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China and the Appalachians

“Mountain forests provide us not only with beloved places to hunt, fish, hike and camp, but also supply fresh clean water and air to tens of millions of people.”

By Thomas Minney

As kids, we often heard that if we dug a deep enough hole, we’d eventually pop out in China. We would emerge into an exotic culture and an alien landscape of rice fields and bamboo forests.

In reality, though, stand atop a peak in China’s Laojun Mountains and look out across the rugged Yunnan Province and you could easily be reminded of our Appalachian forest vistas — say, the view from Warm Springs Mountain in Bath County as you gaze across ridges as far as the eye can see into West Virginia.

If you could set both scenes side by side, you would craft a vision of how nature connects us all around the world. You would also see the benefits of conservation investments that The Nature Conservancy and its partners are committing to protect a natural heritage that is more shared than most of us have been led to imagine.

So what makes our Appalachian Mountains so special, both in our hearts and in the minds of conservation scientists? In a word: forests.

Under this vast forest umbrella, we find cool silver streams lined with rhododendron and laurel. Then, as summer’s green shag carpet gives way to autumn’s patchwork quilt of vibrant colors, countless families take to mountain roads and hiking trails, all hoping for at least a glimpse of our iconic black bear.

And though the connection may be even less visible than the bears, these mountain forests provide us not only with beloved places to hunt, fish, hike and camp, but also supply fresh clean water and air to tens of millions of people on the East Coast.

The mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and North Carolina also represent one of the world’s most ecologically important forested regions.

Its diversity is rivaled only by the similar habitat in China: temperate broadleaf deciduous forest. That’s a fancy way of saying that Appalachian and Yunnan mountain forests are dominated by hardwoods that lose their leaves in winter.

But how can these forests be so much alike when they are a world apart? Some 65 million years ago, they were part of one world ...

Read the rest of the article in The Virginia Sportsman.

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