Great Smoky Mountains National Park

United States of America (USA)
Inscribed in
1983
Criteria
(vii)
(viii)
(ix)
(x)
Designation
Biosphere reserve

Stretching over more than 200,000 ha, this exceptionally beautiful park is home to more than 3,500 plant species, including almost as many trees (130 natural species) as in all of Europe. Many endangered animal species are also found there, including what is probably the greatest variety of salamanders in the world. Since the park is relatively untouched, it gives an idea of temperate flora before the influence of humankind. © UNESCO

Summary

2017 Conservation Outlook

Finalised on
09 Nov 2017
Good with some concerns
The park is well managed despite a number of major challenges and threats that will continue to require attention. External threats, i.e., exotic species, air pollution, long term climate change, and future fiscal funding are hard to predict, but would still seem to pose the biggest risk to the Outstanding Universal Value of the site. Some scenic values have been impacted by Hemlock and Ash die off as a result of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid and the Emerald Ash Borer. Generally speaking however, biodiversity remains high. Strong research and monitoring programs and close partnerships with a range of government and non-government organizations will help park managers understand and mitigate existing and potential threats.

Current state and trend of VALUES

Low Concern
Trend
Stable
Except for the exotic insects that have caused large scale destruction to the Hemlock and Ash stands throughout the park, the assessment is generally positive at the present time. Looking toward the future, fiscal funding, exotic species, air pollution and on-going climate change pose the most serious threats to the park.

Overall THREATS

High Threat
Overall the park resources are effectively managed and protected. However, there are a significant number of current threats that fall into the high threat category. These threats originated or currently come from outside the park, including air pollution and numerous plant and animal invasives (insects, trout, wild pigs etc.).
The threat of the Emerald Ash Borer is rated as high.

Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT

Effective
Very effective at present. The park has strong relationships with non-profit and volunteer organizations. The park also has very well-developed research and monitoring programs, and good educational and interpretive programs. A large area of the park is managed as wilderness though not yet federally designated as such. The park has successfully responded to air quality issues and worked to address the threat of North Shore Road, will not be constructed. However, there is a real threat that budget cuts will interfere with the effectiveness of park resource management and protection in the future, including education programs.

Full assessment

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Finalised on
09 Nov 2017

Description of values

Exceptional natural beauty

Criterion
(vii)
The site is of exceptional natural beauty with scenic vistas of characteristic mist-shrouded (“smoky”) mountains, vast stretches of virgin timber, and clear running streams (WHC website). Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most pristine natural areas in the eastern U.S., offering park visitors breathtaking mountain scenery, including panoramic views of misty peaks, clear flowing mountain streams, and mature hardwood forests stretching to the horizon. The Park encompasses 800 square miles of pristine natural areas with peaks that range from elevations of 875 feet to 6,643 feet, including 16 peaks over 6000 feet in elevation.

Outstanding example of the diverse Arcto-Tertiary geoflora era

Criterion
(viii)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is of world importance as the outstanding example of the diverse Arcto-Tertiary geoflora era, providing an indication of what the late Pleistocene flora looked like before recent human impacts (WHC website). The Great Smoky Mountains are believed to be 200-300 million years old; making them among the oldest mountains in the world. During the last (Pleistocene) ice age, about 10,000 years ago, the glaciers that scoured much of North America allowed for the migration of species into the Smoky Mountains and because of the unique northeast to southwest orientation of the mountains the glaciers did not invade the Smoky Mountains. This created not only unique mountain features, but also a vast diversity of flora and fauna that we see today. (IUCN 1982)

Significant example of continuing biological evolution

Criterion
(ix)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest remaining remnants of the diverse Arcto-Tertiary geoflora era in the world, providing a good indication of the appearance of late Pleistocene flora. 30% of the forested landscape of the park is ancient old growth forest.The Park is large enough to be a significant example of continuing biological evolution of this natural system and is of the one of the most ecologically rich and diverse temperate zone protected areas in the world (World Heritage Committee).

Diversity of Flora and Fauna

Criterion
(x)
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most biologically diverse parks in a temperate climate (WH website).
Animals: Research indicates that there are 65 species of mammals, over 200 varieties of birds, 50 native fish species, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians in the Park. The Park is also home to the world’s greatest diversity of salamander species (31) - an important indicator of overall ecosystem health - and is the center of diversity for lungless salamanders, with 24 species.Within the boundaries of the Park there are a number of threatened or endangered species; including 3 mammals, 3 fish, and 1 arthropod. In addition, there are 15 animal species listed as Federal Species of Concern found in the Park (GSMP 2012).
Plants: An average of 85” of rainfall annually, the variations in elevation, temperature, and geology provide ideal habitat for over 1,600 species of flowering plants, including 100 native tree species and over 100 native shrub species - a level of floristic diversity that rivals or exceeds other temperate zone protected areas of similar size In addition the park has a vast number of non-flowering plants, including 450 bryophytes-mosses, liverworts, and a few hornworts. Non-flowering species also include some 50 ferns and fern allies and at least one horsetail. There are three federally listed threatened and endangered plant species, and in addition over 300 species of native vascular plants are considered rare (GSMP 2012)

Assessment information

High Threat
Overall the park resources are effectively managed and protected. However, there are a significant number of current threats that fall into the high threat category. Invasive alien species in particular, that of plants and invertebrates (Emerald Ash Borer) pose significant threats to the ecosystem.
Marine/ Freshwater Aquaculture
Low Threat
Inside site
Rainbow and Brown Trout, introduced from outside the park are competing with native Brook Trout. (Moore et al. 2005)
Other Biological Resource Use
Low Threat
Inside site
, Scattered(5-15%)
High annual visitation (11.3 million recreational visitors in 2016 (NPS, 2017)) cause impacts to trails, campgrounds, roads, and other park facilities. Current funding does not allow the proper level of personnel to adequately address both front-country and back-country resource and visitor management issues
Other
High Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
The high population of wild hogs, which are descended from Russian wild boars introduced outside the park for sport hunting decades ago, in the park creates resource damage, competition with native animals for food, introduces diseases, and creates a potential threat to public safety. However, the adjacent State of Tennessee has recently changed the status of these hogs from a sporting animal to "pest" allowing greater reduction in the population (NPS, 2016).
Air Pollution
High Threat
Outside site
Air pollutants from power plants, industry, and automobiles outside the park, though reduced by 70% from levels in decades past, continue to cause impacts for scenic views, increasing the pH in high elevation streams and soils, and damaging plants. Some18% of park streams are currently too acidic to support fish and other aquatic life. Air-borne ammonia, from near-by hog farms and cattle feed lots, is adversely affecting aquatic insects, such as dragonflies, and thus enters the food chain (NPS, 2016).
Invasive Non-Native/ Alien Species
Very High Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
There are over 380 non-native plant species in the park, 35 of those are aggressive and pose a threat to the park’s ecosystems. At least 8 of these species are prolific in the park (Japanese Grass, Privet, Multiflora Rose, Japanese Honeysuckle, Mimosa Garlic Mustard, Oriental Bittersweet, Musk Thistle), and present a significant threat to the ecosystem (NPS 2004, 2016).
Fire/ Fire Suppression
High Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
The invasive Hemlock Woolly Adelgids, first identified to be in the park in 2002, killed a large portion of the Eastern Hemlock trees in the park. However, new growth of hemlocks has begun in these areas of the park. Research is onging to monitor and determine long-term effects of this invasive alien species (NPS, 2016).
Other
High Threat
Inside site
, Scattered(5-15%)
The balsam woolly adelgids were first discovered in the Smokies in the early 1960’s, between then and 1990 the park lost over 90% of its mature fir forest from these insects. The park began a study on the surviving trees in 1990 on 36 high elevation peaks to determine the condition and the effects of the adelgids these remaining trees. In recent years some new growth of fir tress has begun in the park (NPS, 2015).
Invasive Non-Native/ Alien Species
Very High Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
The park's population of the endangered Indiana Bat has been reduced by some 80% due to die off caused by white-nose syndrome, a fungus. Heretofore, the park's White Oak Sink cave has been the largest hybernacular for this species on the East coast of the US.
Tourism/ Recreation Areas
Low Threat
Inside site
, Scattered(5-15%)
Commercial air tours over national parks are intended to be controlled or prohibited by an Air Tour Management Plan, developed jointed by the NPS and the Federal Aviation Administration. However none exists for this park and such "tours" are a growing concern with helicopters tours advertised locally between Pigeon Forge, TN and Cherokee, NC, crossing the park and adversely affecting natural quiet, and increasing noise intrusion on the visitor experience.
Invasive Non-Native/ Alien Species
High Threat
Inside site
, Scattered(5-15%)
Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect that creates large scale mortality to all species of Ash, and has begun to kill Ash trees in the Great Smoky Mountains NP on a large scale. Chemical treatment by park staff is benefiting some 20,000 trees per year in old growth stands and in park developed areas.
Low Threat
Didymosphenia geminata pose a potential threat to the property but is not yet found inside the property and active monitoring protocol is in place. Balsam fir are beginning to recover from the adverse impacts of the woolly adelgids in past years.
Other
Low Threat
Outside site
Didymosphenia geminata, commonly known as Didymo or “rock snot” is an alga that grows in many North American freshwater streams. Although it is not found in the park at present, there is an active monitoring protocol in place to detect it. Once established in streams it forms extensive mats on stream beds, and chokes out other aquatic life. Didymo is not presently known to be in the Smokies, but is found in all tailwater streams in eastern Tennessee. The alga easily attaches to the felt soles of fisherman’s wading shoes and is readily introduced into other streams.
Overall the park resources are effectively managed and protected. However, there are a significant number of current threats that fall into the high threat category. These threats originated or currently come from outside the park, including air pollution and numerous plant and animal invasives (insects, trout, wild pigs etc.).
The threat of the Emerald Ash Borer is rated as high.
Relationships with local people
Highly Effective
Key stakeholders, including the Friends of the Smokies, and the Great Smoky Mountain Association, are supportive of the park. The Smokies has one of the highest number of volunteers of any National Park, 2,269 volunteers donated 117,306 hours in Fiscal Year 2016 (NPS, 2017).
Legal framework
Some Concern
The legal framework under which the park operates is highly effective. The existing law enforcement effort is also effective, but current and anticipated budget reductions limit the park’s ability to patrol and enforce laws and regulations, and to protect park resources and visitors. (NPCA 2004)
Enforcement
Some Concern
Cuts on the park's operating budget in recent years have reduced the number of field law enforcement rangers on the park staff, with the result that most patrols are limited to the paved roads of the park, and thus backcountry and boundary encroachment concerns go unmet.
Integration into regional and national planning systems
Highly Effective
Park management has extensive partnerships and close working relationships with County, State and Federal agencies beyond the National Park Service, especially focused on collaborative regional management through the Southern Appalachian Man & the Biosphere Committee (SAMAB)(NPS 2008).
Management system
Highly Effective
Existing Park management system is highly effective.
Management effectiveness
Highly Effective
Park management is highly effective. Park has a large and very active Science and Resource Management Division with active programs in vegetation, wildlife, fisheries, insect, air quality, fire ecology and fire management. Other active programs include All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, endangered species research and management, invasive species research and management, and re-introduction programs including the successful re-introductions of river otter, Elk, Peregrine Falcon, and three species of small fish. In addition, the Park also operates the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob for the promotion of scientific research and education (NPCA 2004, NPS 2008).
Implementation of Committee decisions and recommendations
Highly Effective
Very effective. The State Party was commended for its responsiveness with respect to air quality issues (World Heritage Committee, 2002) as well as for its work to address the threat North Shore Road construction into a wild, undeveloped area of the park (World Heritage Committee, 2006).
Boundaries
Some Concern
Park Boundaries are somewhat well established, even though some sections have never been surveyed; some sections of the boundary may need re-posting. Keeping boundary lines cleared and posted takes a considerable amount of time, but current funding and staffing does not allow for this work to be carried out.
Sustainable finance
Some Concern
Annual budgets rise and fall with different administrations. In the past several years, with the assistance of excellent partners, the Park has generally been able to sufficiently maintain the site’s values. As the federal government seeks to balance its budget, this may become increasingly difficult.
However, the ever shrinking Park budget continues to create management challenges, causing some programs to remain underfunded. While the park cannot collect visitor entrance fees, it does receive and retain funding from backcountry usage and from camping. NPS 2016 Foundation Document (NPCA 2004, NPS 2008)
Staff training and development
Some Concern
Funding provides for all mandatory training, but does not allow adequate training needed to train personnel in all elements of their job; especially where lodging and per diem is required. Consequently most training is provided via on-line instruction, rather than classroom. (NPCA 2004)
Sustainable use
Effective
Tourism is the largest sustainable use in the park and the surrounding counties. However, lack of funding threatens some of the programs, i.e., education, maintenance, and resource management, and without the present level of support from partner organizations these programs would be threatened for further reduction. (NPS 2008)
Education and interpretation programs
Effective
As described above, federal funding does not adequately support education and interpretive programs.
Tourism and visitation management
Effective
The communities surrounding the park consider tourism to be the number one source of economic income; unlike most other US national parks, Great Smoky Mountains NP does not provide commercial services inside the park, rather relying of adjacent communities to provide park visitors with needed services. Education/interpretive programs in the park support economic development by enhancing the visitor experience and extending stays.
Monitoring
Effective
The park has numerous monitoring programs ongoing. In particular, the park has adopted a "Vital Signs" monitoring protocol, focused on six key factors to indicate park health - acid deposition, vegetative communities, soil quality, water chemistry, freshwater communities, and climate change.
Research
Effective
There is a vibrant research program in the park with numerous research permits issued annually. For example, over the past decade, the park's all-taxa biological inventory has identified a total of 19,363 species in the park, including 9187 species new to the park, and 983 species new to science.
Very effective at present. The park has strong relationships with non-profit and volunteer organizations. The park also has very well-developed research and monitoring programs, and good educational and interpretive programs. A large area of the park is managed as wilderness though not yet federally designated as such. The park has successfully responded to air quality issues and worked to address the threat of North Shore Road, will not be constructed. However, there is a real threat that budget cuts will interfere with the effectiveness of park resource management and protection in the future, including education programs.
Assessment of the effectiveness of protection and management in addressing threats outside the site
Some Concern
Assessment of the threats is generally effective, but there are many legal and fiscal restraints that limit the extent of mitigation.
Best practice examples
There are numerous examples of best management practices in the park. Examples are the Elk Re-introduction program, Restoration of native Brook Trout, prescribed fire management, wild hog reduction program, bear management, education and interpretive programs, and resource and visitor protection programs.
World Heritage values

Exceptional natural beauty

High Concern
Trend
Improving
Scenic values have been adversely impacted by heavy mortality of Hemlock trees caused by the exotic insect Hemlock Woolly Aldelgid, though some recent rnew growth of hemlocks has been noted, and from visibility impairment caused by fossil fuel plants and automobiles outside the park. Other current major impacts include the Emerald Ash Borer, which has caused high mortality of native ash trees in the park. Current steps are being taken to address pollution from sources outside the park, and the Tennessee Valley Authority will be phasing out some of the higher emission power plants in the region (NPCA 2011).

Outstanding example of the diverse Arcto-Tertiary geoflora era

Good
Trend
Stable
Except for occasional rock slides, usually during thawing and rainy periods, these values appear stable.

Significant example of continuing biological evolution

Low Concern
Trend
Stable
The 390,500 acres (out of 522,370 acres in the entire park) that Congress recommended be officially designated as Wilderness have not yet been designated by law, but are nonetheless managed in much the same way as an officially designated wilderness area. Now that the North Shore Road will not be built, it is more likely that official Wilderness designation could be revisited. Again, however, budget is a threat in this category. With the high visitation in the front country requiring more focused management, the backcountry areas will most likely receive a lower priority for management. . Nonetheless, and despite a range of threats, the Park benefits from a high degree of intactness.

Diversity of Flora and Fauna

High Concern
Trend
Stable
There is a loss of some native species from poaching (Ginseng, Trillium, and other flowering and medicinal plants), and exotic pests (especially Hemlock Woolly Aldelgid) and other introduced insect pest that may threaten in the future pose a major threat. (NPCA 2004) but biodiversity remains very high in the park.
Assessment of the current state and trend of World Heritage values
Low Concern
Trend
Stable
Except for the exotic insects that have caused large scale destruction to the Hemlock and Ash stands throughout the park, the assessment is generally positive at the present time. Looking toward the future, fiscal funding, exotic species, air pollution and on-going climate change pose the most serious threats to the park.

Additional information

Outdoor recreation and tourism,
Natural beauty and scenery
This is the most visited National Park in the Nation, and is the key economic stimulus for the local communities.
Factors negatively affecting provision of this benefit
Climate change
Impact level - High
Trend - Increasing
Pollution
Impact level - High
Trend - Continuing
Overexploitation
Impact level - Moderate
Trend - Continuing
Invasive species
Impact level - High
Trend - Increasing
With 800 miles of trails available to park visitors, the property is a destination for outdoor recreation activities for visitors from across the USA and around the world. The quality of visitor experience is influenced by numerous factors including the extent of air and water pollution, visibility, and crowding. While developed areas of the park are overcrowded in the peak visitor season, backcountry trails are seldom overused, and remain a major attraction for visitors.
Contribution to education
Education is a key component of the park values, from in-park education/interpretive programs, to higher education and research programs for colleges and universities. In addition, the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont Institute, a non-profit organization that provides education programs to promote the ecological, cultural, and stewardship of the GSMNP.
Outdoor recreation and tourism
With about 10 million visitors annually the Smoky Mountains is the most visited National Park in the NPS, it directly and indirectly generates and supports millions of dollars and thousands of jobs for the local and regional economy.
Importance for research
The park serves as a benchmark for contrasting the character of largely pristine environments and disturbed areas outside the park boundaries, as well as monitoring long term effects, such as air and water quality, exotic pests and climate change.
Organization/ individuals Project duration Brief description of Active Projects
1 Park staff Park Superintendent
2 Park staff Chief, Science and Resource Management: Division chief, manages all projects concerning science and resource management in the park.
3 Park staff Chief, Resource Education: Division chief, manages all resource education programs in the park.
4 Park staff Chief, Resource and Visitor Protection: Division chief, manages all resource and visitor protection issues in the park.
Site need title Brief description of potential site needs Support needed for following years
1 N.A. Park research needs are listed on the park web page www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/science_needs.htm

References

References
1 DLiA (2012) Discover Life in America, All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory.
All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI) (2012), Discover Life In America. <http://www.dlia.org/&gt;. Accessed March 2013.
2 IUCN (1982) World Heritage Nomination - IUCN Technical Evaluation, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (United States of America). Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. <http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/259/documents/&gt;.
3 NPS (2003) National Park Service Great Smoky Mountains National Park Briefing Statement: Non-native wild hog control. <http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/upload/wildhog.pdf&gt;.
4 NPS (2004) National Park Service Briefing Statement: Response to Exotic Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Infestation, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. January 28, 2004. <http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/upload/HWA-04.pdf&gt;.
5 NPS (2008) Strategic Plan for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. October 1, 2008 – September 30, 2012. <http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/upload/2008strategicplanpm…;.
6 NPS (2014) National Park Service: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Nature and Science. <http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/index.htm&gt;.
7 NPS (2015) National Park Service: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Pest and Disease Monitoring. <http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/dff109-pest.htm&gt;.
8 NPS (2016) Foundation Document: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee. October 2016. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. <https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/management/upload/GRSM_FD_SP…;.
9 NPS (2017) National Park Service: Parks Statistics for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. <https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/management/statistics.htm&gt;. Accessed 11 August 2017.
10 Stephen E. Moore, Matt A. Kulp, John Hammonds, and Bruce Rosenlund (2005) Restoration of Sam’s Creek and an Assessment of Brook Trout Restoration Methods, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior Water Resources Division, Natural Resource Program Center. Technical Report NPS/NRWRD/NRTR-2005/342 http://www.nature.nps.gov/water/fisheries/assets/reports/gr…
11 World Heritage Committee (2002) Decision 26 COM 21B.27 Great Smoky Mountains National Park (United States of America). Budapest, Hungary. <http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/259/documents/&gt;.
12 World Heritage Committee (2006) Decision 30 COM 7B.27 Great Smoky Mountains National Park (United States of America). Vilnius,
Lithuania. <http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/259/documents/&gt;.
13 World Heritage Committee (n.d.) Great Smoky Mountains National Park Statement of Significance (United States of America). <http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/259/&gt;.