In The Spirit of Cooperation
By Alan Glasscock
The Wildlife Resources Section of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has a long history of outstanding cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service in West Virginia. Since the mid-1940s, DNR personnel have maintained strong working relationships with the staff of three National forests -- Monongahela , George Washington and Jefferson. A Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies has existed for more than 50 years. This cooperative relationship has produced substantial benefits to the state's wildlife resources, their associated habitats and forest visitors on more than one million acres of National Forest lands in West Virginia.
This cooperative program has produced a high-use precedent for wildlife resource-based recreation that includes hunting, fishing, trapping, birdwatching and watchable wildlife areas. It provides access routes for many other popular, outdoor-related recreational opportunities that generate additional economic benefit.
Currently, the DNR invests in excess of $2 million annually on National Forest System land in West Virginia for wildlife and fishery management. Encompassing 6.6 percent of the state land base, the entire National Forest System is viewed as an extremely important area to the people of West Virginia and to the entire nation.
Cooperative projects between the two agencies are easily seen when visiting the National forests in West Virginia. Some projects are small and require little effort to accomplish, while others require planning, coordination and several years to complete. Examples of this cooperative effort abound, such as road closures, parking areas, blasted water holes, tree and shrub plantings, annual mowing and prescribed burning. While only a few examples are included here, the sportsmen and women of West Virginia can be assured that this is only the “tip of the iceberg.”
In 1983, the DNR entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Monongahela National Forest to manage Compartment 78 of the Potomac Ranger District for ruffed grouse. To accommodate habitat needs for ruffed grouse, forest stands were cut more often and the size of cuts and distance between cuts were varied to increase edge effect and provide habitat diversity. An edge is where two or more different types of vegetation meet. This decision was intended for a 30-year time period, at which time the project could be extended or terminated.
Presently in its 19th year, the project is evaluated yearly by spring drumming counts, both in Compartment 78 and in a control area which is under a different management scheme. Results are evaluated annually and over the project's duration to assess the success of similar treatments in the future.
In 1991, the DNR entered into a challenge cost-share agreement with the George Washington National Forest to construct a shooting facility and to make this opportunity available to the public. The facility is located east of Brandywine , in Pendleton County on the Dry River Ranger District. Both agencies shared in the funding, equipment use, and personnel to construct this rifle range and a shelter to protect the shooting benches. Total cost for both agencies was approximately $22,000.
Later, a culvert was needed to allow year-round access to the facility. The DNR purchased the large culvert and the Forest Service installed it. A pistol range was added in 2001 to the side of the existing rifle range. Again, both agencies cooperatively excavated, seeded and erected the back stops. Maintenance roads were graded and graveled. As a result of this cooperative approach, the facility has been well- received by the public.
In 1999, the DNR and the Dry River Ranger District of the George Washington National Forest cooperatively received a grant for developing two wildlife clearings and an access road on Broad Run. As a result of this grant funding, five acres of developed wildlife openings were constructed and placed on a permanent maintenance schedule.
In this instance, the project had been approved through the National Environmental Policy Act process, but the Forest Service never had adequate funding to implement the project. The value of both agencies working together is clearly evident. Wildlife clearings are now located in an area previously lacking early successional habitat needed by grouse and turkeys to raise their young.
In 1990, the DNR began a cooperative project with the Forest Service to create waterfowl habitat on the Lee Ranger District of the George Washington National Forest. Except for rivers and smaller waterways, waterfowl habitat in this area is nonexistent. The project called for the construction of small earthen dams. These structures, labeled shallow water duck ponds, were built to mimic natural ponds created by beavers.
The ponds, approximately one acre in size, would be used to flood timber in several small drainages . At a cost of about $1,200, the first dam was completed during September, 1990. By the year 2000, six additional ponds were completed. Within a year after completion, several wood duck broods were seen using the ponds. This project has been successful in providing waterfowl habitat. Also, the permanent water source is an added bonus for deer, turkeys, bears and other wildlife.
In 1997, another cooperative project began on the same district. DNR commissioners set aside 5,000 acres to give muzzleloader hunters the opportunity to hunt bucks during the traditional two-week deer firearms buck season. Modern firearms were not allowed during the traditional two-week firearm season. It also gave hunters the opportunity to hunt for older-age-class bucks, since the area was set aside for primitive weapons only. The success of this cooperative venture will be discussed in a future edition of this magazine.
In another successful cooperative program between the two agencies, National Forest roads are opened to physically challenged hunters each year to provide access to suitable areas for sportsmen and women who possess a Class Q permit. Both agencies annually review roads to be opened for these hunters in order to provide users with a safe, enjoyable experience while visiting the forests.
Under this program, the permittee can be accompanied by no more than one assistant when hunting in a designated area, but the assistant may change from one trip to the next. All assistants must be listed on the letter of authorization from the respective ranger district. Both agencies are committed to provide quality hunting opportunities for physically challenged hunters, and welcome comments of participating hunters.
The Baker Sods Savannah Development Project was initiated in 1990 as a challenge cost-share agreement between the Monongahela National Forest, DNR and the Dow Chemical Company. The purpose of this project was threefold. First, managers wanted to slow succession of woody tree species encroaching on an old field habitat. In addition, they wanted valuable trees and shrubs barely surviving under the hardwood canopy to receive more sunlight and water. Also, an open savannah of grasses and forbs would result from a greatly reduced tree canopy.
The end result of the project was to create and maintain critical brood habitat favored by turkeys and grouse and to fulfill other habitat needs for various species of wildlife. Fifty-six acres were treated in 1991. An additional 14 acres were treated in 1993. Since treatment, the establishment of grasses and forbs in the understory has been exceptional. Wildlife use of the area has increased substantially. This increase points out the importance of habitat diversity in the forests.
DNR personnel are currently working on a cooperative project with the Monongahela National Forest and the West Virginia Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation to develop 36 acres of savannah on the Rimel Wildlife Management Area in the Marlinton Ranger District. The project involves creation of two savannahs within the Lockridge Mountain Timber Analysis which was approved in 1997. Receipts from the Lockridge Mountain Timber Sale did not generate adequate funding to complete the planned development. Both savannahs will provide remote, early successional herbaceous habitat in an area where such diversity is presently lacking and critically needed. A cooperative approach will likely result in this project being completed in a timely manner.
A cooperative effort between the two agencies has been working for over a half century. Both agencies are extremely proud of the positive benefits resulting from this program as well as providing opportunities for all to enjoy. So the next time you and your family visit the National forests in West Virginia, keep your eyes open and you may be surprised at what you encounter.
Alan Glasscock was the National Forest Coordination biologist with the DNR.