Conservation Planning and GIS Mapping
by the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition
Spatial Data and GIS in Western
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.
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
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
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
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.