Big Ivy: A Special Biological Area

Big Ivy is the name of the geographic region at the headwaters of Big Ivy Creek in Buncombe County, NC that encompasses almost 14,000 acres (1.3%) of Pisgah National Forest.  Big Ivy is known for its rich forests, which are habitat to over 30 species of rare plants and animals. The area was one of the early purchases of Pisgah National Forest, and that fact, combined with the rugged terrain makes it home to over 4,000 acres of old-growth forest, one of the largest, and highest quality concentrations of old-growth in the region. Big Ivy’s 3,300’ elevation gradient should allow for many species to move upslope to adapt to climate change, making the prospect of maintaining much of the current biodiversity into the next century likely.   

In 1992, biologist Karin Heiman authored a proposal for an “Ivy River Biodiversity Reserve”. In the 1994 Amendment to the 1987 Forest Plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Big Ivy was noted as a potential Special Biological Area. The Forest Service promised to study the issue and consider a special designation for Big Ivy in the next Forest Plan Revision.  Twenty years have passed and we are now in the midst of that next Forest Plan Revision.  In the next eight months, alternatives will be developed that will be foundational to the Forest Planning process. Changes will be made in 2016, but those changes are likely to be small tweaks. There will not be another opportunity like this for at least 15 years.

In order to properly manage Big Ivy for its high biological values, MountainTrue and Friends of Big Ivy are once again calling for Big Ivy to be managed as a Special Biological Area during this plan revision. There is popular support in the local community for this idea and the scientific case is already strong. However, we believe that there are many rare species occurrences that are not documented that would strengthen the argument for special management. In particular, the rich and mature forests of Big Ivy would seem to be good cerulean warbler (Setophaga cerulea) habitat.  On May 7th, 2015, Mountain True Biologist Josh Kelly documented the first record for cerulean warbler on Forest Service Lands in Big Ivy. 

MountainTrue is hiring professional ornithologists and biologists to survey portions of Big Ivy for rare species – especially cerulean warblers. The data collected will bolster the case for protection and help identify what special management considerations there may be for the area.  We are asking for donations to reach our modest fundraising goal of $3,000 for this project. Donations of any amount would be helpful. All rare species locations will be submitted to the Forest Service and to the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program and be incorporated into a final document making the case for special management for Big Ivy. 

Send donations marked Big Ivy Bird Surveys to:


29 N. Market St. Suite 610

Asheville, NC 28801

Or donate online at:  and check the box for “Big Ivy Surveys”