MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — Since 2012, researchers at West Virginia University have been studying the soil in areas where the red spruce tree once grew. In order to successfully restore the species within the state, those planting the seedlings must do so in the areas where a red spruce tree will grow; by testing soils, researchers can determine the potential success of the red spruce species in one particular area, and then they determine how likely it would be for the species to survive there in the present and future.

According to officials, West Virginia has only a small portion of the red spruce trees that it used to have back in the late 1800s. Logging, wildfires and disease have swept away 90% of the species in our state.

The collective research on the soils maps out the areas in relation to how successful each section would be in restoring the red spruce species. Officials said that one end goal of this research is to map out the whole Appalachian region within the state by the likely success of red spruce restoration according to the soil.

Jim Thompson talks about the properties of the red spruce tree and its soil

The red spruce tree, and its soil, according to WVU Plant and Soil Sciences Professor Jim Thompson, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by trapping carbon, and the organic matter within the soil acts like a sponge, so the water retention of the red spruce tree’s soil helps to prevent flooding.

“I think that the carbon sequestration and the increased water holding capacity may be the most important in terms of having the wide-ranging effects on many people, but certainly the restoration of those ecosystems for the plant and animal species. They are very unique ecosystems, and so they support those more rare plant and animal species, and so ecologically, they’re important,” Thompson said.

USDA Forest Service video by Kelly Bridges

Red spruce trees are being planted, but with limited resources, like manpower and funding. Thompson said that in order for the restoration efforts to be successful, the saplings must be planted in areas where the soil shows that the red spruce trees were once successful.