R. Stockton Maxwell1
and Ray R. Hicks2
U.S. Department of the Interior
In 2003, the National Park Service (NPS) at New River Gorge National River (NERI) hosted a workshop to identify significant forest issues, resources, and processes occurring within the park (National Park Service 2003b). Several forest communities of concern were identified by the panel of scientists and resource managers. One such community, the rimrock pine forest lining the rim of the gorge, was chosen due to the importance of the community to wildlife and recreation. The rimrock pines also were thought to be a historically significant feature of the northern section of the gorge as evidenced by historic photographs from the 1940s and 1950s. The panel suggested an investigation be conducted to better understand the establishment and maintenance of the rimrock pine forest.
The workshop was followed by the Natural Resource Assessment for New River Gorge National River (Mahan 2004). In this report, Mahan provided information on the current status and significance of, threats to, and gaps in knowledge about the natural resources at NERI. The rimrock pine community was identified again as a valued resource that may be in decline due to lack of disturbance. Vanderhorst (2001) reported that plant communities including the rimrock pines, old fields, seeps, and herbaceous wetlands occupy approximately 1% of the land area at NERI. Despite the small area forested by rimrock communities they have been deemed valuable by the NPS and warrant further research.
The Natural Resource Assessment has served as a primer for the development of a new General Management Plan (GMP) for the park. Suggested management recommendations for the rimrock pine community include forest health monitoring, dendro-chronological analysis, and forest restoration through the use of prescribed burning. The GMP is presently under revision; however, management of niche communities may require research before implementation of management and restoration activities. Thus, both qualitative and quantitative descriptions of the rimrock are crucial to the preservation of this resource for the use of wildlife and the enjoyment of future generations of park visitors.
The present study was designed to meet the following research objectives of the NPS:
Objective 1. An inventory and description of all strata of vegetation was conducted to evaluate the current stand condition including species composition, stand structure, vigor, and potential for regeneration. Understanding the current condition of the rimrock community is necessary to establish whether or not the ecosystem is in the desired state which will affect future management decisions regarding these valued habitat and recreation areas.
Objective 2. A dendroecological analysis of Virginia pine, as well as other dominant species present in the rimrock community, was used to determine the age structure, growth trends, and disturbance regime (i.e., fire history) of the forest. This investigation required the collection of increment cores from live canopy trees and cross sections from fire-scarred Virginia pines.
3. An array of historic evidence was collected and reviewed to aid
in the interpretation of the current condition of the rimrock forest
and to determine the historic range of the Virginia pine forest type.
Materials such as past land use records, mining activities, and historic
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