Tracking climate change, mapping wildlife habitat

The Open Space Institute is working in the Southern Appalachians to provide research and grant and loan capital to help land trusts and government agencies target their protection efforts in the region, one of the most biodiverse places in the world.

Supported by grants from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Merck Family Fund, and the Lyndhurst Foundation, OSI completed research looking at how the region will respond to climate change throughout an 83,000-square-mile region that stretches across Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia. 

With an expert advisory committee made up of state wildlife agency officials, OSI worked with GIS expert Andy Carroll at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga to identify:

  • forest blocks of contiguous habitat that are likely to support healthy ecological function and remain resilient to the impacts of climate change; 
  • corridors linking forest blocks that will allow movement as plants and animals migrate to adjust to climate change over multiple generations;
  • a selection of aquatic and terrestrial species considered representative of the broader biological diversity of the region; and
  • the relative vulnerability of these representative species to changes in climate.

With this research in hand, OSI identified the intact forest blocks  that provide refuge for the greatest diversity of aquatic and terrestrial sensitive species. Among the places that emerged as critical for protecting intact natural systems in the face of climate change and that currently hosts hundreds of sensitive species was the Paint Rock Watershed region on the Southern Cumberland Plateau.

Focusing on the Southern Cumberland, where land trusts and other partners are already working with willing landowners to protect large forested properties, OSI raised $4.75 million and $2 million in loan funds from private foundations and its own capital to launch the Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund in October 2012.

These funds will be made available for permanent conservation of critical forest blocks in the Southern Cumberland.

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