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Forest Service works to restore Mower Tract

The Inter-Mountain photo by Tim MacVean Jack Tribble, United States Forest Service district ranger for the Monongahela National Forest, spoke to the Elkins Rotary Club Monday about projects being completed by the agency.

ELKINS — During Monday’s Elkins Rotary Club meeting, members learned about projects being completed by the United States Forest Service.

Jack Tribble, United States Forest Service district ranger for the Monongahela National Forest, spoke to the club about the projects being done and lessons learned from forest collaboration efforts.

The federal agency has spent roughly a decade working on an ecological restoration project on the Mower Tract of Cheat Mountain, near Huttonsville, an area that was mined for coal in the 1970s and 80s.

“It was mined and privately owned up until the mid 1980s. A group of folks got together and the forest service ended up buying that with the help of The Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public Land in the early 90s,” Tribble said while showing “before and after” pictures of the land.

Tribble explained that while restoration work, which was required by law, was “done and done very well,” it was done by 1970s regulations and caused them to pack soil three feet thick, which stopped things from growing.

“What happens is it made things not grow so the top of the mountain should have lots of trees growing and lots of ecosystem work going on there, but stuff is just not growing,” he said.

In 2009, the forest service began working to fix the problem; however, had a 90 percent failure rate the first year.

“We tried to solve these problem ourselves and what we did is we just didn’t listen to anybody else and said ‘Hey, we got this.’ Sometimes something that happens is that we have all these problems. Soil compaction, there is no wildflowers, there is low bird life, and head cutting, which means you have a lot of water runoff. Just lots of bad things happening up there,” Tribble said.

“So what we did — our forest service solution — it’s 2009 and we planted 2,000 trees,” he continued. “Ninety percent failure rate. We failed miserably.”

He added this year, they planted 9,600 trees, a significant increase from the planting they did roughly 10 years ago.

Tribble added after that initial failure, the forest service began engaging with outside partners and quickly turned the project into a 90 percent success rate.

“We went from a 90 percent failure rate to a 90 percent success rate because of all these partners. When we started listening to people in Appalachia and people helping us out, we started having a success rate,” Tribble said. “After three years, 87 percent success ratio. We are now at 86 percent success ratio on this planting — our pilot project in 2011 — this year. So we are succeeding after listening to all our partners on all this.”

What started as simply planting trees has now grown to include other projects that enhance growth, habitat and animal life.

“We started having all this stuff happening and succeeding so things are growing, things are really happening well,” he said. “It’s amazing that in three or four months you can have frogs in ponds that you just created that fall before. How in the world? Do frogs fly or something? I couldn’t figure it out. That’s why I have a wildlife biologist to figure those things out. When you have those kinds of success, it spawns other opportunities.”

Tribble said they have began partnering with Tygarts Valley Middle School and Pocahontas County High School to do science experiments on the property every spring and fall.

Through the usage of grant funds and outside partnerships, the agency is working to create loop trails, hunting opportunities, bird viewing areas, mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking.

“The hope is that folks can drive up there, have a nice easy walk and start seeing the success of this. Success to us means you are seeing wildflowers, trees are growing again and you are seeing bird life coming in,” Tribble said. “These are really successful key indicators. Something that we feel really strongly about is getting people up there and seeing what’s going on. This is adjacent to our community over here so this could really turn into a good thing for bringing people into the area.”

Because of a Phil Gainer Community Center Christmas Tree Lighting Project around this time last year — where a tree from the Mower Tract was cut and brought to the facility — the forest service has begun selling Christmas Tree Permits for $5, which allows individuals to go cut their own Norway Spruce or Virginia Pine trees for Christmas.

Prior to Tribble’s presentation, Rotarian Chris Wood received a Paul Harris Fellow pin from Joyce Allen. The Paul Harris Fellow program recognizes individuals who contribute, or who have contributions made in their name, of $1,000 to The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.

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