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Southern Blue Ridge: An Analysis of Matrix Forests

Megan Sutton

Southern Blue Ridge Forest Matrix Block Analysis


Executive Summary

Full Report

All Maps

Individual Block Reports

Individual Block Notes

Final Block Shapefile 

Recorded Webinar Explaining Process and Results (56:00)*

Video Explaining Project (8 minutes)

 The Southern Blue Ridge (SBR) Ecoregion’s forested landscape (portions of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) is comprised of intact temperate forest over a diversity of landforms, elevation zones, and bedrock geologies, making it one of the most biologically-diverse areas in North America. This region contains several of the few remaining mega-blocks of relatively unfragmented forest in the eastern United States, supporting the highest diversity of salamanders in the world, a tremendous diversity of tree and herbaceous species, and very high densities of forest breeding birds. These large contiguous forests provide fundamental ecosystem services that sustain underlying natural processes, ensuring the continued persistence of plant and animal populations as well as the provisioning, regulating, and cultural ecosystem services on which humans depend (e.g., quality drinking water, flood control).  From a global perspective, the Southern Blue Ridge forested landscape is a huge and irreplaceable ecosystem recovering from regional-scale deforestation. These reestablished forests are facing compounding and interacting threats due to increased human population, forest fragmentation, pests and pathogens, soil acidification and global climate change.

Previous efforts by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and its partners identified priority SBR conservation locations, focusing largely on occurrences of rare species and communities at the scale of individual patches; however, the scope and magnitude of today’s conservation challenges mean that we must expand our focus to include landscapes and strategies beyond a protected network of preserves. The process and results of the Southern Blue Ridge Matrix Forest Analysis, completed in 2011, which identified a representative network of matrix-forming forest reserves (i.e., “matrix forests”), large and contiguous enough to maintain key ecosystem processes and services, resilience, and movement of organisms can be found in this report. In 2011, TNC staff from Eastern North America Division Science and five state operating units (with significant contributions from several state and regional partners) completed a four-step analysis process to identify priority SBR matrix forests, involving:

  1. delineating matrix forest blocks (discrete blocks of contiguous forest, using roads and other fragmenting features in GIS),
  2. screening each matrix forest block for size and condition using land cover and size criteria, related to disturbance and species’ needs,
  3. classifying the matrix forest blocks into representative forest landscape types, using elevation, geology and landforms (Ecological Land Units), and
  4. evaluating and prioritizing a network of functional matrix forest blocks representative of the diversity of ecoregional forest landscape types, using additional data and expert review.

*A webinar was held on Tuesday, June 4 from 2:00-3:30 EST to explain this report's findings. The presentation is approximately 1 hour long; however there is a brief technical difficulty recorded from *8:00-12:00, please feel free to fast forward this section.


  • The Nature Conservancy: Mark Anderson, Eastern Region Science Director, (617) 532-8354, manderson@tnc.org.
  • The Nature Conservancy: John Prince, Eastern Region Conservation Information Manager, (919) 484-7857, jprince@tnc.org.
  • The Nature Conservancy: Megan Sutton, Southern Blue Ridge Program Director (NC), (828) 350-1431, msutton@tnc.org.
  • The Nature Conservancy:  Angela Watland, Conservation Planning Associate (VA), (276) 676-2209, awatland@tnc.org.


Citation:  Anderson, M., Prince, J., Ray, D., Sutton, M., and Watland, A. 2013. Southern Blue Ridge: an Analysis of Matrix Forests. The Nature Conservancy. pp. 51. http://www.conservationgateway.org/Files/Pages/SouthernBlueRidgeAnAnalysisofMatrixForests.aspx