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Canaan Valley
National Wildlife Refuge

6263 Appalachian Highway
Davis, WV   26260
E-mail: fw5rw_cvnwr@fws.gov
Phone Number: 304-866-3858
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Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Canaan Valley, at an altitude of 3,200 feet, is 14 miles long and 3 miles wide, and the highest valley of its size east of the Rocky Mountains. Climate and habitats are typical of areas much further north, and the plants and animals are unusual for the latitude. Many Valley species are at or near the southernmost edge of their ranges. Drained by the Blackwater River and its tributaries, Canaan Valley contains the largest freshwater wetland area in West Virginia and the central and southern Appalachians.

Canaan Valley NWR is located in Tucker County, West Virginia. The refuge was established in 1994 to preserve the unique wetlands and uplands of this high elevation, moist valley. Currently, the refuge consists of 15,245 acres. An additional 10, 214 acres are within its acquisition boundary. The acquisition boundary encompasses most of the wetlands and unique habitats of the valley. Acquisition will continue, dependent on willing sellers and availability of funds.

Getting There . . .
The refuge office and visitor center is located on highway 32, 9 miles north of Harman and six miles south of Davis, West Virginia. Refuge access points are found on Freeland Road, Cortland Road, Old Timberline Road, Camp 70 Road and A-frame Road.

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Wildlife and Habitat

The combination of wet soils, forests, shrub lands and open lands throughout the valley provides a diversity of wildlife habitats. In these habitats, some animals, such as deer, raccoon, geese and squirrel are easy to see. Others, such as mink, bobcat and barred owls stay hidden most of the time. Beaver build dams from trees, manipulating water levels to their advantage. Woodcock treat us to their breeding display in spring. Turkey and ruffed grouse provide a challenge for hunters and birders. Over the years, native brook trout in the river have been joined by other species of trout and bass.

Climate and habitats are typical of areas much further north, and the plants and animals are unusual for the latitude. Many Valley species are at or near the southernmost edge of their ranges. Drained by the Blackwater River and its tributaries, Canaan Valley contains the largest freshwater wetland area in West Virginia and the central and southern Appalachians. More than 580 plant species are known, and there are 40 distinct plant communities, including swamp forests, alder thickets, marshes and bogs. These habitats support equally diverse wildlife populations, with 290 species of vertebrates known to occur. Nationally recognized as a breeding and fall migration area for the American woodcock, the refuge area also supports many other migratory bird species. The Valley supports the threatened Cheat Mountain salamander and the endangered West Virginia northern flying squirrel.

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During the last ice age, as the glaciers moved southward, the plants and animals of the north did also. The glaciers did not reach the area that is now West Virginia, but the northern plants and animals did. After the ice age, as the glaciers retreated, many northern plant and animals found a few niches high in the mountains where they could survive far south of what is now their normal range. Canaan Valley, the largest, high-elevation valley east of the Mississippi, is just such a niche.

When early European explorers came to the area, game, fish and edible plants were plentiful in Canaan (pronounced Kah-nane') Valley. "Carpeted with delicious grasses and canopied with massive trees, cold streams teeming with speckled trout and enough wild game in the form of panthers, bears, elk, deer, otter and raccoon to last a man a lifetime of sport and subsistence, it was truly a paradise for man or beast." (Preble, 1960, p. 1-2.) But the explorers also had a difficult time cutting their way through the dense tangled thickets of spruce and rhododendron, "where one could be hopelessly lost within shouting distance of his own camp." (Preble, 1960, p2)

Then in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with railroads able to take products to market, the timber industry boomed in the area. Men cut the forests of spruce, birch, cherry, beech and other trees, leaving branches and tree tops (slash) on the ground. Without the shade of the trees, the soils, rich with decaying plants, and slash began to dry. Fires began, started by lightening, sparks from railroads, or people. In some uplands, even the decaying plants burned, leaving inorganic soils exposed to the forces of erosion.

The logging and fires opened up what had been an impenetrable tangle. With the soils burned away, forests were slow to regenerate. The drier open areas grew into grasslands. Farming and grazing grew in importance. Today, the ruggedly beautiful Canaan Valley holds various wetlands, forests and grasslands.

On August 11, 1994, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bought land establishing Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is the 500th in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

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Management Activities
Major biological surveys are being conducted to gather baseline information to support the development of the Comprehensive Conservation Plan. These surveys include: anuran call counts, woodcock/snipe singing ground surveys, amphibian egg mass surveys, streamside salamander surveys, breeding land bird surveys, grassland bird breeding and productivity surveys, marsh bird surveys, waterbird surveys of open water habitat, Cheat Mountain salamander population and habitat surveys, West Virginia northern flying squirrel surveys, and trail monitoring and impact analysis.

The refuge currently manages grasslands for grassland nesting bird species. Management of these areas has included cooperative haying, mowing, prescribed fire, and tree row removal. The refuge has just completed the station's first fire management plan. Prescribed fire is currently being evaluated for it's effectiveness in managing grassland habitat.

Hunting is being evaluated as a management tool used on the refuge. Hunting of white-tailed deer helps to prevent over browsing of sensitive plant communities such as the balsam fir, and prevents overpopulation.

Law Enforcement is also an important management tool used on the refuge. Protecting the wetlands from excessive non-compatible uses is an important management concern.