Complete with waterfalls, steep bluffs, dense forests, and sandstone outcroppings, the Cumberland Plateau is a breathtaking example of the unique ecological value found across the Southern Appalachian Mountain chain. Extending over 450 miles from northern Alabama to western West Virginia, the Cumberland Plateau is the largest hardwood-forested plateau in the world and is home to the highest concentration of endangered species on the continent.
The Southern Cumberlands project area is located in northeast Alabama and southern Tennessee. The project area is approximately 1 million acres and contains some of the largest, unfragmented, privately owned forested tracts in the entire Cumberlands region. More than 80% of the project site is covered with native hardwood forests.
Threats to the Southern Cumberlands
This rare compliment of wildlife and wild spaces is under attack. Unsustainable development and human use threaten the beauty and viability of this special place. Vast stretches of forests are diminishing at alarming rates due to urban growth, rural development, unsustainable forestry practices, mining and agriculture. However, the most immediate and dangerous threat to the plateau is the massive changes in land ownership. As more and more timber and paper companies and farmers shed their long-held Tennessee forest tracts, they are increasingly being bought up by developers.
The Plants of the Southern Cumberlands
Rare plants occurring in the Southern Cumberlands include the Least Trillium, Canada Lily, and the White Fringeless Orchid.
The Wildlife of the Southern Cumberlands
Rare animals found in the Southern Cumberlands include the Bald Eagle, the Barking Treefrog, Bachman's Sparrow, and the Green Salamander. In addition, the Southern Cumberlands contain the highest concentration of caves in the world as well as the highest number of cave invertebrate species in the world! Among the rare cave species found in this area are the Tennessee Cave Salamander, the Gray Bat, the Indiana Bat, and the Southern Cavefish.
The Nature Conservancy's Accomplishments and Actions in the Southern Cumberlands
The Tennessee and Alabama Chapters of The Nature Conservancy work closely together on conservation strategies in the project area, including land acquisition.
The Conservancy's largest and most meaningful project to date was the acquisition of the Walls of Jericho. The huge tract of 21,453 acres of rivers, forested uplands and caves spreading across the Alabama and Tennessee state line contains an extraordinarily diverse array of plants and animals.
The actual "Walls of Jericho" is a large, bowl-shaped natural amphitheater that shoots water out of holes and cracks in the canyon wall during times of high flow. The Alabama portion of the Walls of Jericho is now part of Skyline Wildlife Management Area. As of the fall of 2005, the Tennessee portion of the site came under management of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency as Bear Hollow Mountain Wildlife Management Area.
Along with the Walls of Jericho, the Tennessee Chapter has also purchased a 5,200-acre property called the David Carter tract, which became a Tennessee Wildlife Management Area, open to the public in 2006.