Dirty Ram for attention purposes. Over the weekend I went on a mini-adventure to an area called the Mower Tract. I find the story of the place fascinating. This was my second visit there, I discovered it last year while wandering around aimlessly.
To get there, you need to drive deep into WV. Past trailer parks that even Kid Rock won't associate with. Then past a prison that is surrounded by a government run cattle farm, and next to a little league field. The ballfield is the last piece of civilization before you drive up a road with some really nice switchbacks to the top of Cheat Mountain.
After you turn off the pavement at the top of the mountain, you travel through the forest on a road that kinda seems like exactly what you expect:
You might even see a forest chicken cross the road:
Seems kinda normal. Until you come across this:
At first you think that some kinda tornado came through the area, because of the way that all of the trees appear to be blown down in a strip. But that's not the case. There's bulldozer tracks:
....and then you think that this is the work of a logging company, but it isn't. The forest service did this, and they have been doing the same thing over the past 10 years in sections:
The above pic is at the "edge" of one of the sections. In the foreground is a section that was worked over in the past few years, in the back ground more recently.
The area is a former strip mine. After all of the coal was mined, the mining company bulldozed the mountain back to look kinda normal, squashed down the dirt and planted some non-native pine trees. The theory was that this would control erosion and it would look like a forest again after the trees grew in. The problem is that the soil was borked from being compacted, and the non-native trees only grew for a bit and just kinda fizzled out. Lack of water retention caused issues - The compacted soil and non-native trees don't retain enough water, causing everything to dry out too much. Thus, the area didn't turn back into a forest like it was supposed to. It ended up being more of a tundra than a forest.
The solution is to re-introduce native trees to restore the natural order. The native tree for the area is the Red Spruce. The climate of this particular mountain is one of the few in WV that the Red Spruce will actually grow in. The Red Spruce drop needles that cover the forest floor to retain water, and also grow a form of truffles that are eaten by the West Virginian Flying Squirrel, a formerly endangered and nearly extinct species:
What the forest service is doing is basically conducting mass genocide on the non-native trees, then neatly spreading their remains about. After letting them decompose for a year or two, they are then planting native Red Spruce trees.
They're also making hillside "ponds" to turn into wetlands. This one hasn't filled up yet:
This one is filled though:
Eventually, the area will have the correct trees, the correct moisture levels, a buncha pristine mountain ponds, and squirrels flying all over the place. Until then it's gonna look like a disaster zone though. Fascinating.