schuler said the mission of Fernow is to develop timely, relevant knowledge and provide management guidelines to sustain and enhance the ecological and economic function and value of Appalachian forests.

“One of the great things about the Fernow Experimental Forest is that we have experiments that run for decades,” Schuler explained. “For example, we have one ongoing experiment about different types of forest management on the Fernow that started in 1949 and it is one of the longest running forest experiments in the eastern United States. This long-term perspective is unique and gives us the opportunity to detect changes that would be otherwise impossible from a short-term experiment. Studies like these have enabled scientists working here to publish well over a thousand scientific papers and develop a series of videos that are designed to assist private forest landowners.”

The research at Fernow Experimental Forest conducted by a staff of 12 individuals at the Northern Research Station, has also focused on water work, forest management, air quality, fire work, wildlife and research regarding endangered species in the area such as the Indiana bat.

“We also provide much of our water quality and quantity data online and it has become one of the most popular downloads of Forest Service data nationally,” Schuler said. “We are dealing with systems that are very dynamic and don t change from year-to-year. We are one of three experimental forests in the Mountain State. The Princeton forest emphasizes forest products and the Morgantown Forest focuses on work with endangered species.”

Schuler said visitors come to the Fernow every summer and can take either a self-guided tour or be assisted by one of the scientists on staff for a guided tour of the research forest. The Fernow is easily accessible by automobile for those who are interested in visiting and they can visit the Timber and Watershed Laboratory in Parsons for more information, Schuler said.

“As we go about our work, we do not do it alone,” Schuler emphasized. “We work with people from the Monongahela National Forest, other federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and several state agencies. We also have many university cooperators from the state, the region and other parts of the world. Our studies range from forest restoration, to water, to wildlife.

“Of course, with any long-term endeavor, those of us who currently have the privilege of working here on the Fernow owe a great deal to those who have come before us,” Schuler added. The scientists who worked at the Fernow in the early days had the vision to create an outdoor laboratory that would allow scientists to ask questions that would take generations to answer.

“We often say that we sit on the shoulders of giants when we think about the legacy left to us as forest scientists and we feel obligated to do the same for the next generation.”

For more information on Fernow Experimental Forest, check out their page on the U.S. Forest Services website www.nrs.fs.fed.us/ef/locations/wv/fernow or call 304-478-2000.

Contact Chad Clem by email at cclem@theintermountain.com.