Central Appalachian Forest Ecoregion
A broad swath of the Eastern United States, the Central Appalachian Forest features the greatest amount of land higher than 2600 feet in the East, outside of the Southern Blue Ridge. The ecoregion includes the Blue Ridge Mountains from Virginia to southern Pennsylvania, the historic Great Valley, and the dramatic ridges and valleys of the Allegheny Mountains that stretch south to north. The land is marked by substantial geologic variation, including sedimentary shales, limestones, and sandstones, and igneous basalts. The Central Appalachian Forest ecoregion is traversed by the largest drainage divide in the East, between rivers of the Atlantic Slope and Mississippi Valley.
Annual precipitation varies from some of the driest to some of the wettest in the East: 30 to 85 inches, with annual snowfall ranging from under 50 to over 190 inches.
Plants & Animals
Shale barrens, a unique combination of geology, soil, topography, and climate, support rare species such as Kate's-mountain clover (Trifolium virginicum), yellow nailwort (Paronychia virginica), and low false bindweed (Calystegia spithamaea). Animals found in the Central Appalachian Forest include dozens of species that live underground (at least one vertebrate), and a number of plants, invertebrates, salamanders, and small mammals can be found in the subalpine habitats. The ecoregion encompasses part of the Ohio River drainage, which is a global center of diversity for freshwater mussels and several groups of freshwater fish. The total species diversity of the Central Appalachian Forest ecoregion is high (1) because the southern reach of ice age glaciers stopped short of the region, so species were not lost to the influences of ice cover and extreme cold, and (2) the ecoregion contains some of the highest environmental diversity in eastern North America.
Humans & History
Because much of the forested areas are within a few hours’ drive of growing metropolitan areas such as Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, the are is being increasingly fragmented by first and second home development. Although the mountainous areas of the ecoregion are lightly settled now, the valleys, especially the limestone valleys, have been long settled for agriculture, and, more recently, urban development. Coal mining, limestone quarrying, and timber-harvesting represent three other major land use activities that impact the Central Appalachian Forest.
Much of the forest land is managed or protected. The Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia and the Jefferson and George Washington National Forests in Virginia and West Virginia cover vast areas of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains of those states. Virginia is also home to Shenandoah National Park, a national treasure that encompasses a great acreage of protected forest. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources manages extensive forests and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Game Commission also have substantial forest holdings.