The Nature Conservancy continues to utilize perhaps one of its most important resources, people. Volunteers are integral to helping the West Virginia Chapter maintain and preserve the conservancy's many sites throughout West Virginia.
The most recent volunteering opportunities occurred this spring. The first was in April at Monongahela National Forest in Canaan Valley. Volunteers were asked to collect and later plant Red Spruce seedlings.
Red Spruce, or Picea rubens, once covered thousands of acres in West Virginia before logging and burning at the turn of the century drastically reduced its range. The volunteers helped collect the seedlings from a similar habitat to transplant at the nearby Bear Rocks Preserve. The seedlings are tiny and rooted in wet, peaty soil.
The replanting of the seedlings was conducted May 1, 2004, at the Bear Rocks Preserve in Tucker and Grant counties. The replanting, the first year of a five-year effort, is expected to accelerate restoration of forest cover and regeneration of red spruce. It is also expected to improve habitat quality for rare plants and animals by restoring natural vegetation and ecological processes, and improve hydrology and local climate, reducing erosion and increasing percolation of water into the underlying bedrock.
Another volunteering opportunity took place May 15, 2004, at the Ice Mountain Preserve in Hampshire County - eliminating garlic mustard, an exotic and invasive plant.
It was found at the preserve years ago and determined to be a threat to native plant populations of the preserve's globally rare ice vent community.
The primary feature of this preserve is the 60 small holes and openings at the base of a rock talus.
The vents blow 38-degree air year-round. Ice can be seen in the vents well into May. A group of high elevation, boreal plants group themselves around the cold air vents. The preserve also has high sandstone cliffs affording views of the surrounding area.
Without intervention by The Nature Conservancy, the invasive species would gain a foothold in the rare community of the ice vents and riverside, crowding out native species and disrupting habitat for rare invertebrates such as the tiger beetle. This is the third year of control efforts. Volunteers pulled and bagged garlic mustard plants and removed them from the preserve.
West Virginia has a wide variety of preserves the public can visit when they are not volunteering. The state's preserves have policies to keep them safe and healthy.
Some of the rules include: keeping pets at home, as other visitors and native wildlife will appreciate it; no camping, fires or all-terrain vehicles are allowed; respect the native wildlife, including rattlesnakes and copperheads; and many of the preserves have open cliffs and dangerous drops, so people should know their limits.
Visitors should also remember that deer and turkey hunting are a community tradition in rural West Virginia. Hunting takes place near most of the preserves in the fall. During the season, visitors should wear bright colors and make noise to let hunters know you are in the area.
Those who have questions can contact the West Virginia Field Office at (304) 637-0160.