Appalachian Highlands

The Greater Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia is the focal landscape of the Appalachian Highlands Initiative. This region is one of the most herpetologically-diverse regions in North America and has the highest diversity of salamanders in the world.

The Greater Smoky Mountains also contains some of the greatest remaining old-growth forests left in the eastern United States. From Red Spruce and Fraser Fir forests to northern hardwoods to high elevation mountain bogs and mountain balds, the southern Appalachian Mountains contain a level of biodiversity that rivals any other landscape on Earth, with over 10,000 species calling their slopes and valleys home. Black bears, grouse, whitetail deer, beavers—the Greater Smoky Mountains houses them all and is more than just a landscape. It’s one of the true centers of biodiversity found in the world and an important aspect to a culture that prides itself on living in one of the last wild places in the United States.

However, the loss of the American Chestnut, the introduction of invasive species, deforestation, human population encroachment, fire suppression and the draining of mountain wetlands are taking its toll on this ecosystem and the animals that inhabit it. The degradation of this wild ecosystem has caused the decline of many wildlife species, including reptiles and amphibians such as the Hellbender Salamander and the Timber Rattlesnake.


Hellbender Salamander

Hellbenders are one of the largest salamanders in the world, and they are declining across their range.

Timber Rattlesnake

Timber Rattlesnakes, a cultural icon of the region, are one of the last remaining apex predators of the Appalachians.