Making a better future for the next generation in North Carolina.

Will North Carolina Be Nature Positive In 2040?

May 3, 2023 | Nature, North Carolina | 0 comments

I used to live by a wetlands (a fancy word for a swamp) in Michigan. As winter retreated, I could often hear spring peepers chirping from all directions as if to say, “Here I am. I’m done hibernating. Would anyone like to have a fling?” These little frogs live through harsh Michigan winters because — over millions of years — their livers evolved to produce enough glucose to act as antifreeze.

The adaptations of species to their environments — like the natural antifreeze of frogs — seem almost miraculous to me. Every species represents a multi-million year legacy of tiny genetic mutations and variations that shaped its survival value. How many of these multi-million year legacies will we pass on to our children’s children?

The Living Planet Index reports wildlife populations around the globe have plummeted by 69% in the last fifty years. NatureServe warns that one third of species and ecosystems in the United States are at risk of disappearing. From giving children better focus and attention to purifying our air, water, and soils, contact with nature and the services it provides are priceless. Is North Carolina doing enough to ensure an abundant natural legacy for our children and grandchildren?

What can states do about the decline of wildlife and their habitats?

Some environmental issues are too big for individual states. A state by itself can’t stop global warming, for instance. States like North Carolina contribute less than a half of 1% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Problems like global warming require cooperation at a global level.

Where states can make a difference is in their regulation of hunting and fishing, land use, control of invasive species, and control of localized pollution. That’s important. These are the issues most likely to lead to the extinction of species if they are mismanaged.

Preserving our natural heritage has been a losing battle in many places, but states can turn that around within their borders. Acting together, the people of a state can grow their natural forests and wetlands, control hunting, pollution, and invasive species, remove dams so fish can spawn in their rivers, and add more connected habitat for wildlife. Instead of losing nature, we can become nature positive for the next generation. We can regenerate and restore the abundant natural areas where my generation played in the 1950s.

How well is North Carolina protecting nature?

It’s a mixed picture. North Carolina has increased its parks and protected lands over the years. It has identified threatened species of plants and animals within its borders, and has many groups acting as advocates and watchdogs for nature. There has been progress, but here are some of the issues we face:

  • North Carolina has a Wildlife Action Plan to identify species and their habitats under threat. It lists 483 “species of greatest conservation need.”
  • To maintain robust populations of plants and animals, the states need healthy forests, meadows, wetlands, and waterways. To take one of these features, the US Department of Agriculture reports on forest cover for each of the states. In their most recent report they showed that 54% of North Carolina’s land area was covered by forests. However, North Carolina has averaged a net forest loss of 33 square miles each year.
  • Wetland habitats that are vital to many species cover 17% of North Carolina’s land area. This figure is just about half of the wetlands that existed in the early 1800s.
  • Land area protected from development includes 9.3% of all lands in North Carolina . This amount is well below most western states that are protecting over 30% of their land.
  • Pollution is one of the factors putting pressure on species of plants and animals. North Carolina’s industry emits 1,169 pounds of toxic pollution per square mile per year compared to the national average of 959.
  • Effort to manage and protect wildlife and habitats as measured by state budgets for natural resources and environmental quality differ widely with North Carolina’s expenditures $298 million in 2022-23 and Michigan’s at $729 million. (This difference is hard to believe. Next week, I will do a line item comparison.)

The bottom line: North Carolina has a ways to go to become nature positive by the time our children become adults. It has hundreds of species listed that could decline or go extinct. Its protected land share is much below the 30%+ found in many Western states. Wetlands have shrunk dramatically since the 1800s. Its rate of toxic emissions are above average.

Like to make a difference? Check out these organizations

North Carolina Wildlife Federation

“Since 1945, North Carolina Wildlife Federation has worked for all wildlife and habitat bringing together citizens, outdoor enthusiasts, hunters and anglers, government and industry to protect North Carolina’s natural resources. From the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks, our non-profit 501c3 organization is made up of people who value wildlife and wild places and the many ways to enjoy them.”

North Carolina Conservation Network

“We are a statewide network of over 60 environmental, community, and environmental justice organizations focused on protecting North Carolina’s environment and public health.

“NC Conservation Network supports, trains, and coordinates diverse groups and directly advocates to achieve equitable and sustainable solutions for our environment.”



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