In 1901, it was estimated that 75 percent of Southern Appalachia was still forested and 10 percent was still in virgin growth. By 1920, heavy cutting had reduced this forest substantially, resulting in rapidly eroding cropland and pasture and heavily logged forests where little of value was left.
A fledgling conservation community worked to create national forests to protect the headwaters of major rivers, the Blue Ridge Parkway stretching almost 500 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Appalachian Trail, among other significant areas.
Natural and Cultural Heritage
Most of the conservation issues raised in the early 1900's remain today. Although many large blocks of public land are now guided by sustainable management plans, the vast amount of forest land in the region is privately owned. The long-term goal of Western North Carolina's conservation community is to protect and conserve places of important wildlife habitat, water quality, cultural and economic significance, and scenic value. This is accomplished on public lands as well as through the careful combination of private land acquisitions from willing sellers and conservation easements by individual property owners.
Since 2005, the acres of land managed for conservation in the 18-county area has increased by 5 percent, or about 60,000 acres. The majority of these new acres are found on private lands and are acquired through purchase or gift or are guided by a conservation agreement with the property owner.
Many people feel that the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains are at a pivotal point for species, habitat, natural beauty, and even mountain culture. The conservation community, the legislature, and the public are making strides in reducing the risk of irreparable losses. The addition of lands managed for conservation during the past decade, along with a stated goal to continue putting land into a protected status, is one of many strategies in place to sustain biodiversity in Western North Carolina.