Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge increased by 325 acres this week, completing a multi-phase effort to protect one of the largest undeveloped areas of land within its boundary.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Conservation Fund has announced the acquisition, saying the acreage connects two areas of the refuge and secures a significant ecological corridor with the Monongahela National Forest. It also establishes a critical link in the Heart of the Highlands Trail.
Conservation Fund officials said the acquisition was a top priority because it provides ideal nesting habitat for grassland-dependent and forest dwelling migratory song and game birds including American woodcock, golden-winged warbler, indigo bunting, scarlet tanager and Canada warbler. This addition to the Refuge, together with a 120-acre tract conserved in 2008, will ensure enhanced water quality of Flat Run - a high quality, year-round water source and tributary of the Blackwater River.
"The diverse Refuge lands already provide a range of wildlife habitats and this new acquisition will help increase habitat for native species," Jonathan Schafler, refuge manager at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, said. "We are thankful for our partnership with our senators and representatives in Congress, the Conservation Fund and the Nature Conservancy for making this acquisition possible."
Canaan Valley is the largest high elevation boreal valley in eastern North America, encompassing more than 24,000 acres in the northeastern portion of West Virginia. The region contains 8,400 acres of nationally significant wetlands habitat including 40 different wetlands and upland plant communities. Collectively these vital ecosystems support more than 580 different species of plants, more than 280 species of mammals, birds reptiles, amphibians and fish and two federally listed species - the West Virginia northern flying squirrel and Cheat Mountain salamander. Among this wetland complex is one of the nation's largest shrub swamps and the fourth largest bog in the eastern United States.
"By protecting the ecological integrity of this area, we are creating crucial buffer zones that secure the highest quality habitat for many species that call the Canaan Valley home," Reggie Hall, real estate associate for the Conservation Fund, said. "We are proud to be a part of these collaborative efforts to protect a West Virginia natural treasure."
"Canaan Valley is truly a special place, and we are very grateful for the efforts that are being put forth to preserve it," Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said.
The diverse landscapes of Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge provide a range of outdoor recreational opportunities including hunting, fishing, bicycling, cross-country skiing and wildlife observation enjoyed by approximately 20,000 Refuge visitors each year. The Refuge's Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment predicted that current refuge management activities directly related to all refuge operations would generate an estimated $1.71 million in local input, about 16 jobs and $361,600 in personal income in the local economy over the next 15 years. The 2010 plan also predicted a 15 percent increase in refuge visitation by 2025.