Scientists and writers reflect on “habitat”


When the United Nations designated the first Monday in October of each year as World Habitat Day, the intention was for people to reflect on the state of our cities and towns and that everyone has the fundamental right to be provided with suitable accommodation.

“Shelter is my right” was the theme of the very first World Habitat Day in 1986 in Nairobi, Kenya. Here we are 35 years later, and for many who work in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the word “habitat” conjures up images of the homes of wildlife, who are also entitled to shelter.

“When I hear the word ‘habitat‘ I think of wetlands,” said Alix Pfennigwerth, a biological science technician in the Smokie Inventory and Monitoring Program.

“Wetlands are small but powerful. They are rare: they cover only one percent of the landscape of the Smokies. Yet, they provide crucially important food, water, and shelter for so many of the species we love – birds, fish, insects, mammals, frogs, salamanders, and plants.

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Of course, habitat, in the broadest sense, is simply where things live.

“It can be the soils of forests and fields, it can be the waters of a stream or river, or it can be an ancient log that slowly decomposes and provides food and cover for a variety of purposes. plants, animals and microorganisms, ”said Matt. Kulp, Supervisory Fisheries Biologist for GSMNP.

Matt Kulp, Supervisory Fisheries Biologist for GSMNP, leads a team of Trout Unlimited volunteers who collect brook trout in Cosby Creek habitat to move to the newly restored section of Lynn Camp Prong.

“Habitat isn’t always just the places we see,” he continued. “Some of the rarest species in the park live on or under the rocks of streams, in the humus layers of forests, on the bark of trees, in wetlands and even on – or inside – the body. other living organisms. “

Kulp, Pfennigwerth and their colleagues face a great challenge explaining to visitors how harmful it is to move rocks to create cairns and rocky dams in the 3,900 kilometers of beautiful streams and rivers in the park. Many aquatic species, including some threatened and federally endangered fish and salamanders, live and nest under rocks. When a nesting rock is disturbed, these vulnerable creatures are forced to abandon their homes. Think how it would feel if someone turned your house upside down!

“Many creatures, including humans, can live in a wide range of habitats,” said Todd Witcher, executive director of Discover Life in America, a nonprofit partner park documenting the diversity of Smokies. “When you start looking at things that have very specific requirements for survival, the habitat becomes extremely complex. For example, I have always been fascinated by species of plants and animals that require a moist but well-drained habit. It is difficult to get wet without standing water; seepage, however, creates this habitat. Some mosses and the beautiful, shiny mushroom fly larvae require such habitats to survive.

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Todd Witcher, Executive Director of Discover Life in America, teaches community scientists how to collect and identify species during a bioblitz.

Elly Wells of Asheville provides public relations services to a multitude of regional conservation clients, including the Great Smoky Mountains Association. “Living in the southern Appalachians and working on communications related to public lands and regional land reserves, I am reminded daily that the backbone of our mountain habitat is its diversity,” she said. “As the vast number of types of communities and species cry out ‘Abundance! “The growing threats to our water and our land cry out” Protection! – by specifying the need for increased education and awareness of habitat preservation.

Korrin Bishop is a freelance writer whose passions for the great outdoors took her to the Great Smoky Mountains after living among the redwoods of California, the badlands of South Dakota and the Everglades of Florida.

Korrin Bishop, a freelance writer who was drawn to Smokies after living near other national parks, enjoying the habitat at Rocky Top along the Appalachian Trail in GSMNP.

“For me, ‘habitat’ expresses what it takes to thrive and belong to a place,” she said. “While writing about Smokies during my first two years living here, I learned what different species need in their habitats to survive and how subtle changes in elevation, temperature or human impact can determine if these species continue to call a particular habitat their home. Now, as I walk the trails in the park, continuing to find my own sense of belonging to this region, I see these species as my role model for how to adapt and grow in changing times and spaces.

Bishop was a writer in residence in 2020 at the Sundress Academy for the Arts in Knoxville. She is now a regular contributor to the Great Smoky Mountains Association’s “Smokies Life” magazine and has written for “Sierra” magazine and “Fodor’s Travel”, among others.

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Three generations before Bishop, another writer began to interpret the habitats and inhabitants of the Smokies in the 1970s. George Ellison, whose “Nature Journal” has long been a staple of the Asheville Citizen Times, has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Her and Janet McCue’s book “Back of Beyond: A Horace Kephart Biography” (2019, Great Smoky Mountains Association) won the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award two years ago.

“To me, the designation ‘habitat’ implies a distinctive ‘natural area’ within which a given set of plants, animals and landforms living in harmony can be anticipated,” said Ellison. “Such places can also serve as ‘places of refuge’ for us human creatures, as long as we value and protect them. “

George Ellison, whose

Frances Figart is the editor-in-chief of “Smokies Life” magazine and the director of creative services for the 29,000-member Great Smoky Mountains Association, a non-profit educational partner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Learn more about and contact the author at [email protected]


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