Southern Appalachian High Country Focal Landscape

Development of the Southern Appalachian High Country Focal Landscape

The high country of the southern Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina is an area of exceptional biodiversity that is unparalleled in the Eastern U.S., and is treasured for its natural beauty. The high conservation value of this region has made it a priority
for many conservation-focused partners such as land trusts, non-profit organizations, and state and federal agencies. Despite many conservation successes, the region remains under significant threat from development pressure, invasive species, a changing climate, and lack of sustainable forest management.

The focal landscape is bounded on the east by the edge of the Appalachian Mountains Bird Conservation Region, covers west to the mountains of Tennessee, south to I-40 and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and north into Virginia to capture Mt. Rogers and the Clinch Mountains. The boundary for the 4.4 million acre area of the focal landscape was developed through a collaborative process with input from two dozen local stakeholders.

Identifying Shared Goals and Priorities

To facilitate participation from a breadth of partners, AMJV started the process of forming the focal landscape by initiating conversations with individual stakeholders in the region, which culminated with two partnership workshops in 2020. The purpose of these workshops was to identify the most significant needs in the region and set the overarching objectives for the group’s work. Representatives from more than 20 organizations participated in these workshops and contributed to the development of the focal landscape’s priorities and goals. The long-term direction of the focal landscape is one of collaboration and moving toward cohesive planning and management at a large scale.

Focal Landscape Goals

  • Enhance Capacity to Expand Successful Local Programs and Partnerships
    • Expand the model of collaboration fostered by the Roan Stewardship Committee into neighboring regions
    • Assist federal agency partners in overcoming boundaries limiting active management
  • Establish relationships with new partners to broaden the scope of conservation activities occurring in the region beyond current habitat management work
    • Identify and pursue new funding opportunities
  • Landscape-level Planning and Coordination
    • Conduct cohesive planning on a larger scale
    • Develop tools to facilitate increased accomplishment tracking, including the development of shared metrics and collecting and sharing spatial data on habitat projects

Priority Species and Habitats

  • Oak/Hickory Forest
    • Issues: Maintaining fire-adapted communities, Restoring structure of high-graded forest
    • Associated Species: Ruffed Grouse, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Northern long-eared bat, Little brown bat
  • High-elevation Habitats (Including Amphibolite Mtns)
    • Associated Species: Golden-winged Warbler, Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel, Spruce Fir Moss Spider, Northern pygmy salamander, Weller’s salamander, Northern saw-whet owl, Red crossbill, Geum radiatum, Liatris helleri, Appalachian cottontail, Veery, Hermit Thrush
  • Riparian/Aquatic Systems (including Mountain Bogs)
    • Associated Species: Bog turtle, Eastern Hellbender, Mussels, Belted Kingfisher, American Woodcock, Sarraceniaceae – pitcher plants

Key Audiences

  • Private Lands (Conservation Easements, Landowner Technical Guidance, Farm Bill Program Outreach/Guidance)
  • Suburban Growth/Outreach, Sustainable Recreation
    • Associated Species: Chimney swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Pollinators (Bumblebees, monarchs), Peregrine Falcon, Wood Thrush

Current Projects

Listening Sessions to Identify and Build Relationships with New Partners and Audiences

After working together through limited-scope efforts such as species-specific working groups and other project-focused initiatives for many years, local conservation partners in the focal landscape began to recognize that the scale of the threats and issues facing the region would require work at a broader geographic scale and with unconventional and historically underrepresented partners to find solutions. The AMJV’s Focal Landscape Initiative offered a model for a holistic approach to ecosystem conservation founded on diverse, collaborative partnerships. To help build a solid foundation for new partnerships, AMJV is hosting listening sessions in the Southern Appalachian Highlands Focal Landscape with the local indigenous community, businesses leaders, and representatives from local governments and municipalities.

A listening session with Stewardship staff of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) was hosted in 2023 to begin a dialog to learn about stewardship activities on their land and about interests or needs related to conservation. Identifying these interests and needs will set the stage for future collaboration with the Focal Landscape group and foster active participation by the EBCI in landscape-level planning and coordination. A second listening session with representatives from local governments and municipalities will focus on identifying how sustainability and healthy ecosystems intersect with local economies and communities. Specific areas of potential overlap include exploring the development of BirdCity or Lights Out programs in North Carolina, and collaboration with North Carolina Green Growth Toolbox to incorporate bird-friendly practices for communities. A third listening session with representatives of local businesses is planned to focus on gaining an understanding of issues facing the business community and learning about shared interests with conservation efforts. This conversation will be based on the recognition that in order to meaningfully engage with this community, we must go beyond simply asking for funding support or advertising and foster collaboration through mutually beneficial actions.

Guiding Forest Management to Promote a Diverse and Healthy Forest

As part of a partnership led by Ruffed Grouse Society, AMJV is developing a forest management plan for the newly created Southwest Virginia Dynamic Forest Restoration Block (DFRB), the first DFRB within this focal landscape. Dynamic Forest Restoration Blocks, are areas within focal landscapes of at least 5,000 acres where on-the-ground management is focused. Comprehensive forest management plans are developed for the blocks, which include stand-level recommendations for priority species. AMJV is working with partners to establish DFRBs in each focal landscape. This block in the Southern Appalachian High Country Focal Landscape is anchored by Channels State Forest, Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area (WMA), and Clinch Mountain WMA. The plan will present current and desired future conditions for forests within the block, and will also include a forest carbon assessment. Led by TerraCarbon, the assessment will offer carbon storage scenarios for the forest under different management objectives.

Focal Landscape Partners

Appalachian State University
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Blue Ridge Conservancy
Cornell Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative
East TN State University
Mars Hill University
National Wild Turkey Federation
NC Forest Service
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
NC State Extension
North Carolina Audubon
North Carolina Natural Heritage Program
North Carolina State Parks
North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Northeast TN Regional Economic Partnership
Ruffed Grouse Society
Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy
Tennessee State Parks
The Nature Conservancy in NC
TN Dept. of Environment and Conservation
TN Wildlife Resources Agency
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
USDA-Forest Service
Wildwood Consulting, LLC

Additional Resources