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The Southern Appalachian Assessment

Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere

This summary is taken from text in the published assessment document referenced below.

Purpose of the Assessment

Our vision for the Southern Appalachian region is an environment for natural resources management that applies the best available knowledge about the land, air, water, and people of the region. Applied on public lands, this knowledge would provide a sustainable balance among biological diversity, economic uses, and cultural values. All would be achieved through information gathering and sharing, integrated assessments, and demonstration projects. The Southern Appalachian Assessment takes a major step toward fulfillment of that vision. It is an ecological assessment – a description of conditions that goes beyond state, federal, or private boundaries. In using Southern Appalachian Assessment data, land managers can base their decisions on the natural boundaries of ecosystems rather than on the artificial boundaries of counties, states, or national forests and parks.

The assessment was accomplished through the cooperation of federal and state natural resource agencies within the Southern Appalachian region. It was coordinated through the auspices of the Southern Appalachian Man and Biosphere (SAMAB) cooperative. There was no specific statutory requirement for the assessment. However, national forest land and resource management plans authorized under the 1976 National Forest Management Act have been in place for almost 10 years and are therefore subject to revision. Due to the relationship of the national forests and other federal lands to the biological, social, and economic conditions in the assessment area, comprehensive and scientifically credible data are needed to facilitate land management planning. This assessment supports individual forest plans by determining how the lands, resources, people, and management of the national forests interrelate within the larger context of the surrounding lands. Five reports document the results of the Southern Appalachian Assessment; these include a summary report, atmospheric, social/cultural/economic, terrestrial, and aquatic reports.

Key Themes and approach

The Southern Appalachian Assessment (SAA) is the ecological equivalent of a thorough medical checkup. It was designed to take a careful look at what we know about the region’s ecosystems and its air, water, and land resources. The hope was that potentially serious problems could be identified before they threatened the well-being of the natural resources. Using the best available technology, the scientists who conducted the SAA gathered and interpreted large quantities of data about the region. The results provide estimates of what is happening in the region and what the consequences of those trends may be. The assessment revealed no major crises, but some of its findings are worrisome. Forest pests are causing some serious problems, particularly in northern Virginia. Ecological changes are occurring in the region’s forests. Pollution makes some streams unsuitable for human use. Acidity has significantly affected water quality and fish species in certain streams. The pressures of human development are having serious effects on natural resources around the region’s cities, and conflicts over uses of the area’s natural resources are brewing. The authors of the SAA do not attempt to provide solutions for the problems that have been identified. They avoid prescriptions, because prescribing is a political process in which all Americans must have a part. Instead, the assessment tries to give the information people need for a productive discussion of the problems.

Most of the federal and state agencies that participate in SAMAB have formal planning processes that require an underpinning of reliable scientific data. Results of the SAA provide much of the needed data. By working together, the individual agencies have reduced the work that will be needed to support upcoming and ongoing planning efforts. Public meetings were held in the SAA study area to solicit public concerns about specific issues. Based on these concerns, questions were formed. These questions provide a framework for all of the scientific teams. Furthermore, the teams were asked to use existing information. With very few exceptions, information presented is not new. What is new is the aggregation of pertinent information on many subjects related to the ecosystems of the Southern Appalachians. The close cooperation among scientists and administrators from so many agencies for an extended period also may be new.

Preferred citation

Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere (SAMAB). 1996. The Southern Appalachian assessment. Reports 1-5. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Atlanta.The Southern Appalachian Assessment