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International Journal of Ecology
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 182683, 10 pages
http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/182683
Research Article

Modeling Critical Forest Habitat in the Southern Coal Fields of West Virginia

1Natural Resource Analysis Center, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506, USA
2Division of Resource Management, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506, USA
3Division of Forestry and Natural Resources, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506, USA

Received 14 October 2011; Accepted 2 January 2012

Academic Editor: Bradford Hawkins

Copyright © 2012 Aaron E. Maxwell et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Abstract

Throughout the Central Appalachians of the United States resource extraction primarily from coal mining has contributed to the majority of the forest conversion to barren and reclaimed pasture and grass. The loss of forests in this ecoregion is significantly impacting biodiversity at a regional scale. Since not all forest stands provide equal levels of ecological functions, it is critical to identify and map existing forested resources by the benefits that accrue from their unique spatial patterns, watershed drainage, and landscape positions. We utilized spatial analysis and remote sensing techniques to define critical forest characteristics. The characteristics were defined by applying a forest fragmentation model utilizing morphological image analysis, defining headwater catchments at a 1 : 24,000 scale, and deriving ecological land units (ELUs) from elevation data. Once critical forest values were calculated, it was possible to identify clusters of critical stands using spatial statistics. This spatially explicit method for modeling forest habitat could be implemented as a tool for assessing the impact of resource extraction and aid in the conservation of critical forest habitat throughout a landscape.