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Easement of protection granted for special tract of forest

April 4, 2009

A pristine mountainside landscape just north of Harman is home to several endangered species - one of which can not be found anywhere else in the world. The 272-acre tract will remain in its natural state under a conservation easement.

"This is a beautiful piece of Appalachian mountainside, with a trout stream and a forest with rare plants," The Nature Conservancy, West Virginia Director Rodney Bartgis said. "But there is more than meets the eye here. Beneath the surface there are caves and sinkholes that provide habitat for rare species."

The Nature Conservancy recently entered into a conservation easement on property owned by Thunderstruck Conservation LLC. The easement will permanently prevent commercial logging, mining and residential development on the 272 acres. The easement is surrounded by the Monongahela National Forest, not far from the Dolly Sods and the Roaring Plains Wilderness areas, as well as the Conservancy's Bear Rocks Preserve.

Article Photos

(CU and The Inter-Mountain/Anthony Gaynor)
SWALLOWED FALLS — A stream falls into one of several caves on a conservation easement between the The Nature Conservatory and Thunderstruck Conservation. The easement contains five, or possibly six, caves that provide a home for unique organisms that can only be found in Randolph County.
(Photo courtesy of Kent Mason)
CAREFUL GUARD —The Cheat Mountain Salamander, shown here guarding its eggs, is among numerous endangered and threatened species that can be found on the Thunderstruck Conservation near Harman. Thunderstruck is planning to build a conservation bank for the salamander on its property.

"We protect important forested lands," Bartgis said. "We try to find those places key to wildlife."

According to Bartgis, the property was designated a top conservation priority for The Nature Conservancy - due to its high biodiversity - and assisted Thunderstruck in purchasing the property.

"They (Thunderstruck) retained ownership but sold certain rights to us," Bartgis said. "There can be no development except one house and we own the timber rights on the easement."

According to Bartgis, the easement will allow Thunderstruck Conservation owner Dixon Harvey to build one home on the 272 acres and manage the one barn that sits on the property. Thunderstruck owns approximately 2,000 acres of land that was purchased from MeadWestvaco in 2007.

The 272 acres is home to many rare plants and animals and five, or possibly six, caves that provide a much needed environment for the unique and endangered species that will be protected under the easement.

"There can be no commercial development in the caves," Bartgis said. "We reserved the right to deal with any damages from caving. We also have the ability to make sure the property owner does not violate the easement."

According to Bartgis, the endangered Virginia Big Eared Bat dwells in one cave and the Gandy Creek Springtail, a cave organism, is found in three caves on the property.

"Only three caves in east Randolph County have the Gandy Creek Springtail and they are not found any other place on earth," Bartgis said. "All three caves are on the easement."

Harvey said an elk rack and skeletal remains of a bison have been found in caves on the property.

"It is unique and preserved so no one is going to disturb them," Harvey said.

Along with the rare and endangered animals, unique plants grow throughout the easement, Bartgis said. Among those is the White Monkshood wildflower, which is found only in West Virginia, southern Tennessee and Kentucky.

According to Bartgis, the easement is the northernmost site that is known for having Blue Ridge St. John's Wart.

"Except in the mountains of West Virginia, the only other place it can be found is in the Great Smoky Mountains," he said. "It is uncommon."

According to Bartgis, many of these species live only in the biologically rich forests of the Central Appalachian Mountains, a region that runs from Pennsylvania to Tennessee.

The $796,500 for the purchase of the easement and other accompanying expenses was funded by the West Virginia Department of Transportation Division of Highways with funding identified in the Appalachian Corridor H Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The state provided money for the identification and analysis of the unique habitat to be purchased for preservation as determined by the WVDOH, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.



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