Green in brief: WNC shows air quality improvement, AG Stein awards $340K to area environmental work

Bearwallow Mountain view
CLEAR OUTLOOK: Stunning views such as this vista from Bearwallow Mountain have become more common in Western North Carolina over the past decade thanks to improvements in air quality. Photo by Daniel Walton

WNC shows air quality improvement over past decade

Although residents of Western North Carolina may be breathing through face coverings these days, the air coming through those masks is significantly cleaner than it would’ve been 10 years ago. According to a new study by Filterbuy, an air filter industry website, the median air quality index in the Asheville metropolitan area was 15.3% better over the period from 2015-19 compared with the period from 2005-09.

Compiled by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the air quality index is a composite measure of pollution that includes particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone and other compounds. Lower values indicate better air quality; values below 50 are considered good, while those over 100 are considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

Asheville’s median AQI score went from 52, indicating “moderate” air quality, to 44 over the study period. The average number of days in the metro area per year with good AQI scores also rose from 169 to 258, an increase of nearly 53%. Filterbuy attributes the changes to the continuing implementation of the federal Clean Air Act and “modern pollution control technologies.”

Other regional metros showed even better air quality results. Median AQI in the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton area to Asheville’s east dropped from 54 to 43, a 20.4% improvement, while the same figure for the Greenville, S.C., area went from 57 to 44, an improvement of 23.1%. Both metros also saw more than 100 extra days per year with good AQI scores.

State foresters urge caution during fall wildfire season

WNC has so far this year avoided any major wildfires like those currently burning in California and Colorado, but the N.C. Forest Service is encouraging residents to be mindful of fire safety nonetheless. The state’s fall wildfire season lasts from mid-October through mid-December.

“As leaves begin to fall and vegetation starts to dry out, it’s important for all North Carolinians to use extreme caution when burning debris of any kind,” said Steve Troxler, North Carolina’s agriculture commissioner, in a press release. “As wildfires continue to rage in Western states and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a challenge, let’s remember that we’re not powerless.”

Basic safety practices include preparing a water source, steel rake and shovel for fire control before starting a burn; avoiding the use of kerosene or gasoline to speed up a fire; and staying with a fire until it has been totally extinguished. County forest rangers are available to provide further technical advice and develop safer options for burning debris.

Buncombe County’s forest ranger, Dillon Michael, can be reached at robert.michael@ncagr.gov or 828-686-5885. Forest Service contacts for other counties can be found at avl.mx/6k0.

AG Stein awards nearly $340K to WNC environmental work

Four organizations across WNC stand to benefit from the most recent round of Environmental Enhancement Grants, administered by the office of N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein. Approximately $340,000 will go toward projects in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Macon counties.

The largest award, more than $130,000, supports the Mountain Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council for stormwater management around two Madison County schools. Ecologically sound practices such as a rain garden, vegetative plantings and wetland creation will be enacted at Brush Creek Elementary School and Madison Middle School.

Other grants include over $92,000 to the Macon Soil and Water Conservation District for streambank protection of Cove Branch; $90,000 to the Henderson County Soil and Water Conservation District for stream stabilization in Lewis Creek; and nearly $27,000 to the N.C. Arboretum for an education kiosk at the Willow Pond wetland.

“Educating people about our environment can reap benefits for generations of North Carolinians,” said Stein about the last-mentioned effort in a press release announcing the awards. “I hope this project will foster interest in nature for North Carolinians of all ages.”

Community kudos

  • Asheville-based nonprofit MountainTrue honored former state Rep. Chuck McGrady with the Esther Cunningham Award in recognition of his “lifetime of service in environmental conservation.” Suzanne Hale, Maureen Linneman, Joan Parks and Craig Weaver also received awards for their volunteer work with the organization.
  • Transylvania County was one of only five North American areas to be named a “Global Top 100 Sustainable Destination” by Green Destinations, an international nonprofit. According to a press release by Transylvania County Tourism, the award acknowledges the area’s “full compliance with 30 core sustainability best practices,” as well as recent campaigns around COVID-19 management and waterfall safety.
  • The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy received the Garden Club of America’s Cynthia Pratt Laughlin Medal, which recognizes “outstanding achievement in environmental protection and the maintenance of the quality of life.” Previous winners have included author Wendell Berry and the U.S. Green Building Council, which developed LEED environmental standards.
  • Warren Wilson College’s divestment from fossil fuels was featured in a report by the Intentional Endowments Network, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit. The college passed a responsible investment policy in 2015 and completed its divestment earlier this year.
  • The town of Waynesville’s Parks and Recreation Department earned national accreditation through the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies. According to Rhett Langston, the department’s director, Waynesville is the third-smallest populated area in the country to receive the honor and the only one in WNC.

Get involved

  • Medicine Wheel Collective
    CIRCLE UP: The Medicine Wheel Collective, a nonprofit permaculture education center at Earthaven Ecovillage, is seeking donations to help renovate its community kitchen. Photo courtesy of Medicine Wheel

    The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is seeking information on the spread of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus serotype 2, a deadly infection of both domestic and wild rabbits. Those who observe a dead rabbit for which the cause of death is not readily apparent or one showing blood around the nose, mouth or rectum are asked to call 866-318-2401 or email wildlifehelpline@ncwildlife.org.

  • The Medicine Wheel Collective, a nonprofit permaculture education center located at Earthaven Ecovillage in Black Mountain, is raising funds to renovate its community kitchen. More information and a donation link are available at avl.mx/8nc.
  • The Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District is conducting a questionnaire about the future of its Friends of Agriculture program. Farmers, nonprofit leaders, agricultural educators and others are encouraged to complete the survey at avl.mx/8nd by Friday, Nov. 13.
  • Darby Communications and Status Forward, two Asheville-based marketing agencies, are accepting applications from outdoors-focused nonprofits for the 2021 Stand Up Initiative. Two winners will receive 100 hours of pro bono consulting for media outreach, event planning and other communications needs. Applications are due by Friday, Nov. 27, at avl.mx/8ng.
  • Fletcher-based Cane Creek Cycling Components has organized the Pisgah Project raffle to benefit the nonprofit Pisgah Conservancy. For every $20 donation by Monday, Nov. 30, participants will receive one entry to win a custom-built mountain bike valued at over $9,000. More information at ThePisgahProject.com.

Save the date

  • The WNC Sierra Club presents a virtual lecture by local mapmaker Ken Czarnomski at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5. The Zoom webinar will also include an update on the results of the 2020 general election by Ken Brame, the club’s political chair. More information and registration at avl.mx/8lu.
  • The Ramsey Center for Appalachian Studies at Mars Hill University hosts a free virtual Feast and Farmin’ event celebrating heritage foods in Madison County at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12. The first 50 households to register will receive free seed packets of Lazy Wife greasy beans and Dutch Fork pumpkins, two heirloom varieties. More information and registration at avl.mx/8ni.
  • The Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education in Brevard has resumed in-person workshops on a variety of outdoors topics. Due to COVID-19, all programs take place outdoors, and masks and social distancing are required. A full list of offerings through Friday, Nov. 20, and registration information are available at avl.mx/5qm.
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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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