Under the Dome

Six lose jobs at state natural heritage office

The state office that inventories rare and endangered plants, animals and habitats took a big hit in the budget enacted last year. That plays out now into about one-third of the staff of the N.C. Natural Heritage program losing their jobs – five on Friday and a sixth at the end of March.

The North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club is sounding the alarm bell, contending the downsizing will harm the economy as well as the environment. The program’s inventories are used in state and federal environmental reviews. The organization says it will also be a setback to land preservation efforts that rely on the program’s work.

But a spokesman at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which oversees the program, said its work will continue. It has been funded through a three-year grant from the Natural Heritage Trust Fund. Current funding from that grant is $1.5 million, but the legislature capped it at $750,000 beginning in July.

The General Assembly moved the approximately $10.5 million that was in the Natural Heritage Trust Fund into the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Legislators also moved the real estate deed transfer tax, which helped fund the program with about $10.8 million a year, into the general fund. The sales of specialty license plates, which also helped fund the program, were transferred into the clean water fund.

Three of the six employees are eligible to retire, the spokesman said. A program supervisor, development consultant and four specialists are being let go.