Study Points to Urgency for Land and Water Conservation Funding

A new study by RTI International (RTI), a nonprofit research institute, makes the case for increasing public land and water conservation funding in North Carolina. “The Time is Now: An Assessment of Conservation Funding Needs in North Carolina,” says that projected growth will lead to the loss of 2 million acres of undeveloped land in the next three decades. It also points to the role that undeveloped lands play in flood protection, buffering of mission-critical military bases, and providing places for people to recreate. That recreation need was particularly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic when state parks experienced record attendance and the issuance of hunting and fishing licenses dramatically increased.

“Our research highlights the urgency of investing in conservation efforts in the state of North Carolina,” said George Van Houtven, Director of Ecosystem Services Research at RTI and lead author on the study. “Preserving our forests, wetlands, and farmland is not only vital for our state’s economy, but a chance to bolster outdoor opportunities for North Carolinians while simultaneously decreasing flood risks.”

Most public land and water conservation funding comes from three trust funds—NC Land and Water, Parks and Recreation, and Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation, which are largely funded through state appropriations. At its peak in 2008, the trust funds awarded more than $155 million. Last year, only $29.9 million was awarded.

State agencies have identified millions of dollars in unmet needs. The North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation would like to add 134,000 acres to its holdings at a projected cost of $310 million. Most of the parks were closed for six weeks last spring due to the pandemic, but still experienced a record year with more than 19.7 million visitors. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission reported a 95% increase in its Inland Fish/Coastal Recreational Fishing Licenses between May and December 2020. Hunting licenses increased by nearly 20% during the same period.

“COVID-19 emphasized just how much North Carolinians appreciate places for outdoor recreation including hunting and fishing,” says Tim Gestwicki, Chief Executive Officer of the NC Wildlife Federation. “In some places, particularly the Piedmont, state game lands are limited. We need to protect these properties before they are lost to development.”

Last summer’s Congressional passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which guarantees full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) also presents new opportunities. LWCF funds are awarded to the state but require matching state funds. The state also pulls down significant dollars from the Department of Defense (DOD) to protect land around military bases. DOD also requires state matching dollars. “We’ve got so much opportunity with federal funding and the need for additional public lands is obvious in light of the use the current lands are getting,” says Bill Holman, NC State Director of The Conservation Fund.

“At the current funding rate, we just make a dent in the needs,” says Katherine Skinner, Executive Director of the NC Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “Meanwhile, North Carolina is the eighth fastest-growing state in the nation. We need to act now before lands are developed. Undeveloped lands and wetlands are crucial for the multitude of benefits they provide people, from flood control to clean air and clean water.”

The RTI study was commissioned by The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, and The Trust for Public Land. Click the image below to read the full report.

Land for Tomorrow Coalition Gathers Local Legislators for Legislative Forum

Conservation Organizations Highlighted the Economic Benefits of State Funding

RALEIGH –Land for Tomorrow recently gathered members of the NC General Assembly for a legislative forum to highlight the economic benefits of state conservation funding for the mid-coastal region. The region’s major economic assets – agriculture, the military, tourism, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation – all depend on land and water conservation.

North Carolina’s conservation trust funds – the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF)Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF), and Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund – have invested $184 million in Jones, Carteret, Craven, Pender, and Onslow County projects that support economic development and preserve the region’s unique natural features.

Senator Harry Brown, Representative Phil Shepard, and Representative Bob Muller attended the event to hear from local conservation organizations, park and recreation supporters, and landowners who partner with the trust funds to do projects that benefit the region. NC Coastal Land Trust Point showcased purchasing farmland easements to conserve the family-owned Guthrie Farm and provide a buffer for the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point. The Nature Conservancy shared how its partnership with the Marine Corps conserved more than 44,000 acres around Camp Lejeune. State Park officials talked about the state’s investment of nearly $6.3 million at Hammocks Beach State Park.

Former State Representative Carolyn Justice moderated the forum – noting that land and water conservation is good for all North Carolinians. “What is more important to our quality of life than clean drinking water, clean air, thriving farms and forests, places to hunt, fish, and view wildlife, while still being conspicuous of jobs and a sustainable economy,” she asked.

“Land for Tomorrow appreciates the support these legislators have shown for conservation projects, but the demand for great projects exceeds available resources,” said Edgar Miller, Conservation Trust for North Carolina Government Relations Director. “The goal of these round tables is to educate legislators on the importance of these funds of and how conservation projects benefit coastal communities, the local economy and their citizens.”

Some of the issues highlighted at the round table included:

  • More than 70 percent of North Carolinians broadly support restoring state funding for the conservation trust funds to $100 million to protect water quality, conserve working farms, and acquire parkland and preserve historic sites.
  • Military buffers support North Carolina’s $66 billion economic impact of the military by preventing incompatible development.
  • 135 local governments, conservation organizations, and state agencies requested nearly $68 million from CWMTF in 2017, with only about $20 million available.
  • Sixty-four local governments requested $19 million from PARTF in 2017, with only $6.3 available.

Land for Tomorrow will continue to work with legislative and community leaders across the state to protect and restore water quality, to maintain the training mission of our military bases, to preserve family farms that produce local and fresh food, and to support the $28 billion outdoor recreation industry in NC.

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Land for Tomorrow is a coalition of land and water conservation organizations, including American Rivers, Audubon NC, Catawba Lands Conservancy, Conservation Trust for NC, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, NC Recreation & Park Association, Triangle Land Conservancy, and NC Wildlife Federation. The coalition’s goal is to boost public support for land and water conservation across North Carolina. The North Carolina General Assembly sets funding levels for the trust funds.

Post date: November 6, 2017

General Assembly Budget Support for Land and Water Conservation Praised

The Land for Tomorrow coalition commends the Legislature for providing more than $22 million in additional funding for the state’s three conservation trust funds. These additional funds help keep the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund at level funding from recent years, which will enable conservation groups to continue to work with our state partners to protect the state’s valuable natural resources.

In addition, the significant increase to the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund will provide matching funds for two recent federal grants, including one that will help protect land around military bases from incompatible development, and another one that will help protect family farms in the North Carolina mountains.

“We appreciate the legislature’s support of these critical conservation trust funds,” said Bill Holman, Chairman of the Land for Tomorrow Legislative Committee. “We look forward to working with the legislature in future years to continue to increase funding for these trust funds.”

Land for Tomorrow is a coalition of conservation groups and parks and recreation advocates, who partner with the state and local governments and private landowners to conserve North Carolina’s land and water resources, preserve farmland, protect military bases, expand hunting and recreation opportunities, and sustain North Carolina’s economy.

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Post date: June 6, 2018