North Carolina’s state parks and historical sites will soon be blooming with more native plants, thanks to a new policy from the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The agency announced early this month that native vegetation would be required for landscaping and habitat work on state parks and all of the 100+ locations it manages.
The policy also applies to all projects funded by the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, one of our state’s most important conservation funds that allocates money to protect new trails and parks.
“Native plants are an important part of North Carolina's natural and cultural heritage,” Secretary D. Reid Wilson said in a press release. “There are many environmental benefits to native plants, and they are much more likely to thrive in our weather and soils. We encourage others — homeowners, businesses, government agencies — to also plant beautiful native plant gardens.”
Audubon worked with the agency on the new policy and is proud to support it.
"It's commonsense that native plants are better for our birds, pollinators, and other North Carolina wildlife," said Brian Turner, policy director at Audubon North Carolina. "They are also more resilient and reduce costs by requiring less fertilizer and maintenance than non-native species. We are grateful to Secretary Wilson and the agency for taking this step."
Native plants are important for birds because of the insects they host, which provide vital food for hatchlings during nesting season. Even seed-eating birds feed their babies insects. For the most part, these insects cannot adapt to eating non-native plants.
The new native plants policy states that the agency will only use seeds and plants that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has classified as native to the Southeastern United States, with some narrow exceptions for research and other special use cases. It comes on the heels of years of advocacy by Audubon North Carolina and our members to promote native plants, starting with our bird-friendly community program, which launched 10 years ago to raise awareness about the importance of native plants for birds.
More recently, Audubon members have helped pass two laws that “prioritize” native plants along state roads. In the current legislative session, Audubon has worked with Senator Bill Rabon on Senate Bill 318—the Native Plants Act—which would require that native trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers are used to landscape state parks and roads, as well as local projects that use state funds for landscaping.
The bill unanimously passed the Senate, and Audubon is continuing to work with lawmakers to enshrine this policy into law.