Appalachian Highlands

When many people think about eastern North America they do not think about wild places but the Appalachian Mountains are considered one of the world’s great wilderness areas. The Southern Appalachian Mountains in particular contain the highest and wildest mountains in the east and are one of the most diverse temperate regions in the world. But these wild places and diverse ecosystems are threatened by an ever growing population of people.

The Appalachian Highlands Initiative (AHI) works to protect the species and landscapes of the southern Appalachians. The Orianne Society’s work is critical to conserving the rich biological diversity of this special region. The Greater Smoky Mountains ecosystem is a focal landscape of the AHI and includes areas throughout eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and Georgia. This region is a global hot spot for salamander biodiversity and provides important habitat for other species that live at higher elevations, including our focal species, the Eastern Hellbender, the Bog Turtle, and the Timber RattlesnakeHellbenders and Bog Turtles depend on streams and wetlands, respectively, both of these habitat types have been highly degraded or completely destroyed in much of the region. Timber Rattlesnakes are icons for the conservation of the high ridges and deciduous forests of the southern Appalachian region but they are also one of the most feared species in the region and thus are heavily persecuted. This species has declined significantly throughout their range due to human persecution and habitat loss, but despite these declines, they are one of the last remaining carnivores that can still be found in the Appalachians.

 

The Orianne Society is committed to the conservation of the Greater Smoky Mountains ecosystem and the rare species that depend on its habitats for their survival. Our efforts will ensure a future for rare species such as Hellbenders, Bog Turtles, and Timber Rattlesnakes for generations to come.

Surveying Hellbenders

A New Technique for Surveying for Hellbenders

Orianne Society scientists pioneered the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) in Hellbender Surveys. This technique searches for the presence of Hellbender DNA in water samples to detect presence and is now being implemented across the species range. ​

Photo: Pete Oxford

Appalachian Streams

Restoration of Appalachian Streams

The Orianne Society is working to restore stream habitats for Hellbenders by fencing cattle out of streams and providing upland water sources, removing invasive plants, and promoting native riparian forests.

Photo: Pete Oxford

Land Conservation

Private Land Owner Conservation Program

Private land owners are critical to the conservation of rare species in the Appalachians. We work with private land owners across the region on habitat conservation, species monitoring, and venomous snake safety.

Photo: Kevin Stohlgren

Bog Restoration

Bog Restoration

The Orianne Society works with private land owners to restore critically rare bog habitats in the region using forestry, fire, and invasive species control.

Photo: Heidi Hall

Hellbender Monitoring

Hellbender Monitoring

Using environmental DNA (eDNA) based techniques, Orianne Society works with many partners to survey the entire Southern Appalachian region for the presence of Hellbenders.

Photo: Pete Oxford

Rattlesnake Inventory

Timber Rattlesnake Inventory

The Orianne Society conducts summer surveys to identify the distribution of Timber Rattlesnake Gestation Rocks in Georgia and North Carolina. Over 200 important habitat sites have been identified to date.

Photo: Pete Oxford

Education Outreach

Education Outreach

Orianne Society staff work throughout local communities to provide education and outreach events and provide technical assistance. Species such as Hellbenders and Timber Rattlesnakes often are looked upon negatively by the public and thus to conserve these species it is critically important to raise awareness of these species importance.

Photo: Heidi Hall

Hellbender Huts

Hellbender Huts

One of the greatest causes of Hellbender declines is siltation reducing the amount of cover available for nesting and for young to grow. To combat this, Orianne Society is working across Georgia and North Carolina to install Hellbender huts which are man-made structures that provide the needed habitats that have been lost.

Photo: Steve Spear

Rattlesnake Monitoring

Timber Rattlesnake Monitoring

The Orianne Society is monitoring the frequency of reproduction and the reproductive output of rattlesnakes at gestation sites in the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment region of Georgia and North Carolina.

Photo: Chris Jenkins

Conservation Planning

Conservation Planning

Much of the Southern Appalachian region is public land often managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS). We work closely with the USFS and other public land and wildlife agencies in the region to ensure that the needs of reptiles and amphibians are incorporated into conservation planning efforts.

Bog Turtle Surveys

Bog Turtle Surveys

Bog Turtles are the most endangered species of turtle in North America. They depend on Appalachian wetlands habitats that have been almost completely removed from the landscape. We work with partners to survey for these species to identify those small remaining populations in need of conservation.

Photo: Pete Oxford