Download the Resilient Forests Program fact sheet (pdf)
Crowning ridge tops and mountains, and blanketing stream hollows and river valleys, the Appalachian forests encompass a diversity of life virtually unrivaled in the temperate regions of the globe. As the climate changes and species move, we need even more from these forests.
Appalachian forests provide some of the most critical migration pathways for species across the U.S. The Central Appalachians of Western Maryland are squarely in the middle of a major artery of this migration superhighway. Migrating plants and animals aren’t the only ones that depend on healthy forests.
“The Central Appalachians are the water tower for the mid-Atlantic,” says Donnelle Keech, resilient forests program director. “The mountain forests naturally filter and protect the headwaters of the streams and rivers that supply drinking water for millions of residents in Maryland and D.C.”
Keeping our western Maryland forests healthy and connected requires diverse skills, experiences and partnerships. We use science to better understand forest health and resilience to threats such as climate change. We rely on decades of land management experience to keep priority forests connected and healthy. And we engage and educate people living in Appalachian communities to ensure that forested land stays connected and healthy for future generations.
One of the most reliable ways to boost forest health is reintroducing fire. But after decades of fire suppression, we need to fill gaps in our knowledge about how and when these forests burned historically. So the Conservancy is funding an Arcadia University study of fire scars preserved in the rings of “recorder trees” dating back as far as 1797.
“We know that fire is as natural and necessary as rain in these forests,” says ecologist Deborah Landau. “But the more we understand about how and when fires occurred historically, the better we can replicate those natural events through safe controlled burns.”
Deborah adds that the Maryland Forest Service has been an exceptional partner, as we have assisted with several successful small burns on state forests over the last several years. Their biggest obstacle is limited resources, including equipment and personnel.
In 2016 we led the expansion of the Central Appalachian Fire Learning Network, a collaboration between the Conservancy and multiple state and federal agencies. By joining forces and pooling resources, we will dramatically scale up the size of our burns — and accelerate our progress toward the healthy forests of the future.
Leaders for the Future
We had an inspiring summer in 2017 hosting two cohorts of high school interns as part of the Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. For the first time, students from western Maryland joined the program, working side by side with visiting students from NYC.
Alexis Lashbaugh, LEAF intern from Allegany County, Maryland summarized her summer work adventures when she reflected, “my favorite part of this whole experience has been the exposure to all the different job opportunities that are available at The Nature Conservancy, and to make connections that will help me out in the future.”