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Posted on: December 4, 2019

Two new projects analyze state of local environment, emphasize conservation

Photo of Orange County landscape

A State of the Environment report for Orange County and the Eno-New Hope Landscape Conservation Plan were released Wednesday, Dec. 4, at an Environmental Summit hosted by Orange County and the Eno-New Hope Landscape Conservation Group. The summit brought together local governments, conservation groups, universities, and ecologists to discuss current environmental work and achievements in a 4-county area including Chatham, Durham, Orange, and Wake. A major focus of the summit and these two new reports is on opportunities for regional collaboration to provide local solutions to some of our urgent environmental problems.

The 2019 State of the Environment report was produced by the Orange County Commission for the Environment (CFE), a citizen board that advises the Orange County Board of Commissioners on matters related to the natural environment. The CFE completed the first State of the Environment report in February 2000. Following that initial effort, the Commission for the Environment decided it would continue to monitor environmental indicators so that it might identify the status and trends of environmental quality in Orange County. Subsequent reports were completed in 2002, 2004, 2009, and 2014.

The 2019 report highlights Orange County’s ongoing commitment to a healthy environment, including a transition to 100% renewable energy county wide by 2050, maintaining a Rural Buffer planning zone to limit urban sprawl for over 30 years, actively supporting local, sustainable agriculture, and reaching the goal of conserving 10% of the County’s land. The report also points out that continued population growth, along with global threats like climate change, will test the County’s resilience and responsiveness to environmental change.

The report’s well-researched recommendations on topics such as land and biodiversity conservation, watershed health and vulnerability, and energy insecurity for low income households will help Orange County improve its resilience, increase protections for its most vulnerable residents, and continue to show leadership in environmental conservation. For more information and to download this and previous Orange County State of the Environment Reports, please visit www.orangecountync.gov/465/State-of-Environment.

Eno-New Hope Landscape Conservation Plan

The Eno-New Hope Landscape Conservation Plan was produced by a collaboration among local governments, conservation groups, universities, and ecologists and focuses on the critical importance of habitat connectivity for wildlife in the Eno River and New Hope Creek watersheds in Chatham, Durham, Orange, and Wake counties. This landscape is home to a rich diversity of plants and animals that rely on habitats provided by connected patches of forest, wetlands, and other natural communities. With habitat fragmentation and climate change threatening the persistence of biodiversity, this project produced a prioritized network of wildlife habitat and corridors based on species’ habitat needs for survival.

State of the Environment Graphic”Few states have the variety of natural treasures found in North Carolina,” says Tom Earnhardt, host, producer, and writer of UNC-TV’s Exploring North Carolina. “In recent decades our strong economy has brought with it a rapid rise in population and development that have consumed natural spaces that once connected important ecosystems. This project involving indicator habitats, focal species, and other ‘tools’ offers an opportunity for our region to understand the natural network that exists and to prioritize the protection of habitats and movement corridors that sustain it.”

The project participants collaborated across Orange, Chatham, Durham, and Wake counties to identify priority corridors that connect a network of critical wildlife habitats within and between the Eno River and New Hope Creek watersheds. Without these corridors, wildlife populations will decline and other societal benefits received from the existing natural network—such as water quality—will be diminished.

The project uses existing conservation data and a geographic information systems approach to identify existing habitat and corridors that are essential for landscape connectivity. The results can be used to shape an overall landscape conservation strategy that fosters coordination on shared conservation goals based on ecological systems rather than political boundaries. Results are relevant for land use decision-making, transportation improvement planning, and wildlife conservation.

The mapped results demonstrate the importance of lands protected by land trusts, governments, educational institutions, utility companies, and private landowners as anchors of habitat within the network, and it highlights critical connections between them that are in need of protection.

The resulting wildlife habitat connectivity plan also recognizes the crucial need for coordination across jurisdictions to preserve a connected, healthy, and diverse natural landscape for the benefit of both wildlife and people.  Next steps recommended in the plan include using these results to:

  • Commit to landscape conservation in recognition of the need to protect wildlife habitats and the connections between them
  • Define landscape conservation priorities using the results of this collaborative effort to identify habitats and connections that need protection
  • Develop and adopt clear, explicit landscape conservation plans
  • Integrate landscape conservation plans into land use planning and decision-making
  • Coordinate with other jurisdictions to facilitate implementation of landscape conservation plans
  • Follow established guidelines for protecting wildlife corridors and improving wildlife crossings

A Landscape Plan for Wildlife Habitat Connectivity in the Eno River and New Hope Creek Watersheds, North Carolina is a Partners for Green Growth project funded by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and Orange County, NC, and administered by the North Carolina Botanical Garden Foundation, Inc. Other project collaborators include: Duke Forest, Durham County, Eno River Association, NatureServe, New Hope Creek Corridor Advisory Committee, North Carolina Botanical Garden, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, Southern Conservation Partners, Town of Chapel Hill, Triangle Land Conservancy, Wake County, and Wildlands Network.

For more information on this project including how to support these efforts, please visit ncbg.unc.edu/eno-new-hope-plan/.

For more information

Contact: Johnny Randall | jrandall@email.unc.edu
Contact: Brennan Bouma | bbouma@orangecountync.gov

Photo credit: Melissa McGaw