With its rugged beauty, it’s easy to see why people want to own a piece of West Virginia, one of the most forested states in the nation. But owning woodland property can present a range of challenges and choices.

A West Virginia University is helping those new forest owners connect with educational and management expertise.

The Woodland Welcome Wagon program, funded by the West Virginia Division of Forestry, is designed to help connect woodland owners with those that can help them establish their ideal woodland, whether they plan to harvest forest resources or maintain the natural environment.

Megan McCuen, a graduate student in WVU’s Division of Forestry and Natural Resources, leads the program. She can easily understand the lure of West Virginia’s forests.

“I’m originally from New York and I earned my undergraduate degree from Michigan State University back in 2007,” she said. “My major then was Communicative Sciences and Disorders. I then came to West Virginia for an AmeriCorps position, which is how I became interested in forestry.”

The Woodland Welcome Wagon project identifies new woodland owners in West Virginia and invites them to take advantage of resources in a couple of different ways. Some opt to receive a packet of informational materials; others may take part in one of several “Meet Your Forester” workshop series held in six counties in West Virginia.

“Reaching out to new landowners is our way of trying to connect with a population who are likely to be open to learning information about woodland management and the forestry community,” McCuen said.

Landowners requesting general woodland information were sent packets that included information on the West Virginia Forest Stewardship Program, the West Virginia Forestry Association, a managed timberland fact sheet developed by the WVU Extension Service, a guide to choosing a forester and materials from the West Virginia Woodland Owners Association and West Virginia Woodland Stewards web page, which McCuen describes as “a great site where landowners can connect with other landowners and find out about woodland related events in the state.”

The “Meet Your Forester” sessions introduce local foresters to landowners and allow each forester to talk about what their role is in the state and why a landowner might contact them.

“What we really hope results from either the informational packets or the workshops is that landowners have gained some new information that will encourage them to make informed decisions regarding their land,” McCuen said. “Also, by connecting them with the forestry community we want them to know that there is help available and how to find it.”

McCuen’s faculty advisor is Dave McGill, professor in the Division of Forestry and Natural Resources and forest resources management specialist with WVU Extension.

“Meg has been perfect person to be the coordinator of this project,” McGill said. “Her earlier work as an AmeriCorps volunteer with the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area out of Elkins combined with her communications background and her strong work ethic really pulled the project together.”

McCuen is currently conducting a survey to assess the effectiveness of the Woodland Welcome Wagon project and is overseeing the expansion of the project from a 10-county area to a statewide scale.

-WVU-

dw/01/31/12

CONTACT: David Welsh; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
304-293-2394; dwelsh@wvu.edu

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