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You are here: Home / Research / Projects / Prescribed Burn / Appalachian Ecosystem Restoration Initiative

Appalachian Ecosystem Restoration Initiative

More than 1,200 acres of red spruce have been planted across its historic range on mine spoils; excluded livestock from 1,500 acres and protected 6,900 feet of streambank; prescribed burns were used to restore a healthy balance of native plants and young forest habitat for wildlife.

Located in central Appalachia—at the headwaters of the Potomac and Ohio rivers in West Virginia—lie five watersheds renowned for biodiversity and a legacy of mining. The high biodiversity of the region is owed in part to the many coldwater streams and forest types, including red spruce, oak-hickory, and northern hardwood forests.

Restoring the waterways and forests in the project area is critical to helping at-risk species like the Cheat Mountain salamander. A major challenge to any restoration project in the region is the adverse impacts from surface mining of coal. The spoils from these surface mines were often heavily compacted and lack the soil characteristics needed for native plants to thrive.

This Joint Chiefs’ project, in conjunction with the OneUSDA partnership and the Monongahela National Forest, are turning the challenges into opportunities. Collaborative projects to restore soil health, forest health, and water quality are part of the new legacy that is being written for the region.

Partnership Leads to Long-Term Stewardship Projects

As part of this Joint Chiefs’ project, The Nature Conservancy and USDA Forest Service worked together to conduct restoration projects on public and private lands in West Virginia, leading to a long-term partnership that continues today.

“Joint Chiefs’ funding was critical to our success,” said Todd Miller, The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Conservation Programs. “It was the boost we needed and has resulted in an evolving base of knowledge and practice which can be scaled up for use across the Forest and adjacent lands.”

The Nature Conservancy’s Ecological Restoration Team focused their work on restoration of the red spruce ecosystem that once blanketed the high elevations of the Allegheny Mountains. They used non-commercial thinning techniques across thousands of acres to release understory red spruce in hardwood-dominated sites. They also planted more than 39,000 red spruce seedlings on federal, state and private lands, and carried out non-native invasive plant control on more than 2,800 acres.

The Nature Conservancy has built on this early work and now manages timber harvests with the Forest to selectively thin red pine and hardwood stands. By improving forest health through timber harvests, income is generated and used to increase the scale of red spruce restoration. Timber harvest restoration activities on the National Forest also support local timber companies and local economies, providing additional benefits for people and nature.

Restoring large, connected patches of red spruce forest helps weave together a landscape in which native plants and animals can thrive into the future. These forests will continue to provide clean air and water, support jobs and serve as the setting for outdoor recreation opportunities that enrich our well-being and drive local economies. “Nature and a thriving economy do not have to be competing outcomes,” Miller explained. “Careful forest management can achieve both.”

Key Partners: Trout Unlimited, Appalachian Headwaters, The Nature Conservancy, WV DEP, WV DNR, Ruffed Grouse Society, National Wild Turkey Federation, West Virginia University, GAVCC, Appalachian Stewardship Foundation

Download PDF brochure (PDF, 209KB)



  • USFS & NRCS JCLRP funds awarded 2017–2019: $7,489,807
  • Total USDA and partner project funds: $11,514,150
West Virginia; central Appalachia