Georgia Wildlife Resources Division
2070 U.S. Hwy. 278, SE, Social Circle, GA 30025
The Blue Ridge province includes much of north central and all of northeastern Georgia, forming some of the most dramatic terrain in the state. It occupies about 1,850 square miles, or roughly 3% of Georgias area. The Blue Ridge is composed of highly metamorphosed and deformed rocks, including some of the oldest rocks in the state. The rocks range from 400 million to over one billion years old. The topography is very rugged with many steep mountains ranging in elevation from 1,600 to over 4,700 feet. Brasstown Bald is Georgias highest point at 4,784 feet above sea level. An observation building at the summit offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, and a museum provides excellent natural and cultural history of the area. The Blue Ridge province forms the backbone of the Appalachian Mountains from North Georgia to Pennsylvania, forming the eastern continental divide, which separates watersheds draining into the Atlantic Ocean from those draining into the Gulf of Mexico.
Habitat Highlight: Cove Forest
Some of Georgias most splendid remnants of uncut forest reside in isolated mountain coves that proved inaccessible to earlier generations of loggers. Despite the mountain environs, the coves are still home to some truly massive trees and to a wonderful diversity of both plants and animals. A spring day is well spent in the cool understory of a Cove Forest, surrounded by wildflowers and serenaded by the songs of thrushes and warblers.
Mountain Cove Forests in Georgia typically are located above 3,000 feet on the cooler north slopes of mountains in the Blue Ridge. Though Cove Forests cover a tiny percent of the state, they are home to a highly diverse assemblage of plants and animals. This diversity is supported by 70 inches of precipitation annually and a temperate climate.
Georgias Cove Forests are home to many plant species in every level of the forest. The dominant canopy trees are often Basswood (Tilia heterophylla), Sugar Maple (Acer saccarum), American Beech (Fagus american) and Buckeye (Aesculus sp.). At higher elevations, more northerly trees are found, such as Yellow Birch (Betula lutea). In lower elevation coves, southern species appear, such as Umbrella, Bigleaf and Frasers magnolia (Magnolia sp.). These trees provide thick leaf litter each fall that contributes to the rich soils of the forest floor.
Despite the varied canopy trees, the most striking plant diversity is found in the herbaceous layer of the forest, which also provides the wonderful spring display of wildflowers. Species typical of the Cove Forest include False Lily-of-the-Valley (Maianthemum canadense), Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis) and Dutchmans britches (Dicentra cucullaria). Many Trillium species are also present.
Many wild flowers bloom from March until May. This early spring window, between cold weather and the period when canopy trees leaf out, is enough time for the herbaceous plants to rapidly grow, flower and produce seeds. By the time late spring arrives, many of the wildflowers will have already passed.
An economically important species, the Wild Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), is the basis of a multi-million dollar annual harvest throughout the Appalachian Mountains. The sustainability of the Wild Ginseng harvest is in question, and Ginseng poaching has become a problem in protected areas such as the Great Smoky National Park. Wild Ginseng is a perennial herb that can live up to 60 years, developing a large forked taproot with many medicinal uses. Concerns over the harvest of Wild Ginseng are based in part upon its slow growth, low reproductive rate and long life span.
The Southern Appalachians are also home to 27 species of salamanders, which is more than anywhere else in the world. Georgias cove forests provide habitat for many of these species. Rich under-story vegetation and rotting fallen logs provide excellent habitat for salamanders. Some salamanders have extremely limited distributions, such as the Pigeon Mountain Salamander (Plethodon petraeus) which is only found in limestone crevices on the sides of Pigeon Mountain.
Natural disturbances of the Cove Forests are generally rare and localized, and usually consist of high winds or insect outbreaks. Though the cool humid climate led these forests to be nicknamed asbestos forests, fires occasionally occur during droughts.
Recently human disturbances have altered the cove forest ecosystems. Logging, both selective and clear-cutting, has removed most of the largest trees. Accidentally introduced diseases have also taken their toll. We have entirely lost the American Chestnut (Castenea dentate) to Chestnut Blight. Florida Dogwoods (Cornus florida) and Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) trees are currently suffering from introduced diseases.
Georgias Cove Forests are home to our largest land mammal, the Black Bear (Ursus americanus). Black Bears in Georgia are primarily found in the mountains and the Okefenokee Swamp. They are omnivores consuming a wide range of plants, animals and even garbage. Black Bear can reach almost 500 pounds but are typically much smaller. They rarely harass people although in areas where people feed them, they can become dangerous.
Key Animals: Mountain
The cooler climate of the mountains generates habitat typical of land far to our north. Because of this pattern, the Southern Appalachians form the southern range limit of many species of plants and animals, including a number of breeding bird species.
The diverse habitats throughout the Georgia Mountains provide nesting sites for many colorful breeding birds, but Wood Warblers (Parulidae) are among the most spectacular. Though we have several species that are year-round residents, the majority of our Warblers are long distance migrants, leaving Georgia for the tropics each fall and returning in spring. Several of our most spectacular warblers nest in the mountains of north Georgia, including some rare species, such as Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) and Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera). Both of these birds are species of concern due to recent severe declines in their populations. Coupled, these two species raises an interesting management dilemma because they require quite different habitat. The Golden-winged Warbler is an early-successional species, requiring recently disturbed habitat in the mountains. Historically, blow-downs and recently burned areas provided nesting habitat for this bird. Today, regenerating clear-cuts can provide habitat for the Golden-winged warbler. The Cerulean Warbler, however, generally nests in old forests, particularly selecting large super-canopy trees for nest locations. These two species are linked by declining numbers, but they require different habitat, illustrating the complexity and often conflicting demands of wildlife management.
Habitat Highlight: Trout Streams
The cold clear water of our mountain streams offer superb habitat for cold-water fish, such as Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and the introduced Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). These fish depend on the cold water because they need high levels of oxygen that only cold water can provide. The rocks along the streambed are often crawling with aquatic invertebrates that provide much of the food for the growing trout (see stream invertebrate guide on page 49). These invertebrates typically press themselves flat to the rocks to keep from being swept downstream and breath with gills until they immerge from the water as adults. Though the cold mountain streams are not as biologically diverse as the warmer rivers further south, they provide an important source of recreation for fishermen and women.
Sites to Visit:
Fort Mountain State Park Chatsworth, (706) 695-2621
Sosebee Cove - Route 108 NE of Vogel State Park
Brasstown Bald (706) 896-2556
Vogel State Park Blairsville, (706) 745-2628
Tallulah Gorge State Park Clayton, (706) 754-7970
Smithgall Woods Conservation Area Helen (706)-878-3087
Project WILD Activities:
How Many Bears Can Live in this Forest?
Rainfall and the Forest
Changing the Land
Bird Song Survey
Rare Bird Eggs for Sale