Found on the highest and coldest parts of the Southern Blue Ridge, the Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests are widely considered a relic from the last ice age. The ice age’s cold temperatures pushed typically northern-latitude plants and animals, like spruce and fir trees, southward. As temperatures warmed, those species moved back north…and uphill, where they found refuge in the cold weather of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi. These species became isolated on these mountaintop islands, over time forming an ecosystem unique to the Southern Appalachians.
These forests are characterized by high moisture and often immersed in cloud cover. They’re home to federally-listed species such as spruce-fir moss spider, and Carolina northern flying squirrel (learn more about an on-the-ground effort that will benefit rare squirrels) as well as a long list of species of conservation concern including the northern saw-whet owl, brown creeper, black-capped chickadee, and several salamanders.
From the 1880s to the 1930s these forests were logged extensively with some areas experiencing catastrophic wildfires in the logging slash. This era of unchecked logging is considered the primary reason that restoration efforts are needed since the spruce forests have not recovered from this era in more than 100 years.