The Issues

Photo by Byron Jorjorian

The cultural cohesiveness of the region and its distinctive biology  and geology give the entire Cumberland Plateau corridor a distinctive sense of place. 

The culture of the Plateau has remained viable largely because the forest land base which has supported it has remained relatively intact. Likewise, the existence of a globally important level of biodiversity has been possible because most of the Plateau has remained undeveloped. However, the region faces increasing challenges to its integrity from several sources. 

  • “Given the preponderance of forest habitats and the large number of fauna that depend on them, incompatible forestry practices were documented as a potential source of stress. Forestry has long been a part of the history and economy of the CP&M (Cumberland Plateau and Mountains.)Forest companies have owned large tracts of land for many years. Some of the stresses associated with forest practices on terrestrial GCN species come from issues of timing and mismatching of harvest methods within key habitats. Similarly, in recent decades, some areas of the Cumberland Plateau have been converted to forest plantations of loblolly pine... As well, even though most of the CP&M is rural, development pressures are starting to afflict the large forest blocks of the region. Some areas have become increasingly popular as retirement havens. Cities such as Crossville are rapidly growing due to an increase in retirees and from the resort industry.

  • Photo by Byron Jorjorian “Commercial and industrial development, roads, utilities, and other infrastructurerelated growth is also occurring as the region’s population increases. One of thebiggest threats to the region is the increase in land prices stemming from development. Declines in the forest industry have led some large, private forest owners to break up their landholdings and sell them as smaller parcels. Ironically, decreases in forestry in the region may lead to more severe problems for forest habitats via development.
  • “Another important problem linked by the planning team to terrestrial species inthe region comes from activities associated with mining and drilling operations. Coal mining has been an important industry in the region since the late 1800’s... Inrecent decades, strip mining has become the preferred method of coal extraction.Less destructive means of removing soiland rock overburden in priority areas ofterrestrial habitats remains a key challenge.Similarly, construction of roads and other infrastructure necessary for access to coalmines and oil/natural gas wells can be very damaging to terrestrial habitats.
  • "Other key problems affecting habitats inthe CP&M include: destruction of forestsfrom outbreaks of southern pine beetle,parasites/pathogens, construction of drainagesystems for wetlands, illegal collectionof species, and recreational use of habitats." 

Photo by Byron JorjorianAs the SWAP was being published, corporate timber companies began to sell their land on the Plateau, and adverse forms of development emerged as an area of special concern. The 2005 announcement by Bowater Inc. that the company plans to sell approximately 100,000 acres on the Plateau is a recent example of large tracts of forest land coming on the market for the first time. At the same time, the region’s great scenic beauty has begun to attract real estate development on a far greater scale than in the past. If much of the corporate acreage should become subdivided, the fabric of the Plateau’s distinctive way of life as well as its pristine ecosystem could besignificantly impaired. These corporate lands are scattered across all the Plateau’s counties, and therefore the challenges to the Plateau’s traditions and resources are regional and require regional solutions.

Among the residents of the Cumberland Plateau corridor, there is a frequently expressed fear that their homeland could soon experience the same negative impacts of land fragmentation and sprawling development that have occurred in the rural areas of Middle and East Tennessee. There is a strong sense among these residents that something must be done now, before the character of the Plateau is changed permanently.

Fortunately, it is not too late. The Cumberland Plateau remains largely undeveloped, with its natural and cultural fabric intact. The large forest commons which has supported the region’s frontier traditions still exists, and these forests have retained their original soil structure and natural succession. The level of species diversity within the corridor remains exceptionally high. The region’s 594,000 acres of permanently protected public lands represent an important anchor for future conservation efforts. Thus the Plateau represents a rare opportunity to preserve significant natural resources as well as the region’s distinctive cultural traditions.

by Edwin Gardner

Heritage Studies Group

From the National Heritage Corridor Feasibility Study

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