Stanback Fellows from Duke University

This summer we welcomed two Stanback Fellow interns from the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment, Claire Elias and Annabelle White. The Stanback Fellowship Program is a partnership between the Nicholas School of the Environment and non-profit environmental organizations. The purpose of the program is to provide students with significant project-based learning experiences in energy, conservation, advocacy, policy, research and applied resource management. The program is made possible by the generous support of Fred and Alice Stanback. Read more

Roan Stewardship 2022

Formed by a tight cluster of mountains straddling the NC and TN border, the Roan Massif (also known as the Highlands of Roan), requires commitment and coordination between federal and state agencies, widespread organizations, local clubs and landowners, and passionate volunteers. SAHC’s Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett leads partnership efforts in long-term management of this  treasured place.

We hosted a successful -return to- group volunteer work this summer, with events including the annual Grassy Ridge Mow-Off, NC Bridge Crew work, and the inaugural Round Bald Rubus Round-Up, all of which focused on controlling blackberry and other woody encroachment into Appalachian grassy bald habitat that supports globally rare plants and endemic species.

“Thank you to our amazing SAHC volunteers who restored over 18 acres of Appalachian grass balds this summer,” says Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett. “This work was supported by grant funding from our partners at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the National Forest Foundation, and we are very grateful for their support.”

SAHC and our partners at Appalachian Trail Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service, and the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club continued to host a seasonal Roan Naturalist along the Appalachian Trail this summer. This year’s Roan Naturalist, Thomas Hatling, hiked back and forth across the stretch of the AT across the Roan to meet and educate hikers about the importance of Leave No Trace principles and the unique and fragile nature of the ecosystems found here. He also assisted with Roan management throughout the summer.

Gray’s Lily Monitoring

Early this year, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy staff and volunteers joined partners in the Highlands of Roan for training by Dr. Matt Estep and Ben Brewer of Appalachian State University in how to monitor Gray’ lily for lily leaf spot disease.

Gray’s lily is a rare wildflower endemic to the region which grows only at high mountain elevations and blooms in meadows, bogs, and forests in early summer. This rare – and striking – red flower was first identified by and named for prominent botanist Asa Gray. Over the past several years, Gray’s lily populations have been suffering from lily leaf spot, a fungal disease that may be spread by contact. Lily leaf spot disease kills juveniles and reduces reproduction in adults, creating a grim forecast for the future of these beautiful blooms. We look forward to gathering data this fall to see how the plants monitored this year have fared; teams will re-survey the Roan to look at long-term viability.

Birdathon – Thank YOU!

We extend enormous gratitude to our partners at Blue Ridge Audubon Chapter and to all the Birdathon 2022 participants for raising over $15,000 for restoring and managing bird habitat. This year’s Birdathon supports SAHC’s efforts in managing habitat for Golden-winged Warblers in the Highlands of Roan. The Golden-winged Warbler is a neotropical migratory songbird with populations in sharp decline, particularly suffering from loss of habitat. SAHC has been protecting and managing habitat in the Roan Highlands for more than 10 years  to support Golden-winged Warblers along with associated species. The Birdathon contribution will help expand these efforts in the Roaring Creek Valley.

“We are looking forward to using these funds to manage habitat for Golden-winged Warblers in Roaring Creek this fall, and to surveying the results next spring” says Marquette. “Thank you for raising this generous contribution to support SAHC’s habitat management and restoration work for this climate sensitive species.”

Perspective: Roan Naturalist Thomas Hatling

Serving as the Roan Naturalist not only enabled me to spend the summer working in one of the world’s most gorgeous settings, it gave me the opportunity to help inform people about the importance of mitigating human impacts on the fragile ecosystems of the Roan. Through lack of awareness about the importance and fragility of the grassy summits, visitors may inadvertently cause negative impacts on Roan, despite feeling an innate love for the mountain. The Roan Naturalist position lets people know about the rare plants and animals of the Roan Highlands and how to reduce our impacts as visitors, answer people’s questions, and create signage in problem areas to encourage visitors to Leave No Trace. .

This summer I spoke to thousands of visitors about Leave No Trace principles. This is key to helping the rare plants and animals of the Roan thrive. Leave No Trace boils down to these  straightforward principles:

  • Plan ahead and prepare.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Minimize campfire impacts
    (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

I encourage everyone who enjoys the outdoors to remember these core principles and always put them into practice!  A key part of enjoying the outdoors is respecting the environment around you and saving that beauty for others and generations to come.

Partnership Work Day with HRI

Former AmeriCorps member Logan Dye participated in a volunteer work day sponsored by Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and Hemlock Restoration Initiative (HRI) at the Chestnut Mountain Nature Park, treating native hemlock trees to protect them from the hemlock wooly adelgid.

“It was fun to see my colleagues from HRI,” says Logan. “I think my favorite thing about having done a term of AmeriCorps service with HRI is that hemlocks have been my favorite trees since childhood, and it was exciting to be able to work to protect a species that I particularly love. Serving with HRI was my first experience out of undergrad and definitely helped develop my path in the environmental field. The experience helped set me up for the position with SAHC.” Read more

Spruce-fir Habitat Restoration

Hiking in the Roan Highlands, you may have had the experience of leaving the sunny, open grassy balds to dip your head into the dark shade of adjacent spruce-fir forests. Like the grassy balds, these remnant, boreal forests host multiple federally engaged species. New efforts to conserve and restore high elevation spruce-fir forests complement SAHC’s decades-long program of restoration and habitat management of Appalachian grassy bald

Why is Spruce-fir Forest Special?

Youth volunteer planting spruce, with adult volunteer in background

For future generations… Volunteers helped plant more than 5,000 red spruce seedlings on SAHC preserves.

Southern Appalachian red spruce-Fraser fir forests are considered one of the top two most endangered ecosystem types in the U.S. and contain multiple federal and state listed rare species, including the federally endangered spruce-fir moss spider and Carolina northern flying squirrel, the rare Weller’s salamander, and Appalachian populations of Saw-whet Owl, Red Crossbills, and more. Cold water streams flowing from these forests support Appalachian brook trout and other rare aquatic species.

During the last ice age, red spruce and Fraser fir dominated the southern Appalachian forest. But as the climate warmed, the spruce-fir forests gradually retreated north to Canada and to the tops of the highest peaks in the Southern Appalachians, above 5,000 feet in elevation. Logging during the 19th and 20th centuries reduced the extent of spruce-fir forest in the southern Appalachians by up to 60%, as fast-growing hardwoods replaced forests which had been cut. These forests were further degraded by acid precipitation and the invasive balsam woolly adelgid. However, now the largest threat to these forests is climate change, with warming temperatures and changes in rainfall.

Read more

Roan Stewardship 2021

Volunteer Days, Bird Surveys, and Public Education

Spring and summer atop the Highlands of Roan stayed busy with active habitat management work days, biological surveys, and more. We’re grateful to all the volunteers who helped with stewardship and outing projects this year, and to all the supporters and partners who make it possible to preserve and restore rare and important ecosystems.

“We’re so glad to have been able to come back together as a group with the return of the annual Grassy Ridge Mow-off,” said Roan Stewardship Director Marquette Crockett. “I think everyone really enjoyed the camaraderie of working together again! We’re very grateful to all the volunteers who came out. Plus, we enjoyed a pleasant surprise — everything bloomed a couple weeks later this year than usual, so we were able to see numerous Gray’s lily blooming in areas that were mowed by volunteers in previous years.. It was also the first time I’ve been on a mow-off without the rain!”

SAHC Board member Larry Pender joined in volunteering at the Mow-off again this year, reflecting on his time as “Celebrating the great outdoors with a heart healthy hike across the Roan and a momentous, meaningful mow atop the Grassy Ridge of the Roan!”

The National Forest Foundation awarded a $15,000 grant to support our grassy balds management work The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) awarded two license plate grants to SAHC, totaling $10,000 to support feral hog trapping in the Roan. SAHC staff continue to implement a previous ATC grant of $4,700 which will support the  installation of educational “peakfinder” signage on Round Bald. Read more

Salamander Plots at the SAHC Community Farm

Child is crouched down, placing a label on a cross section slice of a small tree. There is a hammer to the right of the slice. The child is wearing a black raincoat and grey and orange sweatpants.

Student of French Broad River Academy installing salamander plots, courtesy of Tamarya Sims

There has been lots of buzz on the SAHC Community Farm about our new salamander plot program. This program was piloted by Tamarya Sims, our Community Farm Associate. Western North Carolina is often considered the salamander capital of the world. Despite this, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find salamanders in the region due to declining populations across all amphibian species. This is why Tamarya felt that the moist areas near the creek on SAHC’s Community farm would be perfect for salamander plots.

Read more

Salamanders and Youth Education

Plethodon amplus salamander.

Plethodon amplus, photo credit Tom Ward.

You may have heard that the Southern Appalachian or Blue Ridge Mountains are the “salamander capital of the world.” These brightly colored little living gems capture the interest and imagination of young and old alike. Their prevalence among some of the world’s oldest mountains highlights the remarkable biodiversity of the region and the importance of protecting critical land and water resources — before they are lost forever.

Join us for a look at salamanders – from youth education programs to citizen-science observations recorded and reported by a conservation landowner. The stories, videos, and photos below present a snapshot of the importance of salamanders, tips for safely searching for them, and a look at the diverse species you may find in the mountains of NC and TN.

Learn a little, record your own observations, and join us in engaging with these fascinating amphibians! Read more

Salamanders in the Swannanoa Mountains

Desmognathus-monticola - salamander close-up

Desmognathus monticola, photo credit Tom Ward.

Have you seen a salamander lately? These vibrantly speckled and spotted amphibians come bearing good news. If you’ve seen them in an area you have hiked or explored, the water quality and habitat of that area is probably pretty good! Salamanders are sensitive to environmental changes, so finding an abundance of salamanders means the land and water are healthy for other species, too — including humans. Conservationist Tom Ward has discovered that night is the best time to photograph these shy but enchanting creatures.

Desmognathus-quadramaculatus - salamander

Desmognathus quadramaculatus, photo credit Tom Ward.

“My great-grandfather built a cabin on the property 95 years ago, and the property has been in my family ever since,” recalls Tom. His family wanted to ensure that this special place was never developed, so they worked with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) to permanently protect 114 acres with a conservation easement in 2011. A mile and half of stream corridor through the property creates excellent habitat for salamanders. With a Masters degree in biology, Tom has a particular interest in documenting species on the property and has reported his findings to the NC Natural Heritage Program, contributing to citizen science in the state. So far he has identified 10 species of salamander on the family’s protected land. Read more

Golden-winged Warbler Working Group

Birdwatching with Working Group membersIn Spring 2019, the Southern Appalachian Golden-winged Warbler Working Group, consisting of more than 10 agencies and organizations, met in the Roan Highlands to discuss landscape-scale conservation measures, including strategic land protection and cooperative management projects. SAHC was proud to host the group on our preserves and to assist with touring iconic public lands across the Roan. Read more