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Conservation Planning and GIS Mapping
by the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition

Spatial Data and GIS in Western North Carolina

The southern Appalachian forests are among the most biologically diverse in the temperate world. You can see more trees species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park than in all of Europe. You would need to travel around the world to Southeast Asia to find a temperate forest that rivals the Southern Appalachians in the richness of its plant life.

This biological richness also provides an economic base. Natural beauty attracts visitors, new residents and businesses. Nature-based tourism, appreciation for a high quality of life, and high quality natural areas can form a basis for sustainable communities. However this potential must overcome unbridled growth, an aversion to planning, and pressure to destroy remaining natural lands. Unprecedented development, population, and resource pressures make this a critical time to plan for the region's future biological health.

GIS represents an indispensable tool for visualizing and analyzing our changing landscape. It provides a powerful tool for presenting the vision of a healthy, sustainable and naturally functioning environment.

Conservation Planning

Community Contact
Hugh Irwin
Conservation Planner
Phone (828) 252-9223
Fax (828) 252-9074
The Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition (SAFC) seeks to protect and recover the biological diversity of the southern Appalachian region, the mountain areas of North Carolina and five neighboring states, through conservation planning and public lands management. SAFC is based in Asheville, NC.
SAFC's mission is to create conservation plans to answer critical questions: What must be done to protect and recover the region's biological diversity? How can we create the right economic conditions and community support to make protection of the region's natural heritage a regional priority?
Click here to see a map of the Black Mountain Conservation Area
Click here to see a map of SAFC's areas of conservation focus in the Southern Appalachian Region

Forest Plan Revisions

If managed for biological diversity, public lands can form the core of a reserve system that protects the region's biological diversity in the long term.

Protecting habitat on national forest lands is a high priority. Management plans for most of the region's forests are now underway. SAFC is using GIS to participate in this process on a regional basis. We also provide GIS analysis and maps to groups to advance conservation goals at the local level. Both SAFC and our grassroots partners are more effective players in the plan revision process when we can provide analysis and input based on GIS. We have succeeded in producing key analysis and maps to highlight critical issues, such as old growth and watershed restoration. SAFC and grassroots partners will push for incorporation of these conservation plans into preferred alternatives for national forest plan revision.

In once instance, SAFC is working with Clemson University to analyze old growth forest data from the region and create a model to predict where additional patches of old forest are likely to occur. The process of hiking steep, heavily wooded mountain slopes to measure and map old growth is extremely difficult, and much of the region's remote forest land has never been closely evaluated. The model will help to fill gaps in the analysis and could ultimately be used to predict the probability of finding old growth on any tract of national forest land.

In another project, SAFC is identifying ecologically important streams and riparian areas throughout the region. Future planning will propose management protection and conservation practices to protect the integrity and function of the watersheds.

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