Protecting North Carolina's land and water legacies

April 13, 2011 

"It shall be the policy of the State to conserve and protect its lands and waters for the benefit of all its citizenry" Those clear and simple words, approved by a vote of the people in 1972, come from the N.C. Constitution, Article XIV, Section 5. That policy has served our state well.

To see how well, take a look around. It's springtime in North Carolina, and, from the mountains to the sea, one sight after another inspires a sense of wonder and appreciation at the lands and waters our state has conserved and protected. At a recent conference on conservation economics, former Gov. Jim Martin said the constitutional directive to protect our natural resources "is our legacy for future generations. It has held the allegiance of bipartisan and nonpartisan leadership ever since."

But it's the wrong time to take those resources and that legacy for granted. There's a rash of ill-conceived bills and proposals in the General Assembly that, if enacted, would erode North Carolina's constitutional policy on the conservation of natural resources and divert essential funding from the very programs that conserve and protect our state's lands and waters.

These bills and proposals would replace conserve and protect with dismantle and re-direct. The first wave aims to dismantle the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. A second wave aims at taking funding away from natural resource conservation programs. Among them are bills that would raid and re-direct half of the dedicated funding that has been the heart and soul and engine of two highly effective and successful programs: the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund.

These two programs are the product of years of bipartisan and nonpartisan leadership, cooperation and support. As a result of these and other important conservation programs, North Carolina citizens and visitors enjoy a wonderful network of state and local parks, gamelands, recreation facilities, greenways, trails, public access to public beaches and waters, and natural areas.

The 50 percent loss of revenue would be a crippling blow to both the state parks and recreation program and the state natural heritage program at a time when the need and opportunity that each faces far exceeds the available funding. And the loss of revenue will cause the loss of many jobs: construction jobs for state park visitor centers and other facilities and construction jobs for local parks and recreation facilities. (In 2010, 38 local governments all across North Carolina received matching grants totaling more than $9 million for local parks and recreation projects.)

Now is the time to speak up in favor of conservation and protection. Now is the time to speak out against dismantlement and re-direction. Now is the time to speak up for North Carolina's conservation trust funds. Healthy people, a healthy economy, healthy communities and a healthy environment depend on it.

Bill Ross

Former Secretary

Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Chapel Hill

This letter was also signed by former DENR Secretaries Bill Holman of Raleigh and Jonathan Howes of Chapel Hill. The length limit was waived.

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