Effects of Clearing Linear Features through Forest Patches in WV and VA

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Virginia Tech

Recent pipeline construction through predominantly forested mountain areas presents many concerns for environmentalists. Impacts from construction are often measured in total area of forest removal, but this may not capture the extent of change to the landscape. Other effects, such as increased fragmentation and edge go unmeasured. We examined changes to the forest landscape resulting from the Mountain Valley Pipeline; a recently constructed corridor that runs through West Virginia and Virginia. We identified affected forest patches using the 2016 National Land Cover Dataset and analyzed both pre- and post-construction patch characteristics. The total area of forest removed was 1,182.57 ha, (0.03%). The total core forest decreased by 5,781.33 ha (2.7%). The number of forest patches increased from 242 to 667, with an average of 2.9 new patches per original patch. The edge density increased 5.4% between pre and post pipeline (0.0059 m/ha to 0.0062 m/ha). Area/Perimeter ratio increased between pre and post construction (0.049 to 0.2524). Our results demonstrate that area, alone, is insufficient to determine the total impacts of linear construction on forest in the study area, particularly since the loss of core forest and increasing edge have well-documented impacts to ecological processes.