|The greater Cumberland region stretches over 400
miles from West Virginia to Alabama and represents one of the western-most
extensions of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The forests and waters
of the Cumberlands are among the most biologically rich temperate-zone systems
in the world, harboring an extraordinary number of plants, fish, mussels,
salamanders, fungi, and other species, many of which occur only in the Cumberlands,
but nowhere else. The Cumberlands also contains thousands of caves that
support one of the most diverse assemblages of cave animals on earth.
The biological importance of the Cumberlands is largely due to the unique geology of the region. Formed from the remnants of an ancient sea, the area is made of a low mountain chain (3,000-4,000 feet elevation) that is surrounded by a high plateau (~1,500 feet elevation). The Plateau is heavily eroded and contains an abundance of deep river canyons. Some of these river canyons, know as largely as "gulfs"--are nearly one thousand feet deep and contain a vast array of habitats that support an abundance of life forms.
Today, forests still cover much of the region and
high-quality habitats persist. However, many of the species and natural
communities of the greater Cumberland region are imperiled because of
increasing pressures from development and resource extraction. While some
notable conservation work has been accomplished a vast amount of work
remains to be done. The time has come for more focused efforts to protect
the unique natural and cultural features of this unique region.