Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina conservation groups say they're working with House and Senate leaders to ease deep cuts proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory.
Speaking at a press conference for the Land For Tomorrow coalition, Debbie Crane with The Nature Conservancy said the governor's budget "just slashes land conservation" funds.
The Clean Water Management Trust Fund would be cut to $6.8 million, down from a high of $100 million a few years ago. The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund would be cut by 44 percent, while the National Heritage Trust Fund would be cut by 58 percent.
"We're disappointed in the budget, but we're very hopeful to be able to work with House and Senate leaders," said North Carolina Wildlife Federation Chief Executive Tim Gestwicki, a Republican. "It's time to put 'conserve' back in the conservative party."
"People who think conservation is a throwaway item, they're totally wrong," Crane said. "It's jobs."
Crane said land and water preservation are essential to tourism, hunting and fishing, outdoor recreation, military expansion and local economic development.
"For every dollar of public trust fund spent, we get a $4 return," she added. "Some people think of us as tree-huggers, but we're an economic driver."
Johnny Farmer, Eden's director of parks and recreation, said trust fund matching grants of $400,000 allowed the city to develop its showplace Freedom Park.
Farmer says the park is booked almost every weekend from March through November for big tournaments and other events that help fill hotels and restaurants throughout Rockingham County.
"That activity has been able to keep some of those people in business just because of the people coming there," Farmer said.
Gestwicki said $3.3 billion is spent on hunting and fishing every year in the state, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
He also quoted a study from the Outdoor Recreation Industry that found outdoor activities generated $19 billion in consumer spending in North Carolina last year and directly supported 192,000 jobs, bringing in $1.3 billion in state and local taxes.
Yet, McCrory's proposal devotes only about 0.1 percent of the budget to conservation – less than Alabama or South Carolina, Gestwicki noted, adding, "those states don't have the expected population growth that North Carolina has."
Land for Tomorrow is asking lawmakers to restore $20 million in recurring funding to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, restore dedicated recurring funding for the Parks and Recreation and National Heritage Trust Funds, continue funding the Farmland Preservation fund and maintain the state's conservation tax credit program.