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Wednesday, 18 February 2009 19:09

A call to action for the Southern Appalachians

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By Brent Martin • Guest Columnist

In an article in Blue Ridge Country magazine, author and professor Steve Nash provided a bleak overview of what climate change means here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Most significant are current predictedions for increasing temperatures, including a boost in the number of days over 90 degrees (75 a year predicted by 2080), and record drought (coupled with record intensity storms).

Changes such as these will alter the face of this ancient landscape in ways that we can hardly imagine. Iconic Appalachian creatures such as brook trout are expected to lose 50 to 90 percent of their habitat by 2080, and woodland salamanders dependent upon soil moisture could be wiped out altogether. High-elevation spruce-fir forest would also suffer. And these are but a handful of the projected impacts.

Given that climate change is now considered indisputable by every leading science organization in the world, one would think that as citizens we would be more alarmed and thus determined to make every change we can in order to reverse the momentum of this seemingly irreversible trend. Yet, according to some polls, almost half of all Americans are unsure that climate change is occurring. I suppose this is not surprising given the Bush administration’s denial of the issue for eight years, along with the limited media attention and public understanding. However, with the advent of the Obama administration, not only do we have immediate recognition of the issue but prompt action.

One of the administration’s first actions was the creation of an Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets. This office will be part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which includes the U.S. Forest Service and its 193 million acres of public land. The mission of this office will be to connect industrial emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) with private landowners to plant new forests or crops to absorb their CO2 emissions. This could be a good thing for us here in Western North Carolina, where national forests make up over a million acres and private forest land totals another two million. Such incentives for forest and farmland conservation could be part of a broader agenda for our region to become agriculturally independent, to conserve our remaining working forests, and to mitigate the projected impacts of climate change.

With this “new climate” in Washington, and in anticipation of climate change impacts to our region, Warren Wilson College, The Wilderness Society, and Orion Magazine have come together to launch their first annual Headwaters Gathering March 27 to 29 at Warren Wilson. As our region is the source of drinking water for millions of downstream residents and is home to the East’s coal fields, the conference is aptly subtitled “Southern Appalachia at the Crossroads.” The conference will focus on the impacts of climate change in the region and what these impacts will mean to our economy, environment, and community well being.

Keynote speaker Herman Daly will be joined by activists Majora Carter and Winona LaDuke, retired coal miner Chuck Nelson, and renowned environmental educator David Orr. Also presenting are NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center scientist Thomas Peterson, author and activist Janisse Ray, New York Times writer Andrew Revkin, and National Wildlife Federation President Larry Schweiger.

From a town meeting with expert panelists, to intimate sessions with inspired leaders, the Headwaters Gathering will engage a broad array of citizens and inspire a new network of problem solvers. Registration and information is available at www.headwatersgathering.org.

(Brent Martin is the Southern Appalachian Director for the Wilderness Society, and his office is in Franklin. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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