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Using the Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel to Guide Resilient Restoration of Red Spruce in the Central Appalachians

Project Leader:
Project Investigators:
David Carter
Patrick Green
Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy
Research Partners:
Shane Jones
Joshua Vance
West Virginia
North Carolina
+2 more


High elevation red spruce forests are among the most iconic and visited natural communities in the High Alleghenies of the Central Appalachian Mountains. These ecosystems provide many services such as clean water and carbon sequestration, as well as habitat for species of high conservation concern, i.e., the eastern brook trout, the northern goshawk, and the northern flying squirrel. However, widespread logging and burning in the early 20th century significantly reduced the extent and integrity of red spruce forests. Replacement regeneration largely converted the region to northern hardwood forests. Recovery of red spruce forests has since been slowed by invasive pests and acidic atmospheric deposition, and the forest is now facing climate change challenges.

The northern flying squirrel can be used as a tool for red spruce restoration planning because their presence indicates healthy spruce forests. The goal of this project is to help forest managers prioritize areas to facilitate or enhance restoration activities that can (a) increase red spruce forest area and (b) create more connected habitat for sensitive wildlife. The team will identify optimal locations for management actions by analyzing the environmental and physical conditions between habitat patches of the northern flying squirrel.

Results from this project will demonstrate how natural communities on the leading edge of climate change impacts can respond and be managed, providing a model that will be needed in the future in the expansive northern forest landscapes of New England, the Lake States and southern Canada.

Presentations and Workshops

The Virginia Tech Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation and Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit team participated in a 2-day Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative workshop on November 15-16, 2023. We briefed all the relevant partners on the "Least-cost Path" project to guide spruce restoration in West Virginia and participated in a field day to visit various site conditions to discuss management options and opportunities.