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Wildlife & Habitat

Welcome to Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s 500th! The refuge works to preserve the unique wetlands and uplands of this high elevation, moist valley. On August 11, 1994, with the purchase of 86 acres the refuge was established. With the purchase of approximately 12,000 acres in 2002, the refuge grew to 15,245 acres in size. The refuge currently is approximately 17,000 acres.

  • Wetlands

    Wetlands in Canaan Valley's North End - Ken Sturm/USFWS.

    A patchwork of 23 wetland types, including bogs, shrub swamps and wet meadows carpet the valley floor. At about 8,500 acres, this is the largest wetland complex in the state of West Virginia, and is a regionally significant wetland complex within the southern Appalachians.

    The ecological functions of wetlands provide valuable services to people. Wetlands absorb water like a sponge, slowing it down during heavy storms, thereby reducing downstream flooding. During times of drought wetlands slowly release water. They filter sediment, trash and pollutants. Without wetlands we would need more water treatment plants, flood control and bank stabilization projects, and relief from natural disasters. Canaan Valley’s wetlands provide great habitat for a diversity of dragonflies and damselflies.

  • Forests

    Multi-colored trees in fall forest - Kent Mason.

    Most species, especially migratory birds, associated with early successional (young) forests in the northeast are declining. Therefore, it is very important that we protect and perpetuate those habitats. It may be especially important on the refuge because the surrounding landscape is predominantly forested. The refuge’s young forests provide nesting habitat for priority bird species such as brown thrasher, Eastern towhee, and American woodcock. They also provide post fledging habitat for forest bird species and important migration foraging and staging areas. The primary technique used to create and maintain early successional habitat in the northeast is logging. Using chainsaws, refuge staff and contractors create small clear cuts in aspen stands or in the edges of toe-slope forests. Removing the large old trees will allow those areas to regenerate into new dense stands of young forest.

  • Grasslands

    Grasslands with Summer Wildflowers - Frank Ceravalo.

    The grasslands near the valley floor host grassland bird species such as bobolink, Henslow’s sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, eastern meadowlark, and savannah sparrow. Prior to refuge acquisition, these fields were actively managed by the landowners as pasture and hayfields. These grasslands are now kept open by mowing, haying, or prescribed burning to slow the succession of forbs, woody shrubs, and trees into the fields. The dominant species of these fields are introduced cool-season grasses, including sweet vernal grass, orchard grass, velvet grass, and timothy. Reed canary grass is invading some of the fields and is controlled by herbicide spraying.

Page Photo Credits — Wetlands - Ken Sturm/USFWS., Fall patchwork - Ken Mason., Summer Wildflowers near Middle Valley Trail. Photo by Frank Ceravalo.
Last Updated: Nov 26, 2013
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