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Mapping Red Spruce Forest in the Southern Blue Ridge Ecoregion

Spruce restoration monitoring; photo NCWRC.
The Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (SASRI) is developing a restoration plan for Red Spruce in the Southern Blue Ridge ecoregion, an area covering 9.4 million acres including parts of
Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Except for several public land areas, the current extent and condition of red spruce stands in the region is not well documented. The development of an accurate and consistent map of red spruce on all public and private lands was identified as an important early step in the restoration planning process. In 2014, the Nature Conservancy supported a geospatial mapping project to complete this task. Imagery was collected by state agencies in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, and was available at no cost.

The investigation focused on high elevation areas, generally over 4,500 feet, where red spruce forests were known to exist historically. Forest areas with red spruce were characterized based on several attributes of the forest overstory and understory, including the amount of spruce in the overstory and the occurrence of spruce in the understory. Forest areas with red spruce were divided into forest stands based on these characteristics, as well as natural boundaries, such as ridgelines, and man?made boundaries, such as roads and trails. In total, 32,800 acres of forest with red spruce were mapped. The area of forest with at least 25% spruce canopy cover, which may more closely match definitions of spruce/fir forest types in typical vegetation classification schemes, was approximately 14,400 acres. Most of the spruce forest found in the region was located in North Carolina. Although no formal accuracy assessment was completed, the spatial accuracy of the data is expected to be very high due to the quality of the imagery.

The product of this process is a detailed map of spruce distribution and relative abundance in the Southern Blue Ridge ecoregion. The geospatial data underlying this mapped product may be combined with other spatial data, such as topographic, to further characterize red spruce forests and identify areas suitable for restoration.