Appalachian Habitat Association Strives to Create Better Wildlife Habitat
In 2018, the Appalachian Habitat Association was formed to address the habitat decline in the Western Appalachian area of Virginia. The non-profit organization does work in Allegheny, Augusta, Bath, Botetourt, Highland, Craig and Rockbridge Counties. Nolan Nicely, Jr. is the President of the Appalachian Habitat Association.
“What led to our specific organization is all of us felt like our particular area here up in the Highlands, in the Appalachian Mountains, has been particularly impacted by a general decline in habitat diversity,” says Nicely. “And a big reason for that is that so much of the land up here has, over time, fallen into the possession of either the federal or state government. And what has happened is that those areas, particularly some of the federal lands, that there has not been much active management and some of that’s a budgetary issue. They don’t really have the money necessarily to do what they need to do on the ground, and that may not be the only reason, but anyway for a variety of reasons, these areas many of them have been untouched for a hundred years.”
The organization strives to provide education about the issue of habitat decline. It provides funding for habitat management work on federal and state lands and also provides information on management to private landowners
“When you have an area of forest that’s untouched for long periods of time, you know it does not really manage itself,” says Nicely. “What ultimately happens is the trees grow up. They all become larger, they create a dense canopy that essentially eliminates most plant life at the ground level. And so what happens is that these areas develop into an area that provides very little year round habitat for deer or bear or turkey or grouse or birds, bees, butterflies. We have a lot of oak mast up in here, a lot of oak trees, and on the years when they have mast and they have acorns, certainly that will provide food for the animals, but it is a fairly short term. It is not a year-round provision of good habitat.”
Nicely says better habitat comes from forest diversity, which requires a disturbance. The disturbance can either be man-made such as logging, land clearing or prescribed burning or it can be natural events, such as wildfire.
The organization offers annual scholarships to students in the seven county area who are looking to work in wildlife habitat, conservation, forest management or other areas that match with the organization’s focus. But most of the money raised by the organization goes to direct implementation of wildlife habitat improvement projects on public land. In 2020, the Appalachian Habitat Association spent about $50,000 on improvement projects in its seven county area.
“Most of us are landowners that have a significant interest either in wildlife, in general, or in some aspect of conservation of whether it’s mammalian wildlife, or whether it’s birds, bees, bugs, flowers,” says Nicely. “And we have a fairly diverse group. Quite a few of us are hunters and have land that we manage mainly for hunting. We have one gentleman that produces honey.”
To learn more about the Appalachian Habitat Association, visit https://appalachianhabitat.org