Roan Massif and the Race to Preserve it
The Roan Massif, which includes the longest continuous stretch of high-mountain grassy balds in the Southern Appalachians, sits along the borders of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Also Roan Massif contains in one of the most dense stands of coniferous forests in the southern Appalachians, and most notably, the world’s largest natural rhododendron garden. The combination of geology, topography and climate results in one of the most diverse displays of plant and animal species in the entire Southern Appalachian range. The Roan Massif is home to a host of threatened and endangered plants like the beautiful Gray’s lily, Roan Mountain bluet and spreading avens. Many other rare species, from the pygmy salamander, spruce-fir moss spider, and the northern saw-whet owl, add to its natural abundance. The Roan Massif is globally-rare, critically imperiled plant communities with a global rank of G1, the rarest ranking available.
Over the past 100+ years the forests have been encroaching on the open grassy balds. Threatening to erase these wonderful sky islands from their very existence. Botanists like Jamey Donaldson, Project Coordinator and research botanist, believe that the decline of the balds is due to changes in soil and climate and the loss of large herbivores, all of these factors make them more welcoming to the woody plant incursions such as the main target, the Canada blackberry. Estimates suggest that more than 75% of Roan’s Grassy Balds have disappeared in less than 100 years with most of the loss occurring in the last 50 years.
The Baa-tany Goat Project uses Angora goats as a surrogate for the absent herbivores and also offers the scientific study of the program. This experimental program is operating under a special use permit and volunteer agreement with the USDA Forest Service. Goats were chosen because they prefer to eat woody plants rather than the grasses. The goats are restoring a natural process that has been absent on the balds for decades.
Angoras are a fiber goat (source of mohair) rather than a meat or dairy goat. More than half of the goats were donated by a northern Virginia woman who preferred giving her friends a retirement plan rather than sending them to market and ultimately being slaughter. Todd Eastin, a partner in this project, donated the remaining goats. All the goats that went up on the balds are guaranteed a retirement plan and will be taken care of for the rest of their lives.
The success of this programs relies on good research and the funding to sustain the welfare of the main subjects, the Angoras. Oh, and we don’t want to forget the wonderful caretakers and security guards of the goats, brothers Ian and Baxter, the resident Great Pyrenees. Please feel free to visit the Angoras, Ian and Baxter, Todd and Jamey. Also, please visit www.friendsofroanmtn.org and adopt one or even more of the Angoras. Even though the program has sponsors and received grants it is not enough to ensure that the program will continue. The Baa-tany Goat Program needs your help so please visit the Friends of Roan website, download and fill out the adoption form, write a check and send it in. Lets insure the continuation of this great program to restore and maintain the wonderful Roan balds for generations to come.