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Putting the Heat on Nature

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Natural Stronghold

The Central Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia are an excellent example of a natural “stronghold” that could protect nature in the face of climate change.

Visitors to places like The Dick & Nancy Eales Preserve at Moosic Mountain (PA), Canaan Valley/Dolly Sods (WV) and Warm Springs Mountain Preserve (VA) in the Allegheny highlands know them as areas of spectacular beauty. In these parts of the region, geologic, topographic and elevational variance spawn natural diversity that few places on Earth can rival.

Now, a new study by the Conservancy identifies these Central Appalachian landscapes as some of the most resilient to climate change across the U.S. northeast and southeastern Canada.

“This study shows how urgent it is that we focus our protection efforts on these resilient places,” says Bill Kunze, executive director for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Conservancy. “We need to make sure that the conservation we do today will still matter tomorrow,” Kunze adds.

Among the most resilient landscapes found by the study? The ridge and valley portion of Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, Poconos and Pennsylvania Wilds regions.

“Droughts, rising temperatures and other climate change impacts could destabilize many natural areas around the world,” says Kunze. “But Pennsylvania’s Appalachian regions should be strong enough—if we protect them today—to continue providing functioning and intact ecosystems that can provide clean water, absorb carbon, supply products we need, provide recreational opportunities, inspire us and support our native plants and animals.”

A “natural stronghold,” the Appalachians could serve as a breeding ground and seed bank for many animal and plant species that otherwise may be unable to find habitat due to climate change, Kunze says.

A common denominator among sites identified in the study? A complex landscape with a high degree of micro-climates—mountains, valleys, slopes and caves. Enclaves like the Allegheny Front offer enough climate variability that even slow-moving species should be able to move from one space into another.

“If we can keep these strongholds intact and connected, it increases the odds that plants and animals will persist through climate change,” Kunze says. “If you have enough land with enough variety in elevation, geology and land¬forms, and that land hasn’t been broken up by things like highways, plants and animals will have more options that may remain favorable for them.”

The study provides some hope that—with a lot of help from us—nature can endure climate change, Kunze says.

View the study here