One has to offer a bow to Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady, co-chair of the powerful state House Appropriations Committee. In commenting on the budget-cutting done to the valuable Natural Heritage Program, McGrady was candid enough to say that he thought a mistake had been made. Maybe the program was too low-profile, he mused. Or maybe people just thought it was some feel-good program of little significance.
But that’s not the case. The program, which had a budget in the 2013-14 fiscal year of just $1.5 million, has been cut to less than half of that. It’s a mistake lawmakers need to correct, because this is a valuable program that’s a bargain.
The Natural Heritage Program collects information that helps state and local agencies determine locations for new parks and information about endangered species or fragile environmental situations. It helps state road-builders with that same kind of information. And Duke Energy consults with the program when it’s looking at sites for new facilities or looking at needs in overseeing the property it has.
Gov. Jim Holshouser, a Republican, was the one who started the program in the mid-1970s. The idea was to create a public database with information on endangered species and possible fragile environmental areas. But it wasn’t just about setting up protections; the program was intended to employ scientists who would guide the state and others in land development that kept the environment in mind and would help to establish natural areas that would be protected by the state. By one estimate, 1.5 million acres have been protected by this program.
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DOT uses information from this group; the military uses it; private companies use information provided to make sure they’re complying with rules and regulations pertaining to the environment. This is a useful, competent agency that benefits the public and private sectors. It seems a wise expenditure of $1.5 million, a sum that doesn’t look like much in the context of a $20 billion state budget.
It appears this is a case of a good program getting caught up in frenzied budget cutting and having its funds walloped for no good reason. But this is easily corrected. The money taken from the budget should be restored. It is good that a senior Republican seems to agree.