Environment North Carolina to General Assembly and Congress: Save the Blue Ridge Parkway

Here’s the press release from Environment North Carolina:

Raleigh, NC – Two days before citizens plan to convene in Raleigh for an annual land conservation lobby day, Environment North Carolina released a list of the top ten reasons the Blue Ridge Parkway and surrounding lands deserve protection from overdevelopment, logging, and other harms.

Following the release of Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget, which cut land conservation funds by more than 40 percent from last year’s historic lows, Environment North Carolina released its fact sheet to demonstrate the value the Blue Ridge Parkway and other treasured green spaces across North Carolina have for our state, and to call on the General Assembly to restore the funds slashed in the governor’s budget.

“The Blue Ridge Parkway covers some of the most beautiful parts of our state,” said Liz Kazal, field associate with Environment North Carolina. “Unfortunately, two-thirds of the forests and farms along the Parkway are open to unplanned development. We ask the General Assembly to restore funds designed to protect places like the Parkway, so that future generations can have the same experiences we are having today.”

Here are a few of the reasons presented by Environment North Carolina for why the General Assembly should protect the Blue Ridge Parkway:

· More than two-thirds of the land surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway remains unprotected and open to encroaching development and pollution.
· The Blue Ridge Parkway offers protection to 74 different mammal species, over 150 species of birds, 130 species of trees, and about 1,600 vascular plant species—50 of which are endangered or threatened.
· The Blue Ridge Parkway is the third largest unit in the National Park Service. Attracting over 18 million people every year, it is the single most visited unit of the National Park Service.
· The Blue Ridge Parkway offers visitors access to over 203 miles of hiking trails—with 123 miles of trails located in North Carolina alone.
· The parkway generates $2.2 billion dollars in local economic activity annually.

“As North Carolinians we are part of the Blue Ridge Parkway,” said Chuck Millsaps of Great Outdoor Provisions Company. “Without ‘America’s favorite drive’ we would forfeit our state’s most accessible experience of wild nature that shapes our sense of place. The Blue Ridge Parkway provides a journey of discovery for young and old. A discovery of not only nature’s magnificence but of our role in protecting it for future generations.

Both state and federal governments have conservation funds in place designed to protect the Parkway and other green spaces around the state, including parks, recreation areas, waterways, and farmlands.

In recent years, however, the NC General Assembly has dramatically cut the budgets of the state’s natural resource trust funds. The largest of the state’s land protection funds—the Clean Water Management Trust Fund—has taken a disproportionate hit.

The budget released by Gov. Pat McCrory last week reduces land conservation funding even further, It cuts appropriations to the Clean Water Fund to $6.75 million and siphons dedicated revenue streams from parks and natural heritage funds to the general fund. Overall, land conservation funding is cut by more than 40 percent.

“Gov. McCrory’s budget cuts are bad news for our parks and green spaces,” said Kazal. “It’s now up to the General Assembly to restore funds to our land conservation programs to protect the Parkway and other treasured natural areas for the future.”

At the federal level, the Land and Water Conservation Fund allocates royalties from offshore oil drilling to the purchase of privately-owned, ecologically important conservation lands, such as those that surround the Parkway.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a successful bipartisan program that supports a vital part of our nation’s economy—the federal, state, and local lands supported by the Fund contribute more than $1 trillion dollars to our economy each year,” said Rebekah Robinson, administrative director for Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. “This important program is funded without using a single taxpayer dollar and as such, it is supported by a vast coalition of sportsmen, business, recreation, historic preservation, and conservation organizations and individuals throughout the country.”

Unfortunately, Congress annually raids the LWCF for non-conservation purposes, leaving a legacy of backlogged conservation and recreation needs.

Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan have stepped up for the conservation of our natural areas by calling for full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The budget passed by the U.S. Senate over the weekend includes full funding for LWCF.

“I applaud Sens. Burr and Hagan for their continued leadership in protecting our parks and forests by supporting full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Kazal. “We urge the General Assembly to follow their lead and be a champion for North Carolina’s natural heritage by restoring funds to our conservation programs for the upcoming year.”

Environment North Carolina is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization working to protect North Carolina’s clean air, clean water, and open spaces.


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