OSI in the Southeast

Photo Credit: Jerry Monkman


LTLT Cowee Mound 

The Southern Appalachians is a 40-million-acre ecosystem with some of the richest biodiversity in North America. Despite centuries of logging and human impact, the ancient mountain chain contains an immense variety of flora and fauna including tulip poplar and trilliums, salamanders and snakes and one of the most diverse aquatic habitats in the world.

Encompassing the mountainous regions of six states ranging from southern Virginia down to Alabama, the Southern Appalachians are made up of three regions:

  • The Blue Ridge Mountains are the oldest section of the range and also the tallest: Mount Mitchell, at 6,684 feet, is the highest point east of the Mississippi River.
  • The Cumberlands, which include the Cumberland Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau, is home to a high concentration of endangered species as well as the cultural “iconic” Appalachia well-known in literature and film.
  • Between them lies the Ridge and Valley Province which is a region of flat-bottomed valleys and sharp ridges.

The Southern Appalachians are some of the oldest mountains on earth resulting from a series of major uprisings 650 to 350 million years ago. The area has supported life for more than 300 million years, giving rise to one of the richest ecosystems on Earth. Because of its north-south orientation, many species were able to survive through the last ice age, traveling south as glaciers overtook the northern Appalachians 10,000 years ago. As a result, the region is home to many species of plants and animals that can’t be found anywhere else, in abundant diversity. Its rivers are filled with more aquatic species than any other region, Tennessee alone having 290 species of fish, more than all of Europe combined. 

While 99% of its forests have been logged since the native Iroquois and other tribes were displaced, much of the resilient landscape has recovered from past abuses and is once again a thriving forest ecosystem that hosts neo-tropical birds each the summer. Its forests and parks, deep gorges and towering peaks provide recreational opportunities for millions of people in the  region, but just as importantly is home to the headwaters of many of the Southeast’s major rivers, providing drinking water for 10 million people.


  • Although several hundred thousand acres have been conserved in the last ten years, the current rate of conservation is inadequate to meet the challenges of the coming decade.
  • The greatest threats to the region come from subdivision, development, and road building—activities that fragment wildlife habitat, disrupt ecological process, introduce invasive species, and remove land from productive timber and agricultural use, which often results in the economic breakdown of local communities.
  • Industrial forestry can destroy natural biodiversity by fragmenting the landscape and replacing naturally-regenerating mixed stands of forest with pine monocultures that are at higher risk of disease and fire.
  • Dams that cause siltation and disrupt natural watershed systems as well as pollutants that degrade water quality both threaten many aquatic species.

OSI At Work

  • OSI created The Southern Appalachian Loan Fund in 2005 to help protect threatened landscapes in the Southern Appalachians.







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