Over the last year, people across North Carolina have rediscovered the importance of our state’s parks, trails, and gamelands. These places also provide vital habitat for birds and all kinds of wildlife. Audubon advocates carried this message to lawmakers at Advocacy Day this year and in 2020, and NC Senate leadership has responded with a major boost in conservation funding in the latest state budget proposal.
The draft budget includes more than $100 million each for the North Carolina Land and Water Fund (formerly the Clean Water Management Trust Fund) and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund over the next two years. Last year, the funds had $14 million and $16 million, respectively.
The House still needs to release and approve its version of the budget, but the early support for conservation funding from Senate leadership and Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget proposal is an encouraging sign and a significant change from recent trends.
The conservation trust funds go toward preserving our natural resources, ensuring we have clean air, water, and habitat. They also support major economic sectors and strengthen our local communities, all while protecting our state’s natural heritage for future generations.
North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the country. Our parks and natural areas will only become more vital as the state continues to develop. Yet demand continues to outpace supply for the state’s conservation trust funds and the parks and natural areas they support.
The pandemic reinforced this trend. In 2020, North Carolina’s park system saw visitation soar to more than 19 million visitors, breaking all kinds of records despite parks being closed for six weeks, according to Land for Tomorrow.
These same parks and gamelands that we all love also provide places for birds to nest, breed, winter, and rest during migration. For example, nearly two-thirds of the land that has been acquired and protected by the Land and Water Fund is in places deemed critical to birds, landscapes known formally as Important Bird Areas, or IBAs, according to an Audubon analysis.
We thank Senate leadership for supporting the conservation trust funds in the budget and look forward to working with lawmakers to prioritize this funding throughout the legislative process.