Yosemite. Big Sur. The Grand Canyon.

When one thinks “wilderness” in the United States, the mind often goes to the American frontier or federal lands in the West.

But for those who live in the South, in the dense forest and mountain ranges of Appalachia, next to the greenery and historical richness of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina, or near natural wonders like Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, wilderness has a different meaning. The Southeast U.S. is one of the most biodiverse temperate regions in the world, handily beating out the Western U.S. when it comes to the number of endemic species.

But most of the Southeast’s biodiversity isn’t formally protected, and it’s at risk, thanks to a long history of development, tree farming and logging, coal mining, and the introduction of invasive species. (The American chestnut, for instance, once a prominent species throughout Appalachia, was decimated in the 1900s after the introduction of an East Asian fungus.) Ecologists and environmental advocates say that the region’s biodiversity can be saved — if we can learn to value its natural resources the way we value those of the American West.

Read the full article about protecting the Southeast by Cameron Oglesby at Grist.