CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has included the “Central Appalachians” in West Virginia on its recently released list of Places to Watch, but what does that mean?

TNC created the list to highlight areas where the group is working to improve conservation or thinks conservation efforts should be concentrated.

Appalachia was one of two United States destinations included on the list, partly because of its role as an “escape route” for animals and partly because of its change in industry amid the push for clean energy.

Cheat Mountain salamander (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

Mountain “Escape Route”

TCN said that when climates shift and temperatures get warmer, the Appalachian Mountains give animals a place to climb to higher, and cooler, elevations. The mountain “escape routes” allow animals to find a climate they’re adapted to without traveling super far.

“The Central Appalachians’ intact forests and varied topographies create an especially diverse network of microclimates, and in turn, a stronghold for biodiversity,” the TNC list said.

West Virginia University researchers are working on some projects in the forests that were announced in August. That research suggests that warming temperatures cause certain species, like the unique Red Spruce tree and federally threatened Cheat Mountain salamander, to overuse the mountain escape routes; in the words of researcher Donald Brown, “They’re already at the top of the mountain. There’s nowhere to go.”

Clean Energy Push

The TNC list also cited West Virginia’s declining coal industry and the need to restore old mine lands as a reason for Appalachia being included on the list.

It said that a shift in energy markets has left West Virginians “struggling to figure out how their economic future will play out,” and suggested solar energy as a possible industry for the state to utilize in the future.

Black Rock wind farm (Courtesy: Clearway Energy)

West Virginia has already shown its willingness to make up for a loss of coal energy production in other areas. Last year, the state welcomed a 115 MW wind farm to Grant and Mineral counties, and despite still being one of the nation’s top coal energy producers, West Virginia also is open to the future development of a hydrogen hub, and a researcher at WVU has discussed using shale as a possible energy source that would keep West Virginia at the top.

Other places that were on the TNC list were Emerald Edge in the U.S. and Canada; Berlin, Germany; the Amazon River Basin; Pate Island, Kenya; Gabon; Barbados; Gran Chaco, Argentina; and Mongolia’s Grasslands.