Overview: The Proposed Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to protect Southern Appalachian Mountain bogs, one of the nation’s rarest and most imperiled plant and wildlife habitats, through the creation of the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge.
This follows years of effort to conserve these areas on the part of the Service, other conservation organizations, and individual citizens. The proposed refuge would eventually include up to 23,478 acres scattered across as many as 30 sites in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Clay, Graham, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Transylvania, Wilkes, and Watauga counties, North Carolina; and Carter and Johnson counties, Tennessee.
The proposed Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge has numerous goals:
- Protect some of the last remaining examples of Southern Appalachian bogs.
- Conserve habitat for migratory birds, including several of conservation importance, such as golden-winged warbler, Swainson’s warbler, and yellow-bellied sapsucker.
- Protect habitat for multiple federally threatened and endangered species. These include the mountain sweet pitcher plant, green pitcher plant, bunched arrowhead, swamp pink, and North America’s smallest turtle, the bog turtle. Protecting the habitat of these plants and animals would be an important step in preventing their extinction.
- Protect breeding and migration habitat for the American woodcock, a game bird which has seen dramatic declines in recent years.
- Where compatible, provide increased opportunities for wildlife-oriented recreation such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, education, and interpretation on land now generally closed to the public.
A unique place
Mountain bogs are among the rarest and most imperiled habitats in the United States. They’re typically small and widely scattered across the landscape, often isolated from other wetlands.
These areas are recognized hotspots for biodiversity and contain numerous rare and declining plant and animal species. Seventeen bog species are either federally listed under the Endangered Species Act or are species of conservation concern. Additionally mountain bogs offer essential feeding, wintering and nesting habitat for numerous migratory bird species of national or regional conservation concern.
Bogs provide food and shelter for many important game species, including furbearers such as mink, muskrat, raccoon, and beaver, and game birds such as rails, woodcock, ruffed grouse, turkey, and wood duck. In the winter, when plants in drier areas have withered, these mountain wetlands are a source of food for turkey and grouse. Bogs are breeding habitat for many species of amphibians, especially salamanders, for which the Southern Appalachians have the greatest diversity in the nation.
In addition to providing specialized habitat, bogs provide important services to humans and animals downstream. Bogs possess a natural capacity for regulating water flow, holding floodwaters like giant sponges then slowly releasing the water to minimize the effects of droughts and floods. Mountain wetlands play an important role in many aquatic food chains, and contribute to the productivity and good water quality needed by downstream fishes, including native brook trout.
Bogs are usually found on fairly flat terrain where water has pooled at or near the surface. Water sources for bogs, which can originate at considerable distances from the actual bogs, must be protected in order to preserve the well-being of the bog as many bog plants and animals are sensitive to water quality and flow patterns. For example, sphagnum or peat moss is exceptionally nutrient sensitive and can be destroyed by excessive nutrient run‑off in the form of fertilizer or livestock excrement. Because sphagnum acts as a living sponge - maintaining stable water levels and forming the peat other plants grow on - it’s a key species in mountain bogs.
The public and mountain bogs today
Bogs have long been recognized for their biological importance and numerous organizations have sought to protect these lands. Some are privately owned by conservation organizations. Some are owned by state and federal agencies, including sites purchased to mitigate for wetland impacts elsewhere. However, the vast majority of mountain bog sites are owned by private individuals, some of whom have already expressed an interest in protection efforts.
The Service will work with communities and willing landowners to determine which sites would be part of the refuge. Including these lands in the National Wildlife Refuge system would help ensure their protection, both as a place where rare plants and animals could thrive, but also as a place where the public could enjoy the wildlife of Western North Carolina, including hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching.
Mountain Bogs National Wildife Refuge
160 Zillicoa St.
Asheville, NC 28801
Bog conservation discussion at the restored Ochlawaha Bog. Credit: USFWS/Gary Peeples