Davis & Elkins College Introduces New Forestry Program

If you could marry the Randolph County region’s natural resources with cutting edge technology, you would likely come up with a unique field of study wrapped around sustainable management. That is exactly what happened at Davis & Elkins College this fall with the introduction of two new programs.

Students may pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in sustainable resource management or an Associate of Science degree in forest technology while completing much of their field study on a 300-acre George A. Myles Experimental Forest gifted to the College by Trustee Chair Emerita June Myles.

Although initiating programs associated with forestry seems to be a natural choice considering Davis & Elkins’ location in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest, the vision was more far-reaching. Following a presidential initiative to grow programs that pique student interest and serve the greater community, Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Dr. Crystal Krause and Assistant Professor of Outdoor Recreation Dr. Mark Douglas were tasked with creating a new major that encompasses some of the College’s most successful fields associated with the state’s natural wonders. The new programs would also need to include partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

“We developed the three sustainable resource management specializations with those partners in mind and considered how we could clearly outline degree outcomes (jobs) to the three specializations,” Krause explained. “Once those were in place, it was just a matter of researching how our program could be different from other programs in the region, with a focus on sustainability and technology.”

The sustainable resource management major offers three areas of concentration: natural resources management, forest resources management and parks, and recreation management. All three focus on the sustainable use of natural resources such as watershed management, forestry, and recreation. Krause said the program will appeal to students seeking a career as a conservationist, fish and wildlife biologist, forester or park ranger, among other fields. The forest technology major prepares students for a career as a forestry technician, procurement forester, or utility forester.

With the academic outline in place, the college wanted to step up its efforts to including a living laboratory that would help the program thrive and place it on a grander scale. That’s where Myles came in with an offer to gift the 300-acre site just outside of Beverly.

“Randolph County is a natural classroom and laboratory for studies in the conservation and management of our natural resources,” Myles said. “Likewise, to make use of this learning, the area offers many opportunities for internships and careers, both private and public. In addition to timber and energy, there is an abundance of outdoor recreational activities requiring management. So, it is logical that D&E should embark on a new curriculum to make use of the possibilities for its students in the college’s backyard.”

Myles’ father, the late George A. Myles, founded Myles Lumber Company in Randolph County and was a longtime proponent of the state’s forest industry.

“D&E is so grateful to June Myles for her continuing generosity and her strong desire to have this college transform the lives of students and produce graduates who will serve this local community and beyond,” said Davis & Elkins College President Chris A. Wood. “Being located at the gateway of the Monongahela National Forest, it is appropriate that we begin a top-notch program in Natural Resource Management focusing upon our forests.”

Assistant Professor of Sustainable Resource Management Dr. Melissa Shockey and Forest Manager Iris Allen were recently added to the faculty. This fall, Shockey has been leading students on an exploration of how to identify native species, their most common habitats, and their chances for survival. By semester’s end, students will have studied more than 100 species. Aside from the basic dendrology, students have another curiosity in the experimental forest—whether certain fruits are edible.

“It’s actually been something I think the students look forward to,” Shockey said. “Some fruits have been hit or miss, such as autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), but others like pawpaw (Asimina triloba) we have been watching like a hawk to ripen and harvest. Our office has smelled of pawpaws for at least a month now. For other species such as elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), the conversation is more along the lines of, ‘Yes, these are edible, however only after cooking into delicious products such as pies, jams, and wine.’ Eating the unprocessed berries as a snack in the woods could lead to cyanide poisoning.”

Next semester, students will take a winter excursion and learn how to identify common plants just by using bark, buds, and branching arrangement once the leaves have fallen for the season.

As forest manager, Allen is mapping old logging trails to identify potential routes for hiking trails and areas that could be developed into campsites. Looking ahead, she is also preparing the sampling protocol for when she inventories the forest this summer. Allen is also working with the Society of American Foresters (SAF) accreditation process for the forest technology associate degree. The report will be submitted next year.

Students interested in learning more about the Sustainable Resource Management program at Davis & Elkins College may email Krause at krausec@dewv.edu or contact the Office of Admissions at 304-637-1230 or admissions@dewv.edu.