Charlotte Observer, Nov. 26, 2003

Project aims to find, guard sites
Conservation network to work with N.C. ecosystem program

N.C. officials said Tuesday they have signed a three-year partnership with a land conservation network to find and protect the best preservation sites on land and water.

The agreement is between the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

The conservation group represents 22 local and regional land trusts, including the Charlotte-based Catawba Lands Conservancy, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina in Morganton and LandTrust for Central North Carolina in Salisbury.

The state's new Ecosystem Enhancement Program will manage the project. The program uses N.C. Department of Transportation money to compensate for the impact of road construction on streams and wetlands.

The enhancement program will provide a large, new source of conservation money, said Reid Wilson, executive director of the Conservation Trust.

Since the spring, the program has identified about $90 million in potential conservation sites, according to program official Tad Boggs.

Under the new agreement, the enhancement program will identify regions of the state where road construction damage is expected. The Conservation Trust and local trusts will identify privately owned sites whose owners might agree to protection.

Landowners who take part would sell their property outright to the state or sell the right to develop their land.

More than 150,000 acres of open space disappears each year in the state.