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 Rattlesnake. Hellbenders 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.