The Edge of Appalachia Preserve Is Fighting For The Little Guys

At the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, tiny endangered species like the Indiana bat, green salamander, and Allegheny woodrat find space to survive and thrive.
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Photograph Courtesy United States Fish and Wildlife Service

About 90 miles east of Cincinnati, the Richard and Lucile Durrell Edge of Appalachia Preserve System is one of the most biologically diverse natural systems in the Midwest, encompassing more than 20,000 acres of rugged woodland, prairie, waterfalls, promontory overlooks, and clear streams in Adams County.

Its sheer size, and the fact that it connects to the nearly 65,000-acre Shawnee State Forest, makes it suitable for species that struggle for survival in other parts of the state, where habitats have been destroyed or segmented by human development. More than 100 rare plant and animal species make their home within the preserve system, including endangered species like the Indiana bat, green salamander, and Allegheny woodrat.

Rich McCarty was born and raised in Adams County and began working at the Edge in the mid-’80s. He was hired full-time as a land steward in 1997 and in 2014 became a naturalist working for The Nature Conservancy, which manages the system with its partners at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

It’s always a delicate balance between leaving things alone and stepping in to lend a hand, McCarty says. Conservation efforts include land acquisition, education, and restoration efforts. The Edge, for instance, has the only known population of Allegheny woodrats remaining in the state and is collaborating with researchers from nearby states to relocate woodrats in hopes of strengthening the gene pool and increasing populations.

Some of the work they do is on the forest itself. Much of the Edge was historically an oak-hickory forest, McCarty says, but in some places red maples have taken over and The Nature Conservancy has decided to remove some of them because they support a lower level of biodiversity—particularly when it comes to butterflies, moths, and caterpillars—than an oak-hickory forest. “We continue to be challenged to better understand the systems we’re working in,” McCarty says. “But science confirms that protecting large blocks of forest really makes a difference.”

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