Executive Order to Restore and Protect NC’s Natural and Working Lands

An executive order announced this week aims to conserve and restore 2 million acres of forests and wetlands in North Carolina and plant 1 million new trees in urban areas by 2040.

A new executive order signed by Governor Cooper will permanently conserve one million new acres of North Carolina’s forests and wetlands, restore or reforest one million acres of forests and wetlands, and plant one million new trees in urban areas by the year 2040.

The order also extends a recent policy requiring the use of native plants at all state parks, historic sites, and roadways to include landscaping for all future state-owned projects. 

“We’re excited that this new order will direct resources to some of our most important natural landscapes for birds and people,” Audubon North Carolina Interim Executive Director Curtis Smalling said. “Audubon has worked closely with agency partners and First Lady Kristin Cooper on these issues for many years, from native plants to wetlands conservation to urban forestry. We look forward to helping our state reach these important new milestones.” 

The executive order represents a historic commitment to our state’s natural lands and comes nearly 25 years after Governor Jim Hunt launched the “Million Acre Initiative” in 1999 to permanently conserve one million acres of farmland, forestland, parkland, game land, wetlands, and open space by the year 2010. With its emphasis on wetlands and urban forestry, this order goes even further to protect the lands our communities and wildlife need most.  

Wetlands and urban forests help protect communities from extreme flooding and storms, and store huge amounts of carbon, all while providing opportunities for recreation and habitat for birds. This order takes on even more importance after rollbacks in federal and state wetlands protections last year 

According to the 2020 North Carolina Natural and Working Lands Action Plan, North Carolina is losing an average of 4,510 acres of urban tree canopy cover per year. That’s why Audubon is launching a new urban forestry program, to retain existing canopy, improve forest health, and plant new trees, while working with chapters and partners across the state to accomplish these goals. 

Audubon is also working to strengthen and increase wetlands protections and conservation opportunities in our state. Whether species are migrating, overwintering, or breeding—North Carolina’s wetlands provide essential habitat for hundreds of thousands of birds year-round. 

A diversity of species will benefit from this investment into our states natural and working lands, from forest birds like Wood Thrush and Cerulean Warblers to waterfowl that depend on wetlands. Audubon is dedicated to working at all levels to bring this order to fruition, from on-the-ground restoration and conservation projects to advocating for policies at the state legislature. 

We look forward to working with the North Carolina Department of Cultural and Natural Resources, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and many other partners to accomplish this new initiative. 

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