Priority Landscapes

Conserving the Appalachians

Hope in a changing climate

Photo of a sweeping view of mountains at Cumberland Gap.
Cumberland Gap Aerial photograph of the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky. May 2019. The Cumberland Forest Project protects 253,000 acres of Appalachian forest and is one of TNC’s largest-ever conservation efforts in the eastern United States. © Cameron Davidson

For more than 400 million years, natural forces have made the Appalachians one of the world's most resilient, diverse and carbon-rich landscapes. This ancient landscape spans roughly 2,000 miles from Alabama to the Canadian Maritimes and represents a vast, nearly unbroken chain of forested mountains, valleys, wetlands and rivers.

A map showing the Appalachian Mountain Range in the Eastern United States.
The Appalachians Spanning from northern Alabama to the Canadian Maritimes, the Appalachians are a high priority for conservation by TNC.

But pressure from human activities such as urban development, mining, pollution, industrial forestry and extensive fragmentation caused by dams and roads—all of which are exacerbated by climate change—threaten the health of the Appalachians; thereby threatening public and economic health as well. Currently, just 26% of the Appalachian landscape is protected.

Appalachians Biodiversity

  • 64 high-priority bird species use the Appalachians as a critical migration corridor.
  • 80,000 occurrences of rare species can be found in the Appalachians.
  • Bobcat, black bear, moose, elk and other wide-ranging iconic mammals move through the Appalachians following natural corridors.
  • 250 tree species found in the Appalachians occur nowhere else in the world.

By protecting and restoring the Appalachians, we can safeguard biodiversity, help limit warming, improve human well-being, and even find protection from the consequences of climate change, like intensified flooding and storms. Conserving the great Appalachian range is key to sustaining the Eastern U.S.

As one of the most globally significant landscapes for tackling climate change and conserving biodiversity, the Appalachians represent a place of hope for people and nature. With a long history of working in this geography and as the only conservation organization operating across the entire Appalachians region, The Nature Conservancy is uniquely positioned to ensure the Appalachains remain healthy, connected and resilient.

Appalachians by the Numbers

  • 1.8 B

    Oxygen for 1.8 billion people

  • 56%

    of all above-ground carbon

  • $25 B

    Generates approximately $25 billion in recreation spending

  • 1.3 M

    Mitigates 1.3 million tons of pollution

The Promise of the Appalachians

Evidence of the Appalachians’ role as a buffer against climate change goes back to the Pleistocene—the age of woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats—when the Appalachians acted as a refuge for many species during the most recent Ice Age. This landscape was first occupied and stewarded by Indigenous People and in large part, it is due to generations of Indigenous stewardship that the Appalachians remain resilient and intact. 

Now because of climate change, nature is on the move and it’s heading for the Appalachians. As the climate changes, rising temperatures, extreme weather events and other related impacts are altering and destroying habitats. In response, plant and animal species are shifting their ranges northward and to higher elevation in search of refuge. In fact, our studies show that plants and animals are moving 11 miles north and 36 feet higher in elevation each decade.

A map showing Appalachians circled and animal migration routes in different colored arrows.
Nature's Highways As climate changes, plants and animals are shifting their ranges to adapt and thrive. This map shows where mammals (pink), birds (blue) and amphibians (yellow) are moving. Circled red is the Appalachians landscape, virtual superhighway for nature. © Dan Majka/The Nature Conservancy (adapted for print by Nicholas Rapp)

The Appalachians provide natural solutions for combating the climate crisis. The verdant forests have a remarkable ability to absorb and store excess carbon—an estimated 56% of the region’s above-ground carbon—while the ancient mountains provide refuge from warming temperatures for a multitude of rare and iconic species. The Appalachains are the lungs and lifeblood of the East, providing oxygen, clean drinking water, jobs and recreational opportunities to millions of people.

Imagine a healthy, resilient and connected Appalachians landscape that supports the co-prosperity of people and nature for generations to come. To achieve this vision, The Nature Conservancy is working across geographical and political boundaries to implement bold solutions.

Using innovative mapping and the best-available science to guide our work, we’re working from North to South across the entire Appalachians with the help of partners, supporters, friends and allies. 

Bold Vision, Bold Action

Bold visions require bold action, and the time to act is now. Until now, the story of this landscape has been authored by the most powerful forces on Earth. Now, we’re the authors. The decisions we make over the next decade will change the future of the Appalachians for millions of years.

Conserving the Appalachians will demand a strong, collaborative movement of diverse stakeholders. Together, we have an unprecedented opportunity to preserve one of the world’s most resilient, connected and biologically rich landscapes for future generations—and in doing so, leave our own legacy. The impacts of our shared success will be written in the future of life itself across North America. Will you join us?