ELKINS — In November, the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (CASRI), with financial support from The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Central Appalachians program and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, held the ‘Partnerships for Connectivity’ conference at the Canaan Valley Resort & Conference Center in Davis, West Virginia. Nearly 60 participants from CASRI partner groups, non-profit organizations and state and federal agencies were in attendance at the two-day conference.
The conference celebrated decades of success restoring the red spruce-northern hardwood ecosystem in Central Appalachia by gathering managers, practitioners, scientists and leaders in the field to discuss the latest research findings, problem-solve common management challenges and network to advance new and emerging partnerships.
“Our partners are continuing to ramp up work planting trees using novel, innovative tools for restoration,” stated Kathryn Barlow, conference organizer and Central Appalachians public lands manager for TNC’s Central Appalachians program. “We gathered to strengthen our partnership, celebrate past work and look for new ways to work together around our shared vision.”
Long-term partnerships are invaluable to continued success in receiving funds for restoration at-scale as well as moving forward with innovative restoration methods and tools. These strong partnerships will enable the network to continue to advance landscape resilience and connectivity of red spruce forests across the region.
“Our conference focused on a few themes: the influence of soil factors on restoration success, ecosystem persistence in the face of climate change and how we work together with partners to enhance connectivity in this landscape,” Barlow said. “The only way we can get to scale in this region is by working together.”
The meeting opened with remarks and reflections on long-term partnerships from Clyde Thompson, forest supervisor of the Monongahela National Forest; Thomas Minney, state director of The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia; and John Schmidt, field supervisor of the West Virginia Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The featured dinner speaker was Rodney Bartgis, former TNC WV state director, who spoke on “Shades of Death: How temporal and spatial landscape connectivity enabled our spruce ecosystem to survive insects, fire, drought, ax, acid rain and climate change.”
Laura Bray, program coordinator for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, a first-time participant, found the opening panel to be particularly moving.
“As someone who works with a diverse set of partners to plan and implement projects that restore native forests on legacy mine lands in Pennsylvania, I found to the opening panel to be of great value,” Bray said. “Each leader shared their unique perspective on what makes CASRI a success, but it was one of Clyde Thompson’s early remarks that stuck with me. He reminded the group, ‘The number of trees planted is not the best metric of success.’ That is to say, ‘It is not what we do; it is why we do it.’ At the end of the day, it is our love for people and the natural world that drives this work; trees are a byproduct.”
Throughout the conference, attendees were able to sit down with some of the area’s leaders in conservation and restoration, including partners from West Virginia University, the Monongahela National Forest, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Natural Resources, TNC, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the University of Maryland, the U.S. Forest Service and the West Virginia Division of Forestry.
“I thought the CASRI meeting was a great opportunity for networking with partners, as well as looking at different approaches to spruce restoration,” stated Kyle Crafts, wildlife biologist for the Monongahela National Forest. “For example, soil is an area that could be easily overlooked when performing restoration activities. It was great to see the soils viewpoint and how it plays a role in this restoration work.”
Field trips to local spruce restoration sites were also available and were led by Mike Powell, director of lands at TNC WV, and Dawn Washington of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
The CASRI partnership is open to anyone interested in red spruce restoration and conservation. Interested parties are encouraged to contact Katy Barlow at email@example.com to become more involved with the network activities.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Together with our members and conservation partners, the Conservancy has protected more than 120,000 acres of critical natural lands in West Virginia. Visit The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia on the web at www.nature.org/westvirginia