Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s 500th was established on August 11, 1994, with the purchase of 86 acres. The refuge currently is 16,987 acres. The refuge works to preserve the unique wetlands and uplands of this high elevation, moist valley.
The valley’s high elevation and position in the Allegheny Mountains combine to create a cool, moist climate more typical in Maine and Canada. Visitors enjoy our snowy winters, cool summers and the expansive views looking over grasslands and wetlands. This climate supports species, like balsam fir, cottongrass, woodcock and fisher usually found far north of here. Many plants and animals are near their southern limits amidst the valley’s rugged beauty. Rare species abound in the high elevation wetlands. The refuge is home to 580 species of plants and 288 different animals; quite a diversity of life.
The refuge was established to ensure the ecological integrity of Canaan Valley and the continued availability of its wetland, botanical, and wildlife resources to the citizens of West Virginia and the United States. It has the largest wetland complex in both West Virginia and the central and southern Appalachians, encompassing over 8,400 acres,. The wetland is listed as a priority for protection under the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986, as implemented by the Service’s Regional Wetlands Concept Plan, and considered by the State of West Virginia as “the most important wetland in the State.”
The Service established the refuge for the following additional purposes and under the following authorities:
“... for the development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources...” (Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956; 16 U.S.C. 742f(a) (4));
“... the conservation of the wetlands of the Nation in order to maintain the public benefits they provide and to help fulfill international obligations contained in various migratory bird treaties and conventions” (Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986; 16 U.S.C. 3901(b));
“... for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.” 16 U.S.C. 715d (Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929).
- Maintain and perpetuate the ecological integrity of the Canaan Valley wetland complex to ensure a healthy and diverse wetland ecosystem providing a full range of natural processes, community types, and native floral and faunal diversity.
- Perpetuate the ecological integrity of upland northern hardwood and northern hardwood-conifer forests to sustain native wildlife and plant communities including species of conservation concern, to develop late-successional forest characteristics, and to perpetuate the biological diversity and integrity of upland forest ecosystems.
- Provide and promote through active management a diversity of successional habitats in upland and wetland-edge shrublands, grasslands, old fields, and hardwood communities to sustain early successional and shrubland specialists such as golden-winged warbler, American woodcock, brown thrasher, eastern towhee, field sparrow, and other species of concern.
- Enable visitors of all abilities to enjoy opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation and education to enhance public appreciation, understanding, and enjoyment of refuge habitats, wildlife, and cultural history.
- Collaborate with partners to promote the natural resources of Canaan Valley and the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
It is said that in the mid 1700's, George Casey Harness was out tracking an enormous black bear one morning, when he came to a spot “on the western slope of the Alleghenies which overlooked a wide, well-watered, wooded and grassy valley.
The breath-taking beauty of the wild valley so impressed young Harness that he involuntarily cried out, ‘Behold! The Land of Canaan!’ “ The story, quoted from Jack Preble’s book Land of Canaan, (1960, McClain Printing Company, page 1), is but one of the ways that the valley may have gotten its name.
1950’s: The idea of a National Wildlife Refuge in Canaan Valley is born. Time is approximate. Apparently, after touring the valley, biologists from WV Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) discuss ways to conserve it, including making it a National Wildlife Refuge. Nothing is documented about these early conversations.
1979: The Final Environmental Impact Statement was approved and released to the public on May 30, 1979. “This administrative action resulted in an approved land acquisition boundary, encompassing 28,000 acres, within which lands could be acquired for the refuge, according to the policy described in the Proposed Action section of the EIS.” (USFWS, 1994)
The Monongahela Power Company, a division of Allegheny Power Systems, a major land owner in the valley had another proposal out. They wanted to build a pumped storage hydroelectric facility in the valley that would have flooded much of the valley’s wetlands. They had received a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license for the project, but had been denied a permit by the U.S. Army, Corps of Engineers (Corps), to place fill in wetlands under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The power company was appealing the Corps decision.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to await the outcome of the power company’s appeals before purchasing.
1988: The power company lost its final appeal. The Supreme Court declined to review the finding of the U.S. Court of Appeals that the power company did need a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Their inability to get the required permit meant that their project could not proceed.
1990: The Environmental Protection Agency convened a series of meetings to develop a comprehensive resource protection strategy for the valley. Meetings resulted in the formation of the Canaan Valley Task Force.
The Canaan Valley Task Force was comprised of state and federal resource and regulatory agencies, local government representatives, business and development interests, conservation and recreation interests, landowners, public representatives. The task force:
- Studied land use trends
- Identified wetlands
- Increased wetland surveillance and enforcement
- Held public meetings, public debates and forums
- Published articles and pamphlets
- Funded resource investigations, on topics such as Off Road Vehicle impacts, economics of the proposed Refuge, habitat evaluations, water quality and flow.
The County Commission requested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service limit the Refuge to the power company lands, excluding 9600 acres of private lands. The Service considered their request by first studying wildlife resources on the private lands in the southern part of the valley. Those lands whose value as wildlife habitat had been reduced by development since the original EIS were removed from the proposed Refuge boundary. Lands whose value as wildlife habitat remained intact were kept in the acquisition boundary. Thus the refuge acquisition area was reduced by 4135 acres.
1990-94: As a result of working with the Canaan Valley Task Force, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
- Provided official statements stressing emphasis on willing seller policy, including a Land Protection Plan.
- Studied ORV impacts to Canaan’s wetlands, the economics of the refuge proposal.
- Participated in extensive co-ordination with agencies and the public.
- Developed a Station Management Plan
- Wrote an Environmental Assessment as an update to the 1979 Final EIS
August 11th, 1994 – The refuge was established with the purchase of 86 acres known as the Freeland Tract. This is where Freeland Boardwalk is located.