Raleigh, N.C. — A conservation group urged North Carolina lawmakers to restore funding for protecting undeveloped natural areas and to nearly double the amount of land that the state has preserved in the past seven years.
Land for Tomorrow, a coalition of various environmental, agriculture, wildlife, business and local government groups, called Monday for protecting nearly 400,000 acres and 1,750 miles of waterways across the state over the next five years.
"When major employers bring their business and jobs to North Carolina, they often cite our clean water, quality of life and abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation," said Reid Wilson, executive director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.
These goals "will help our state maintain that reputation over the next five years, while also sustaining the tourism and agriculture industries as vital economic drivers," Wilson continued.
The group set specific goals for preserving sections of wetlands, farmland, forests, land along scenic highways, and state parks and trails.
Land for Tomorrow representatives said that protecting that land from development would benefit the public by providing clean air and drinking water, fresh food and recreational areas and bolstering the state's tourism, hunting, fishing and agricultural industries.
The group asked lawmakers to try to find more funding for conservation even in troubled economic times. Last year, state funding for the Clean Water Trust was cut by 75 percent, while the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund took a 15 percent loss, and portions of funding for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and Natural Heritage Trust Fund were diverted to the state's General Fund.
"We understand the funding concerns, but the need for conservation remains critical, and the opportunities for economical land and water protection have only grown," said Elizabeth Ouzts, state director of Environment North Carolina.
"Once we protect a place, it's safeguarded forever," she continued. "That's why we are looking at the big picture and setting long-term goals that can be achieved if conservation groups and the state continue to work together."