WRC funds conservation-friendly development

Applications due by July 31

RALEIGH — The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission recently awarded $30,000 to local governments for conservation-friendly development projects — $10,000 each to three local governments that met or exceeded goals to incorporate wildlife habitat conservation in land-use planning.

The Cape Fear Council of Governments, Harnett County and Jackson County were the first recipients of funds provided through the “Partners for Green Growth,” a pilot program that reimburses cost-share funds of $10,000 or $20,000 and provides 40 hours of technical assistance to applicants whose planning projects qualify.

greenThe new partnership program provides assistance to local governments to build wildlife habitat conservation into their local development plans and laws so that natural areas, resources and wildlife are better connected across the landscape and less impacted by development – an approach that also has many economic benefits to developers and communities, according to Kacy Cook, a land conservation biologist with the commission.

“Many of the over 1,000 wildlife species in our state are declining due to spread-out development patterns,” Cook said. “We developed Partners for Green Growth because 34 percent of communities in a Wildlife Commission survey expressed the need for financial assistance to implement conservation-based land-use planning.”
The program, funded through the State Wildlife Grants program, is part of the agency’s Green Growth Toolbox, a resource for local governments, developers and communities that provides guidance on ways to maintain and connect high-quality habitat as communities continue to grow.
The program is open to local governments such as counties and incorporated municipalities, but partnerships between local governments and non-profit organizations are eligible as well.

Cape Fear Project
One such non-profit organization is the Cape Fear Council of Governments, which serves coastal local governments in Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties. The CoG is crafting a model coastal conservation ordinance and fact sheet for developers and communities that will help developers meet environmental permits ahead of time, while enhancing neighborhood aesthetics and amenities. The CoG is working with elected officials and planners from seven surrounding municipalities to ensure the model meets community needs and concerns.

Harnett County Project
In the Sandhills, the Harnett County Planning Department and the LandDesign consulting firm will be the first to utilize the Fort Bragg Sustainable Growth Strategy to update the county land-use plan.

The strategy, which is a multi-county growth plan, was coordinated by the Fort Bragg Regional Alliance, a partnership of governments from 11 counties and 73 municipalities surrounding Fort Bragg and Pope Army Air Field. It identifies ways local communities near the military bases can accommodate anticipated growth from military personnel moving to the area, while conserving natural resources and the longleaf pine ecosystem, one of the rarest in the world.

“By using the Fort Bragg Sustainable Growth Strategy and the Green Growth Toolbox  in the Harnett County land-use plan, it will help to inform the county about how to update their local development laws and incentives to better conserve declining wildlife habitats and the benefits they provide our community,” said Landon Chandler, a planner for Harnett County.

Harnett County has also partnered with Sustainable Sandhills to design the “Youth Plan” program aimed at middle school students, who learn about land-use planning and wildlife conservation. Through this program, students study GIS mapping data and endangered ecosystems, suburban sprawl, conservation-based land-use planning methods and transportation planning tools.

“Students who participate in this program will develop a real knowledge of what planners do, the need for civic engagement when planning projects, and Harnett County’s unique challenges,”  said Hanah Ehrenreich, executive director of Sustainable Sandhills.

Harnett County and LandDesign are developing a web portal for students and the public to learn about the county’s unique natural areas.

Jackson County Project
Jackson County is updating its land-use plan that will include maps of wildlife habitat corridor areas connecting national forest lands, other conserved lands and areas of high water quality.

“There is a lot of conserved land in the southwest mountains and the focus of the county’s land-use plan is more on encouraging conservation development adjacent to conserved lands and in key wildlife corridors, which will help protect scenic views and drinking water as well,” said Gerald Green, Jackson County planning director.

“We are also reviewing our local development laws for regulatory barriers to conservation development, so conservation development will be easier to do.”

More funds available
The commission is offering the Partners for Green Growth cost-share funding for 2015 with pre-applications due by July 31. Qualifying community planning projects will be invited to submit a final application due on August 31. Learn more about the Partners for Green Growth program at www.ncwildlife.org/greengrowth.

Filed in: Outdoors

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