Alabama Conservation Summary

Alabama is blessed with a wealth of plant and animal life that reflects the diversity of its natural landscape. Located at the convergence of five physiographic regions the state is home to a remarkable assemblage of species and natural environments, standing near the top nationwide in terms of biodiversity. 

Rare Species and Characteristic Habitats

The longleaf pine ecosystem within the state’s coastal plain contains an exceptional suite of flora, a richness that is virtually unparalleled elsewhere across North America. In fact, some of the nation’s rarest and most cherished species – the red-cockaded woodpecker, white-top pitcher-plant and American chaffseed – find refuge here, surviving as some of their last remaining strongholds. The Coastal Plain is also where the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers come together forming the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, one of the largest wilderness areas in the eastern United States, appearing much as it did when the first settlers arrived in the area during the 1700s. This vast drainage system supports an incredible diversity of fish, and is home to countless species of mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates, including viable populations of black bear, American alligator and bald eagle. Farther north, the Black Belt region contains some of finest native grassland east of the Mississippi, sustaining a rich and varied assortment of species indicative of the tall grass prairies further to the West.

The northern region of Alabama is perhaps best known for its rugged mountain beauty, hosting an array of montane habitats and a wealth of species. The ruffed grouse, wood frog, Canada lily and pink lady’s-slipper are a sampling of the better-known Northeastern and Canadian species that reach their southern limits here. The region contains the finest and most extensive examples of montane longleaf woodland, a vegetation type that has experienced a rapid decline elsewhere. The mountainous northern section of the state is also well known for its immense cave system, harboring a suite of species not found elsewhere on the planet, including the Alabama cavefish and Alabama cave crayfish.

Alabama is also home to a remarkable diversity of salamanders. With over 35 species known, they inhabit the entire range of available habitats from floodplain swamps and clear flowing streams, to isolated ponds and mesic forests. A few are habitat specialists such as the subterranean-dependent Tennessee cave salamander, the fossorial Red Hills salamander, and the aquatic Black Warrior waterdog, the latter two being endemic to the state. Well over half are considered rare and the reticulated flatwoods salamander appears to be extirpated.

Threats

While significant progress has been made toward preserving the state’s natural heritage, much remains to be done. Alabamians continue to face the daunting challenge of protecting one of the nation’s most biologically diverse and unique regions amid pressures imposed by a burgeoning population. Within the past 150 years, the state has experienced unprecedented losses of natural lands; yet it is the beauty of these natural landscapes that inspires many people to spend their lives here. Urbanization, agriculture, clear cuts and pavement have not replaced all our natural landscapes. However, those examples that do remain are significantly different from their ancestors. Threats are numerous, including deforestation and conversion, siltation, and draining of wetlands. Coastal dunes have been affected by unplanned beachfront development. Longleaf pine woodlands have flammable, dense understories because of fire suppression and overstories weakened from drought and insects. Hundreds of square miles of Appalachian forests have been cleared and converted to pine plantations or residential areas; granite outcrops to dumping sites; and prairies to weedy pastures and farmland. 

Public and Private Conservation Efforts

Formidable as such challenges appear, a network of agencies, organizations and institutions have established partnerships to safeguard striking examples of the state’s remaining natural places. For example, in the Cumberlands of northeast Alabama, The Nature Conservancy assisted the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in acquiring several thousand acres of pristine mountain terrain. Various timber companies have joined forces with the Alabama Natural Heritage Program to identify and protect significant biological sites on company landholdings. Further protection was afforded the Red Hills salamander, a state endemic and a species of federal concern, when large timber companies entered into an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to administer Habitat Conservation Plans, a program dedicated to minimize and mitigate the impact of forestry operations. These are just a few examples that have come to symbolize the spirit in which conservationists from across the state are coming together to preserve Alabama’s remarkable natural heritage for future generations to come.

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