Central Appalachians


More than 250 million years ago ancestral Africa ground against North America, creating a mountain chain likely rivaling the Himalayas. Over eons, erosion and weathering forces wore down the Central Appalachians to the undulating ridges seen today. Having escaped the scouring of glaciers during the most recent ice age, this mosaic of forests and rivers serves as an ecological crossroads that boasts one of the world’s richest temperate deciduous broadleaf forests and an array of southern and northern species – natural diversity rivaled in few places on Earth.

Global Treasure in Jeopardy

For generations, people have forged deep connections to these lands and waters through outdoor recreation, spiritual rejuvenation and working in forests and on farms. But lying in the shadows of major East Coast cities brings threats to the landscape’s natural systems and their inherent resilience, including large scale surface mining for coal, wind power facilities, natural gas wells with attending roads and water use, and potential geothermal projects.
The Central Appalachians are also vulnerable to non-native invasive insects, animals, blights, diseases, plants and trees from around the planet. These invasive pests know no boundaries and can inflict economic and environmental damage by reducing biological diversity and interrupting ecosystem processes. Managing for pests burdens agriculture, forestry, tourism and outdoor recreation industries.

Looming largest on the horizon is global climate change. However, scientists believe that the Central Appalachians’ geography, diversity and intact habitats make the landscape relatively resilient to threats from climate change, invasive organisms and fragmentation over the long run if it is conserved and connected at a large enough scale.

Birth of a Program

Because nature knows no boundaries, the Conservancy shares expertise and resources with private landowners and public agencies across six states to secure the Central Appalachians’ ecological health and diversity. This vision is executed through several strategies:

  • Take a Whole Systems Approach The Conservancy’s Central Appalachians Program works at a large scale that reaches beyond state borders and includes intact natural features and ecological processes that if protected, will ensure the landscape can adapt and become resilient to disturbances like energy development and a changing climate.
  • Protect Critical Habitats A whole systems approach provides the focus needed to identify and pursue strategies on the ground with public and private landowners to protect and restore the last great places in the Central Appalachian Mountains. This includes deriving voluntary funds from companies to restore forests, streams, and rivers damaged by resource extraction.
  • Build Resiliency The Conservancy and its partners are building a network of protected natural areas across the Central Appalachians that together will be capable of adapting to climate change and other large-scale changes to the landscape. Achieving this goal will ensure the richness of the Appalachian forests and waters, and the health and prosperity of people who depend on nature’s clean air, water and food for survival.
  • Minimize Invasive Species Impacts The Conservancy coordinates with public and private landowners to implement practices that slow the spread of pests and address outbreaks while pursuing policy changes that promote quarantines and controls.
  • Reduce Energy Impacts To balance the needs of development and nature, the Conservancy is assessing the cumulative impacts on forest and freshwater resources from energy development. With this information, the Conservancy can inform decisions about energy development and ensure a future that can balance conservation, local jobs and green energy.

Kentucky Pitches In

In Kentucky, the Conservancy engaged in an Essential Forests and Key Connectors Analysis that identified a network of critical conservation areas overlaid with expected impacts associated with wind, natural gas and coal development. The analysis also identified key corridors connecting the conservation areas with essential forest habitat in other states. The results inform energy developers, government agencies and other decision makers about where ecological functionality is most critical or in greatest need of restoration. Similar efforts to identify critical aquatic habitat are ongoing.