The most diverse salamander habitat on Earth threatened by North Carolina highway expansion

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is proposing to widen NC Highway 191 in Asheville, a two-lane road near Bent Creek and the French Broad River. The area contains wetlands that are home to the most diverse salamander habitat on the planet, including the best habitat for an extremely rare lineage of the Four-toed salamander. Southern Appalachia is home to more species of salamander than any other country in the world and they are strongest in the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. The stretch of wetland along Highway 191 has been identified by researchers as holding the record for the most salamander species living together in a single location. Salamanders are very sensitive and a change in habitat could result in loss of species from the site. If you would like to share your comments about the expansion with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, send an email to Ahmad Al-Sharawneh (aalsharawneh@ncdot.gov) and Robin Pugh (rpugh@rkk.com).

U.S. life expectancy drops for third year in a row

Life expectancy across the globe is, on average, trending upward. But three reports published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in the United States, Americans’ life expectancy has declined for the third year in a row. The drop represents the longest sustained decline since the period between 1915-1918 when World War I raged and the 1918 flu pandemic exploded. Today, the drivers in life expectancy decline are drug overdoses, which took over 70,000 lives in 2017, and suicide, which claimed over 47,000 lives during the same period. The CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement, “Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable.”

Free sampler hike series opens in Western North Carolina

A day hike program in Buncombe County is hoping to get more people out on the trails this spring and summer. The county’s Sampler Hike Series will lead hikers on six popular Western North Carolina trails on Saturday and Sunday mornings throughout the spring and summer. The hikes are easy to moderate and vary in distance. Well-behaved dogs on a leash are welcome to join. The series kicks off on April 27 on the Snowball Trail, a moderately strenuous three-mile hike off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hikers should meet at the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area and look for the hike leader who will be easily identified as a Buncombe County Recreation Services team member. The hike begins at 10am and ends by 12:30pm.