Charlotte Observer Dec. 11, 2005

Environmental Success Stories

by Jack Betts

While North Carolina faces an array of environmental challenges to
protect its land, water and air, it's also fortunate to have developed
an environmental preservation ethic that has led to a growing list of
success stories. Here are a few:

1. The Land Trust movement

The Piedmont Land Conservancy in Greensboro is one of a couple of dozen
nonprofit groups, including the Catawba Lands Conservancy, working to
preserve the state's land, waters and natural heritage through a variety
of means.

Land trusts sometimes buy land, help arrange conservation easements and
management plans that will protect it from development and sometimes
broker donations of property for parks or refuges.

Since its founding in 1990, the Piedmont Land Conservancy has protected
about 11,300 acres in nine central Piedmont counties -- 6,000 acres
donated and 5,300 acres either purchased or acquired at below appraised
value.

One of its most compelling stories is its decision to pursue the
creation of a farmland preservation corridor in an area between Liberty
and Randleman, south of Greensboro.

Working with owners whose families have farmed the land for generations,
the conservancy has put together funding from local governments,
foundations and state and federal trust funds to protect 1,000 acres of
beautiful, rolling farmlands in a fast-growing section of the Piedmont.
The project keeps family farms whole, protects the scenic landscape and
helps keep waterways clean.

For more, visit the group's Web site at www.piedmontland.org and follow
the links to other land trusts in North Carolina.

2. N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund

The N.C. General Assembly sometimes deserves criticism for its failure
to act proactively on environmental protection, and sometimes it
deserved rave reviews. It deserves special thanks in 2005 for fully
funding the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund for the first time
with a $100 million appropriation.Run by former Secretary of Environment
and Natural Resources Bill Holman, the fund works across the state to
help identify, design and help pay for land and water acquisition
projects. It helps provide buffers, set aside natural areas and preserve
wetlands that help filter runoff and keep surface and groundwater clean.

3. Military cooperation

In a state that is economically dependent upon large military bases,
North Carolina has a big stake in maintaining good relations.

Unlike Virginia, which allowed residential development near Naval Air
Station Oceana until the Base Closure and Realignment Commission began
to talk of relocating the base, N.C. environmental interests put
together some creative funding to buy 37,500 acres of buffers around
Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune. Those buffers provide wildlife habitat and
ensure that residential development would not be an immediate problem.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took note of the state's
cooperation with the military in a speech in August, quoting the state
Department of Environment and Natural Resources as saying that "military
bases are now among that state's most environmentally conscious
communities."

4. Local government leadership

Environmentalists point to a number of local governments that are
providing leadership to reduce pollution, ameliorate anticipated effects
of global warming and use resources more efficiently.Outgoing Asheville
Mayor Charles Worley signed the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection
Agreement committing the city to pursue more fuel-efficient staff cars
and design more efficient buildings. Meanwhile, the city of Charlotte
decided to add two dozen hybrid electric vehicles to its fleet,
expanding on an earlier decision to reduce fuel consumption and emit
fewer pollutants.

5. The Coastal Federation's wetlands and oyster restoration

The N.C. Coastal Federation has long combined education, advocacy,
policy development and preservation projects to help restore and
preserve the state's coastal region.

One of its most admirable efforts is its project to restore wetlands to
the North River Farms area of Carteret County as a prelude to fostering
a return of the oyster population. When the vast acreage was cleared for
agricultural production, wetlands largely disappeared, and storm runoff
in the area sent oyster beds into further decline.

The federation has acquired acreage and begun to restore the wetlands
that filter storm runoff and reintroduce a forest of bald cypress, water
tupelo, Atlantic white cedar, black gum, green ash and silky dogwood.
The federation hopes to plant 6,000 trees as part of the 5,100-acre project.

For more information about paying for one or more of those trees, go to
www.nccoast.org.

6. N.C.'s Ecosystem Enhancement Program and other efforts

State agencies have success stories, too.One is the Ecosystem
Enhancement Program, which combined efforts by the Department of
Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation
to mitigate the loss of wetlands.

Instead of delaying highways and other transportation projects because
of environmental concerns, the program protects natural areas and
creates new wetlands to compensate for the potential loss of wetlands
from forthcoming projects. Since 2003 it has created 7,600 acres of
wetlands with another 1,500 in the works, without delaying any of the
$1.9 billion in transportation projects that required wetlands mitigation.

State regulatory efforts evidently have reduced nitrogen in the Neuse
River -- thought to be related to fish kills on that river, and to a
reduction in agricultural nutrients that degrade waters in the
Tar-Pamlico basin. These are remarkable reductions that either meet or
exceed the targets set by the state in major river basins feeding
Pamlico Sound.

The state is also expanding its parks system, adding more than 300 acres
to Mayo River State Park just last week. It is also developing the Haw
River State Park north of Greensboro, the Hickory Nut Gap park east of
Asheville and the Carvers Creek park in Cumberland County, significant
expansions of the state system.

7. Private donations of important lands

Every so often a private donor makes available a biologically diverse
tract of land or waterway, and groups like The Nature Conservancy are
there to inventory it, receive it and make sure it's handled appropriately.

The Nature Conservancy was given the 1,380-acre Long Valley Farm in the
Sandhills area of Harnett and Cumberland counties when James Stillman
Rockefeller, the great-nephew of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, died at
102. The tract, near Fort Bragg, is a heavily wooded farm that includes
longleaf pine and a cypress swamp with canopy trees 100 feet tall.