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In the Southern Appalachians, as in other rapidly developing parts of the country, there is a critical need to address how human actions impact the ecosystems’ ability to function and provide needed environmental and economic benefits. As current population growth and economic development trends continue, human actions are threatening the benefits of ecosystem function by fragmenting the natural landscape. New road construction, agriculture expansion, and sprawling communities represent the most identifiable changes to the natural landscape. These activities often cut through existing ecologically significant areas dividing them into isolated parts. Research shows that as fragmentation increases, landscapes lose their ability to sustain their natural systems. This in turn decreases biological diversity, degrades water and air quality, reduces the capacity to assimilate and store water, cuts off or eliminates migratory pathways, and places an increasing economic burden on the human population. It is this economic issue that is drawing greater attention from state officials, community leaders, taxpayers, and the public.
The National Ecological Framework (NEF) models the connectivity of natural landscapes. It was developed to serve as a guide for the protection of important ecological areas and to prevent these landscapes from becoming unsustainable fragmented pieces by showing how these areas connect to function as viable ecological system.
As part of their natural functioning, ecological systems remove particulate matter and carbon dioxide from the air, purify surface and ground water, reduce flooding, and maintain biological diversity. These functions depend on a connected ecological “framework” of high-quality land consisting of central hubs interconnected by corridors that provide for the movement of energy, matter, and species across the landscape. This framework of connectivity can be threatened by agricultural and silvicultural practices, road development, and sprawling urbanization that fragments the landscape. Maintaining ecological connectivity protects the entire system.
The NEF was intended to be used by organizations that manage land and natural resources within and across state boundaries. This includes federal agencies, watershed groups and nonprofit. The framework provides important links across the SAMAB region that can be used by agencies and organizations to provide a comprehensive guide to the Southern Appalachian’s valuable ecological resources.
For more information about the NEF, the data layers that comprise the final product and the methodological process used to obtain the final dataset, see the Draft National Ecological Framework Final Report.