Protecting Habitat and Diversity in the Southern Appalachians
An American hotspot for biodiversity, the Southern Appalachians are benefiting from State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs), which organizations like OSI are putting to use as a blueprint for action.
The Southern Appalachians Mountains curl like a rugged green ribbon through southern states from Virginia to Alabama, sheltering so much wildlife that the area is recognized as one of the most biodiverse in the world.
“The Southern Appalachians are an American hotspot for biodiversity for freshwater fish and mussels, salamanders, and temperate broadleaf trees,” says Mark Shaffer, program director for the environment at The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which awarded a $7.5 million grant to the Conservation Fund in 2006 to help implement wildlife action plans in four states in the Southeast: Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Black bear and bobcats, blackbelly salamanders and southern leopard frogs, eastern cottonmouth snakes and northern saw whet and barred owls, and five species of tree squirrels are just a few of the species that call the Southern Appalachians home.
Biodiversity is under growing threat from inappropriate timber harvesting, second home development and invasive species. Enter State Wildlife Action Plans, or SWAPS. These plans, which each state fish and wildlife agency must develop to qualify for federal funding, are designed as a tool to conserve wildlife and vital natural areas before they become more rare and costly to protect.
“Taken together, these plans create—for the first time—a results-oriented nationwide approach to keeping wildlife from becoming endangered,” says Bruz Clark, vice president of the Lyndhurst Foundation in Chattanooga.
For public agencies and private organizations working to protect habitat and species, SWAPs provide a to-do list and a measuring tool.
“They allow organizations to prioritize land protection efforts. When organizations look at SWAPs, they get a sense of where the most important areas are and where they should focus their efforts." Scott Davis, State Director for the Tennessee chapter of The Nature Conservancy. "SWAPs provide organizations with a set of criteria and gives them the opportunity to decide how best to use limited conservation dollars.”
SWAPs also help promote partnerships, says Rex Boner, vice president and southeast representative for The Conservation Fund. “Agencies interested in doing regional work have a consistent blueprint. Public, private, non-profit, and philanthropic organizations can come together with a common agenda. From my perspective, SWAPs organize us so we can work on the top priorities. If we can accomplish those, we will have accomplished a lot.” Or, as Davis once put it, “One plus one equals five.”
For OSI, SWAPs also represent an opportunity to help leverage private funding and strengthen the capacity of regional land trusts in the Southern Appalachian region, according to OSI executive vice president Peter Howell. OSI and the Lyndhurst Foundation have teamed up to create a $4.25 million land protection initiative focused on protecting habitat on state wildlife action plans in northwest Georgia and western North Carolina.
Howell said the funding will be used to make grants and loans to land trusts for acquisition of easements and fee interests in land. “This funding is designed to help accelerate the rate and effectiveness of land protection so land trusts can move quickly on important conservation projects,” said Howell. Those freshwater mussels might move slowly, but saving the land they depend on requires speed, agility and resources. OSI has all three.
“We’ll use the knowledge we’ve gained from more than forty years of conservation work on the ground, helping regional land trusts with technical assistance and financial planning,” Howell says. “but our hope for the region is to build stronger institutions that will continue their work long after we’re gone.”
Learn More About SWAPs