Restoration on the Mon Pt. 2!

On my last post, I talked a lot about one type of restoration project that can be found on old, mined lands within the Monongahela National Forest and in Appalachia, but not all restoration projects that take place on the Monongahela are like the one I described last time. A lot of restoration consists of smaller scale projects like invasive species removal in locations all around the forest, campsites, and roads including scenic highways. Removal of invasive species can include projects like hand pulling of herbaceous species like garlic mustard, using loppers to cut down larger woody shrubs, or spraying foliage and/or cut stump herbicide to get rid of other species. This removal is important to do regularly because it keeps invasive species from spreading throughout the forest and taking resources away from important native species.

A third restoration technique to help support the growth of native species in Appalachia is fire ecology. This is an interesting land management tool that can be used to rejuvenate certain ecosystems and allow the growth of healthy forests. Some ways to make the forests healthy is through reducing leaf litter and downed limbs to increase the habitats to promote the growth of native plant diversity. Specifically, fire can be used in Appalachia to help maintain the oak and pine forests to increase the openness of the forest understory, creating sunlight to the forest floor, and promoting seed germination. It can also help reduce the completion of survival of competitive species by limiting the growth of these competitive tree species like red maple, tulip popular, and white pine which tend to out compete some of the other species when there is an absence of fire. It can promote the native grasses and wildflowers, thin crowded forests which can help prevent disease and insect pest outbreaks and it also increases the food abundance for native wildlife like bears, deer, and birds. It had been seen through surveys that with a lack of fire implementation there has been diminished oak and pine regeneration, and lack of herbaceous groundcover from their historic range of variability.

Me recording tree information for a pre-burn survey.

When it comes to the National forests in Appalachia, fire ecology is used specifically to increase the native diversity. The past couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to help with the pre and post burn tasks and learn a lot about fire ecology in practice. For these tasks I helped with pre- and post-burn surveys of the fire plots. Using a GIS software, the survey location within the burn units was randomly selected and was given to the forestry tech to record the pre-burn survey. This survey includes recording the canopy cover frequency, ground cover frequency, woody shrub density, and the trees in the area. This is an important step in the prescribed burn process so that there can be a baseline of the vegetation within the burn unit to compare the post-burn surveys to in the future. The post-burn surveys typically happen in the growing season within six months after the burn, a full year after the burn during the same season as the pre-burn surveys took place, and then another survey five years after the first burn. These post-burn surveys are important to compare the vegetation growth within the burn units over the course of five years.  

Assisting with both the pre- and post-burn surveys has been extremely interesting because it has given me the opportunity to look at another form of land management that is taking place in the Monongahela. Within the forest service, fire ecology has been a recently new technique to use for land management. The methods and research on prescribed burns continues to evolve and being able to help with the surveys allowed me to gain insight on how land management continues to improve over time with research and practice. I have been able to learn so much from working with the fire team and look forward to continuing to help them on their surveys and learn more about prescribed burns within the Monongahela!  

Restoration on the Mon!

For this week’s blog post, I just want to start by saying I can’t believe that it has already been two months since the start of my CLM journey. These past two months have been so much fun, and I am so grateful to have been able to meet and work alongside my co-intern Katie. Unfortunately, Katie has left me this past weekend to go onto bigger and better things like getting a master’s degree at Montana State. However, I am so excited to see everything she will accomplish in the coming years, and I am forever grateful to have such a caring, kind-hearted, and hardworking friend. Thankfully, she has agreed to that we would keep in touch with all our future adventures, and I hope to visit her in Montana in the coming year!  

To catch up on our previous blog posts, some of the stuff Katie and I have been doing the past couple of weeks has been the repeating tasks like botany surveys, treating for invasive species along the scenic highway, and finishing up the salamander surveys for the summer season. However, the past couple of weeks we have also been assisting with the ecological restoration projects that are taking place on the Monongahela.

For these projects, we have been working very closely with the Reforestation Coordinator, Anna Branduzzi, from the Nonprofit organization Green Forest Work in preparing, monitoring, and restoring mined lands on the Monongahela. Working alongside Anna on this project gave us the opportunity to see all different parts of the ecological restoration process in Appalachia. A restoration project like this includes many steps to jumpstart the natural succession process through activities like preparing the site through clearing or ‘ripping’ the non-native vegetation on the old, mined lands, selecting native species to plant in the previously ‘ripped’ sites, working with conservation crews and volunteers to plant and seed native species, and then continual monitoring of older sites to make sure the vegetation and habitats continuing to survive in these locations.

During our time working with Anna, Katie and I assisted with the preparation of the sites through locating wetland ecosystems in the future restoration locations so they can be avoided in the ‘ripping’ process. Second, we helped plant and seed the native plants in this year’s restoration site. Lastly, we helped monitor some of the older restoration sites by locating the wetlands for future monitoring and possibly to bring an excavator to enhance these wetlands in the future. I really enjoyed participating in all these steps for restoring Appalachia and being able to see all the older restoration sites giving me a perspective on just how fast this restoration can help the secession process on the old, mined lands.

A restoration site ‘ripped’ in 2020
One of the located Wetlands
A native plant (Fireweed) found in a 2018 restoration site

Another part of this restoration process that Katie and I have enjoyed helping with has been the research that is being accomplished in the Monongahela from the surrounding Universities. Some of this research includes the monitoring of ecosystems through looking at animal and plant populations. Recently Katie and I have assisted with a master’s student research project that looks at bat foraging on restored mined land in West Virginia. Her research consists of monitoring bat foraging through bat audio recordings, bug collections, and surveying wetlands on the restored mined lands and old growth forests. She will be able to use this data collected to see how the foraging might be different between the two different locations. It was exciting to be able to assist in this process of collecting data and to see the different ways these restored mined lands can be monitored and continue to improve habitat for native species in both the Monongahela National Forest and Appalachia.

Katie and I helping measure the wood coverage of the sticks and logs in the wetland in a minded land restoration site.
A Malaise trap used to collect flying insects in a wetland of an old growth forest.

Ecological restoration and the research being accomplished on the Monongahela, specifically old mined lands, is an important part of maintaining the biodiversity within Appalachia. I am excited to continue working alongside Anna, Green Forest Work, other non-profit organizations, and researchers from surrounding Universities to continue the amazing work being accomplished on the Monongahela National Forest.  

Wildlife on the Monongahela!

It has been only one month living in West Virginia and I can’t believe how much wildlife I have encountered. While working in the Monongahela National Forest, one thing that I have enjoyed the most has been the amount of diversity I have seen in the mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, and fungi. Growing up I have always been interested in all different types of wildlife, but being in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, the diversity is really different than in the Mon Forest. While being here, I have been very excited to “geek out” about all the wildlife that I have never seen before.

To start, some of the larger wildlife I have seen are bears and grouse. While helping with a highway trash pick-up day, Katie and I saw two black bears cross the road. Unfortunately, it was so fast that I was not able to take a picture of them, but it was still exciting to see my first wild bear. It is also cool to have seen the black bear in West Virginia because it is the West Virginia state animal. Another interesting animal I saw was a Ruffed Grouse, Bonasa umbellus. The grouse is interesting because it is in the same family as the chicken and even looks kind of like a small chicken at first glance.

The amphibians that have caught my attention are the salamanders and newts. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to help with salamander surveys. This has allowed me to see a handful of different species that range in size and color. Some species include the Northern Dusky, Desmognathus fuscus; the Northern Slimy Salamander, Plethodon glutinosus; and the Northern Red Salamander, Pseudotriton ruber. I have seen the Eastern Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, a couple of times. These little guys are cool because they spend the first three years of their lives as the red eft stage (pictured below) roaming around on land and then the rest of their lives in water for their adult stage with a completely different coloration of a green dorsal and yellow stomach. They are also the only species of newt that we have in the Monongahela!

Some more wildlife that is hard to miss are the bugs. While being in the field there have been many bugs that I have encountered. I have also helped an AmeriCorps member on one of her projects by doing a “bug blitz.” For the “bug blitz,” we spent a couple hours searching a plot of the forest and tried to catch as many bugs as we could find to later ID them. After doing this multiple times, we can gauge the different bug populations in parts of the forest. This was a lot of fun, and I was able to see so many different spiders, leafhoppers, beetles, and flies that I didn’t realize were so interesting till I was able to get a closer look.

To save the best for last, the group that has caught my attention the most has been the fungi! I always thought fungi were cool, but after coming to the Mon Forrest, the diversity of fungi has blown my mind. I have never seen so many different shapes, sizes, and colors of fungi before. Thanks to the help of an identification app called Seek, I have been able to learn many different names of the common fungi I encounter while out in the field. Some of the common ones I have found and been able to ID are pictured below. However, I am still learning and there are still so many more that have caught my attention, but I have not been able to identify yet, including the last picture of the bright red-orange mushroom.

Overall, I have had an incredibly fun time seeing so much wildlife. Every day I work in the field I am excited to find more new species to add to my running list of things I have never seen before. I am extremely thankful to be working in the Monongahela National Forest, and I can’t wait to see what other wildlife I will see in the upcoming months.

New Beginnings!

Hi! My name is Megan Crapo, and I am so excited to start sharing about my time as a CLM intern working with the US Forest Service at the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. To start, I am from Phoenix, Arizona and went to college just outside of Chicago, Illinois. Coming to West Virginia has pushed me farther east than I could have ever imagined and these first three weeks have exceeded my expectations. I can’t wait to see how the rest of my time here will turn out!

These first three weeks have been filled with many adventures. Since my co-intern Katie and I are still waiting on our federal driver’s license and other trainings like pesticide application certification’s to be completed, we have been able to tag along on other USFS projects. This has allowed us to meet our other co-workers and learn about different projects and maintenance needed to help preserve the ~1,400 square miles of the Monongahela National Forest. Some of the projects we have helped with have been botany surveys to keep track of rare and threatened plants in the forest, salamander surveys to help with a local research project on the effects of large woody debris on salamander abundance and species richness (pictures 1&2), and helping with a local restoration project with CASRI by planting red spruce, red maple, and other native plants with the Appalachian Conservation Corp (pictures 3&4).

These first three weeks have shown me just how much work goes into maintaining national forests and I am excited to see what there is in store for the next five months! Soon Katie and I will be able to go out on our own to work on projects such as invasive species management, habitat monitoring, and more!