Forests, wetlands lose ground

Editor’s note: The N.C. Progress Board, a group created by state lawmakers to track trends in North Carolina and set goals for the state, issued its first report in December 2001.

(Each week, the Philanthropy Journal spotlights an issue examined in the report. The goals, targets and analysis below are those of the Progress Board.)

GOAL: North Carolina ensures healthy and productive natural resources.

TARGETS:  North Carolina will maintain the total forest acres and diversity as measured by age, class and forest type through 2010.

Forests protect water and air quality, provide wildlife habitat and support recreational and tourist uses.

Since 1964, North Carolina has been losing forested areas, with rapid declines in the mountains and Piedmont, and the loss of mature forests in the Coastal Plain.

As forestland decreased, urban land area increased more than a million acres from 1982 to 1997, or 111,000 acres a year.


Acres of forestland lost:

According to preliminary data, large forestland losses from 1982 to 1997 amounted to an estimated 77,200 acres per year — a 6.8 percent decrease.

Volume of timber harvested:

Timber harvests are estimated to consume about 500,000 acres of forestland a year.

At this level of harvesting, the state will begin to lose more forests than can be regrown.

Between 1938 and 1990, the volume of softwood timber increased by 69 percent, and hardwood increased by 175 percent.

TARGETS:  North Carolina maintains current wetland acreage and riparian buffers in each river basin.

Wetlands — that is, marshes, swamps, bogs and similar areas — are important for maintaining water quality, water storage and flood protection. 

They protect our lakes, sounds and rivers by filtering runoff from adjacent lands before it flows into surface waters.

Wetlands provide protection for rivers and streams by reducing the load that enters the waterways, and they are a habitat for aquatic organisms and wildlife.

State policy now calls for no net loss of wetland acreage and function.

“Riparian buffers” occur along riverbanks and streams, largely as a result of overbank flooding and the flow of surface and ground water parallel to the stream.

They act as water storage systems, assist in nutrient-assimilation and sediment-reduction, and stabilize banks and wildlife habitats.


Percentage of wetland acreage, compared to current levels:

The state’s woodlands restoration program estimates that there are 5 million acres of fully functioning wetlands and 2.5 million acres of degraded wetland in North Carolina.

Since colonial times, wetlands have decreased by 49 percent in the coastal plain, 28 percent in the Piedmont, and 89 percent in the mountains, according to a 1999 study by the state division of water quality.

After federal courts removed federal wetland protection rules, developers in Southeastern North Carolina disturbed and drained about 10,000 acres of wetlands in the first three months of 1999, before the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment began enforcing state rules.










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