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Preventing Involuntary Land Loss: Uniform Act Helps NC Families

You can help protect NC families by taking urgent action. Click here to contact your Senators and urge their support for the Uniform Act.

In North Carolina, an estimated $1.86 billion of land privately owned in North Carolina is held as heirs’ property. Heirs’ property occurs when land is passed down through generations and owned by many descendants with an undivided interest in the land.

Currently, in our state, anyone who inherits or purchases even a small interest of heirs’ property can potentially force other owners to sell against their will, often for well below fair market value. Owners of family-owned properties are vulnerable to involuntary land loss resulting from forced partition action proceedings.

Right now, a uniform bill is being adopted by state legislators across the Eastern United States. Enacting the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) in North Carolina will address how current state laws leave landowners of heirs’ property vulnerable to involuntary land loss and provide a path to prevent future loss.

The North Carolina General Assembly is considering adoption of the bill in an effort to safeguard families from forced sales and provide them with greater access to building generational wealth through land equity.

The UPHPA will:

  • give families a solid chance at keeping the land in the family when one or more owners wants to divide or sell the land through a partition action.
  • allow more time for families to make thoughtful decisions about how to sell their land. All members would get the first right of refusal – the contractual right to enter into a business transaction with a person or company before anyone else can.
  • create protections for the family to gain fair market value for their land.
  • reduce the burden of county clerks by providing a standardized procedure to follow when a heirs’ property is up for sale.

Brandon A. Robinson, CTNC Board President, is an estate planning and corporate law attorney practicing in North Carolina. Below, he shares how the Uniform Act and other resources will provide support to families seeking to stop forced sales that result in land loss.

Heirs’ property is a problem that derives largely from either inadequate or nonexistent legally binding documents that clearly state ownership and heirs’ rights. Heirs’ property is created when land is inherited without a clear title or documented legal ownership. While heirs’ property can impact any family when a landowner dies without a will or trust, this problem disproportionately impacts Black and rural families who have historically lacked either the access to high-quality legal services, or a willingness to avail themselves of such services.

Under North Carolina law, just one concurrent owner can initiate a partition proceeding, which usually results in either the physical partition, or the forced sale, of the land, depending on what the Clerk of Superior Court finds to be the most equitable solution. For example, if you are a developer, you can entice just one family heir to sell his/her stake to you and force a sale of the entire property. This happened to a family of color in Raleigh. The family had ownership of a plot of land that was rural Wake County when purchased in the 1940s. Over the years, the property had been rezoned and became more valuable as the capital city sprawled. Unfortunately, the family fell prey to a land developer who bought one heir’s interest for nominal consideration and forced a sale through a partition proceeding. The developer gained title to its initial fractional share for well below fair market value, yet reaped a windfall when the other heirs could not buy out the developer in order to keep their family land; the result was that the developer gained full control of family legacy property that could then be sold or developed for value many times greater than what the developer paid.

If the Uniform Act were to be adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly, the developer would have been preempted in favor of providing family heirs a first right of refusal, and even if a sale did eventually occur through the partition process the family would have a better chance to realize fair market value for the property, based on enforcement tools at the Clerk of Superior Court’s discretion. This would allow all families to have access to clear rules and protections of their land. This offers a way to empower marginalized people who do not have the same access to power and resources to stop a forced sale.

Adopting a Uniform Act Will Give NC Families the Best Path Toward Resolution

Alton Perry, CTNC Board Member, is a Forest Management-Land Retention Consultant with the Roanoke Electric Cooperative. He works with landowners to sustainably manage their property through agriculture, forestry, and revenue generation. Below, he shares how the Uniform Act can be a tool to protect families from forced sales that result in land loss.

The UPHPA intent is to ensure due and equitable process of heirs’ property disputes. Many organizations, attorneys, and community-based organizations offer legal assistance to heirs’ property owners. North Carolina legislators and clerks of court, aided by the process created by the Uniform Act, could offer solutions to families and reduce land lost to forced sales, by referring heirs’ property owners to these resources, therefore reducing the number of cases that would result in a forced partition action.

Heirs’ Property Rights is a problem that cuts across rural and urban divides. All families with multigenerational roots could wrestle with these problems. This legislation brings basic fairness, protection of ownership, and a clear and streamlined process for land ownership and land transfers to our state. This helps all people – white owners, marginalized urban populations, and descendants of enslaved people in the South. This will benefit all of North Carolina.

Ways to get involved.

CTNC views the adoption of the Uniform Act as an integral part of our mission to build resilient and just communities through conservation solutions. Without a clear path to prove or resolve ownership of land, NC families lose the ability to leverage their land for conservation and economic value or to access federal relief funds after disasters.

As a member of the CTNC community, we hope you will stand with us to advocate for smart conservation policies that allow every North Carolinian to benefit from conservation and have the tools to build communities that are resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Read more:

Climate Resilience Leaders – Rusty Painter

Photo of Staff Member Rusty Painter

Rusty Painter’s Master of Environmental Management from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University wasn’t the end of his connection to the school and the future of climate protection. He returns each year to present to classes on a variety of topics, from CTNC’s strategic approach to address climate change and more. “I’m motivated by my son and future generations, from whom we are all ‘borrowing’ this planet.”

His background and his master’s degree in forestry are invaluable as Land Protection Director for CTNC. Rusty joined the CTNC family in 2001. He oversees CTNC’s land protection efforts along the Blue Ridge Parkway and our collaborative partnerships with local land trusts. Recent successes include the preservation of the Florence Boyd Home / Asutsi Trailhead Property, and the Cranberry Creek Expansion project, both of which will be transferred to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Rusty Painter tours the Florence Boyd/Asutsi Trailhead property with Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Swartout, Chloe Ochocki, & Caitlin Markus (L to R).

When did you first realize the real and present impacts of climate change?
The concept of global warming due to the greenhouse effect made sense to me the first time I heard about it, but I guess I really grasped the severity of the problem when Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth came out. What a shame that our political, social and economic systems continued to drive us down this path. Think how much progress could have been made over the last 30 years had we committed to solving the problem back then.

What does climate resilience mean to you?
Adaptation using a combination of evolution and technology – applying our experience, and projections based on sound science to adapt to our changing climate. We must realize that adaptation isn’t the only path forward. Humans must commit themselves to actions that will minimize the need to adapt, or the extent to which we must adapt.

How have you seen climate change impact North Carolina?
One example that I struggle with in my work at CTNC is the expansion of tick habitat. I never used to get ticks while visiting our conservation properties along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but climatic shifts have enabled ticks to colonize areas that were previously too cold, so I’m now getting ticks while out on properties in the mountains. Yuck!

What are actions that organizations in NC can take right now to make our state more resilient?
Conserve energy. Simply using less results in immediate reductions of carbon emissions and has the potential to save far more resources (of all kinds) than our slow, incremental conversion to renewable energy sources. I challenge everyone to consider every action they take throughout the day and do it with half of what they currently use. You’ll find it’s not as difficult as you think. That approach can be applied to most organizations, corporations and government agencies as well. Once ingrained in our psyche, daily routines, organizational procedures, and subsequently, our infrastructure, carbon neutrality on a timeline that will make a difference becomes legitimately achievable.

What’s one thing everyone should know about climate action?
It’s up to all of us to change our mindset and daily routines, but also to support groups doing good work, and electing leaders committed to making the difficult decisions & changes we must make.

Working in climate resilience can be overwhelming. How do you keep going?
I remain optimistic because of the resilience of the human spirit and advancements in technology. Organisms change and adapt…daily, yearly, and over generations. Humans have evolved to the point where we can adapt naturally, like other species, but also use technology to ‘artificially’ adapt. I just hope society is willing to change sooner rather than later, so future generations don’t have to rely on artificial adaptations that will diminish our connection to the natural world.

If you have questions about how CTNC’s land protection enhances climate resilience, contact Rusty to start a conversation.

Invest in Conservation for North Carolina’s Future

Our state’s conservation needs are not one-and-done. CTNC and our fellow members of the Land for Tomorrow coalition are working with state leaders to build on the foundation of conservation funding. Every generation deserves to have healthy functioning land and water that are not only beautiful but also provide clean air and water.

We commend our governor and legislators for passing a budget in 2021 that prioritized land and water conservation. Our state leaders put our parks, game lands, forests, trails, and farms at the top of the priority list and we are thankful for that. This historic spending allocation was the highest since the 2008 recession and will benefit people and nature for generations to come.

Land and water are North Carolina’s most important economic assets. The four engines of North Carolina’s economy – agriculture, tourism, forestry, and the military – depend on natural and working lands and clean water. Protecting these vital natural resources is essential to ensure these economic drivers will continue to flourish and provide jobs for North Carolinians.

Our state’s conservation trust funds ensure that the North Carolina Land and Water Trust Fund (NCLWF), Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF), and the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund (ADFPTF) are fully funded to be the safeguards for our state. These funds enable conservation groups to continue working with state agencies to protect North Carolina’s valuable natural resources, ensuring that both current and future generations will continue to benefit from all our land has to offer.

In 2022, we are asking for our legislators to invest in our state’s future. With necessary increases in funding to the conservation trust funds, we will all be able to protect our state’s clean water, parks and recreation land, and farmland. Our state legislators alone determine the fate of the conservation trust funds and important legislation that helps our state thrive. Forward planning is what we’re asking for today.

Land and Water Fund
Increase recurring funds to:

  • $25 million recurring in FY22-23
  • $35 million recurring in FY23-24
  • $45 million recurring in FY24-25

Parks and Recreation Trust Fund
Increase recurring funds to:

  • $25 million recurring in FY22-23
  • $35 million recurring in FY23-24
  • $45 million recurring in FY24-25

Additional Funding for Conservation Projects
Non-recurring funds to LWF for military projects and to help match the FY 2023 ENC Sentinel Landscape REPI Challenge proposal to the US Dept of Defense

Heirs Property
The Land for Tomorrow Coalition supports HB 367/S363, Uniform Partition of Heirs Property

Conservation Tax Credit
The Land for Tomorrow Coalition supports H323, Military Readiness and Rural Resilience Act

Restore Dedicated Conservation Funding
Adopt House Bill 372/Senate Bill 354 “Restore Funding/State Conservation Purposes”

Trails Funding
Land for Tomorrow support recommendations from the Great Trails State Coalition

State Parks
The Land for Tomorrow Coalition supports recurring funds to NC State Parks to open & operate new facilities and land funded by the Connect NC Bond, PARTF stateside LWCF and other sources as recommended by the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources

Game Lands
The Land for Tomorrow Coalition supports recurring funds to NC Wildlife Resources Commission to manage new and expanded game lands as recommended by the WRC

Forests
The Land for Tomorrow Coalition supports recurring funds for NC Forest Service to manage state forests as recommended by the Commissioner of Agriculture

Help us make sure that our land and water is protected for everyone.

Invest in Conservation for North Carolina’s Future

  • Share on social media – Share a photo or video about the land you’ve enjoyed and want to protect using #land4tomorrow on Twitter or Instagram.
  • Ask your friends to join – Encourage your friends to make a video.
  • Thank your legislators – Let them know we appreciate their support of NC land and water

Climate Resilience Leaders – Mary Alice Holley

Mary Alice Holley’s conservation roots run deep. Her dedication to protecting the land on which we live and play is evident to everyone who meets her.

Mary Alice has been with Conservation Trust for North Carolina since 2016 and currently serves as Director of Community Innovation. In her current role, she works with CTNC’s staff, board, and partners to ensure the organization advances its mission to build resilient, just communities for all North Carolinians.

She has built on a long career in nonprofit communications and public relations. She has been at the forefront in helping change the conversation about climate change from oppositional to encouraging a community effort. Prior to joining the organization, she put her B.A. in mass communications and rhetorical writing from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to work as she supported conservation organizations throughout the state in building smart communication strategies that better connect supporters to their missions.

During her career, she’s worked on a variety of climate change communications campaigns including the Audubon North Carolina Birds and Climate pilot program and served as the Z. Smith Reynolds Conservation and Climate grant program lead on behalf of North Carolina land trusts. Most recently, she developed a climate communication tool kit in partnership with Land Trust Alliance to provide Southeastern United States land trusts with a guide to engaging their supporters on climate change issues locally and regionally.

When not working to protect the planet, she’s hard at work making her own land more resilient by building rain gardens, pollinator habitats, and a vegetable garden on her 1-acre homestead in Orange County, NC. She also finds time to manage a flock of chickens, 2 dogs, honey bees, and an ever-expanding system of raised garden beds.

She’s incredibly passionate about protecting our state’s communities by managing our water. “For North Carolina – climate change is often thought of as a sea-level rise issue – and I believe this challenge reaches far beyond our coastlines. North Carolina is in the top 10% of states in the United States with land situated along coastlines, rivers, and streams. Our ability to protect our communities and maintain our resilience in the future is wholly reliant on our ability to better manage water quantity and water quality challenges. Water issues will impact every North Carolinian across the state and we have the opportunity to come together as one state to find innovative solutions.”

When did you first realize the real and present impacts of climate change?
From a young age, I knew changes were occurring with more frequency and severity. I can remember when my hometown was covered in a foot of snow in the middle of spring, or when the Tennessee River was inundated from storms and our community park was underwater for two weeks before the floods receded. These weather events were not at that time normal or expected – but today they are. It took time for me to study environmental issues and to connect these events to global warming and climate change – but once I could identify the root cause of these events, I began to see my role in identifying and implementing solutions. I felt empowered to think about how my actions could either contribute to climate change or contribute to the effort to create a better outcome. Since then, I’ve committed myself to making decisions for myself, my household, my family, and my community that offer solutions to the climate crisis on small and large scales.

How have you seen climate change impact North Carolina?
North Carolina has nearly 38,000 miles of river in our state. I have been fortunate enough to paddle many of our rivers and even more of our lakes and marshlands. They’re incredibly beautiful and scenic, but our river systems are also critical to the health of human and natural communities. As climate change brings more frequent and severe storms to our state, these rivers will be our first line of defense to hold water and protect communities from the destruction caused by floods. But that will only happen if we bring together experts, policymakers, and funding resources to evaluate how we can better utilize our rivers as assets to face the climate crisis.

In Princeville, residents and community leaders have been dealing with the threat of floods since its founding. Their position along the Tar River has caused extreme challenges for their residents – but that experience as a town that floods has now positioned them as a leader in the effort to find innovative solutions to live with flooding rivers in the face of climate change. They’re marrying the best of science, technology, and conservation to tackle this challenge head-on and their counterparts in more communities across the state are taking notice. Our climate will continue to change and we will continue to feel those effects, but we can’t let the opportunity pass by to change our habits and policies to better equip ourselves for these future realities.

What actions can organizations in NC take right now to make our state more resilient?
A resilient community is one where people are meaningfully engaged and empowered, where leadership is responsive to community needs as defined by its residents, and where its people are able to respond to climate-related disasters by rebuilding or adapting in ways that make them stronger and more prepared for future challenges. What better way for organizations to have an impact than to partner with each other, with funders, elected officials, and local community members with a shared goal to collaborate toward finding and implementing solutions to the climate crisis? We as mission-oriented, community-driven organizations have a responsibility to the people of North Carolina to do whatever we can to increase our resilience because everyone will benefit from this collective effort.

Working in climate resilience can be overwhelming. How do you keep going?
I remind myself that every action I take as an individual has an impact on someone else – so why not channel that energy toward being a climate champion and environmental steward? Within my home, my family are all committed to reducing our climate impact by composting our food waste, reducing our energy consumption where possible, growing food for ourselves and our neighbors, and sharing our passion for conservation and environmental stewardship with others. Professionally, I have dedicated my career to supporting initiatives that have a net-positive effect on the climate crisis whether that be educating North Carolinians on the importance of land conservation as a climate solution or helping other organizations communicate about and celebrate their own climate impact successes.

I find energy from modeling my life in ways that can inspire others. If I am able to wake up every day and know I contributed to a national movement to conserve land in ways that absorb more carbon, protect people from the harm of floods, support climate-smart agriculture and farming practices, and increase the number of people who are committed to taking small actions in their everyday lives – I will have been successful. I believe that people’s actions coupled with smart policies will change the course of our climate future.

Do you want Mary Alice to speak at your next event? Contact Mary Alicemholley@ctnc.org.

Advocating for Smart Conservation Policies

CTNC’s 2022 Policy Agenda

Conservation can provide solutions to many challenges facing our communities. Through innovative conservation strategies, we can build places to hold excess water after storms, protect trees that absorb carbon from the atmosphere, and offer places for people to relax for their mental and physical health.

In 2021, North Carolina legislators voted to spend nearly $200 million to support efforts that will allow our state to become more resilient to climate change. We urge our state leaders to repeat this important investment in our state’s natural resources. Only with smart conservation policies will we successfully build resilient communities that are prepared to weather any storm.

CTNC’s Policy Goals include:

  • Increase public funding for land acquisition, park maintenance, trail construction, and recreation access
  • Empower communities to invest in flood-resilient strategies
  • Prevent involuntary land loss caused by forced partition sales of heirs property
  • Build capacity within communities through AmeriCorps and other service opportunities

These goals will guide our work with policymakers and legislators for the years to come and key outcomes will prepare our state for whatever comes next.

INCREASING FUNDING FOR CONSERVATION
CTNC supports the continued funding of the conservation trust funds as recommended by Land for Tomorrow. We hope to work with members of the General Assembly to increase recurring funding for the state’s conservation trust funds and state agencies. Read more about the legislative priorities set by members of Land for Tomorrow.

As a member of the Great Trails State Coalition, CTNC will continue to work with members of the General Assembly to bring the economic, health, and environmental benefits of trails to North Carolina communities.

Read more about the legislative priorities set by members of the Great Trails State Coalition.

EMPOWERING RESILIENT COMMUNITIES
North Carolina communities need greater investments, increased capacity, and a cadre of service-minded people to be successful in implementing the recommendations of Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 80 and Climate Risk and Resilience Plan. CTNC will advocate for the funding and resources that provide every community with the opportunity to benefit from AmeriCorps service that builds capacity and finds innovative conservation solutions to address the issue of climate change. Learn more about Resilience Corps NC.

Land trusts can lead the way in addressing the impacts of climate change and flood risk. Alongside the Land Trust Alliance, CTNC will promote policies and funding that advance natural climate solutions while supporting the protection, restoration and stewardship of open and working lands that increase climate resilience. Read more about Land Trust Alliance’s policy priorities.

PREVENTING INVOLUNTARY LAND LOSS
Enacting the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) in North Carolina will address how current state laws leave landowners of heirs’ property vulnerable to involuntary land loss. The UPHPA will help families by giving them a solid chance at keeping the land in the family when one or more owners wants to divide or sell the land through a partition action. Currently, the North Carolina General Assembly is considering adoption of the bill that would safeguard families from forced sales through partition action. Read more about the NC Heirs Property Coalition and our effort to adopt the Uniform Act for NC families and landowners.

It All Starts with Collaboration to Seed Better Outcomes
CTNC is committed to participating in coalitions to find a better future for our state. Our team is active members of Land for Tomorrow, the Great Trails State Coalition, and the NC Heirs Property Coalition, Conservation Trust for NC. These coalitions advocate for smart conservation policies and adequate funding on behalf of our members, community partners, and collaborative projects.

Join Us
As a member of the CTNC community, we hope you will stand with us and advocate for smart conservation policies that allow every North Carolinian to benefit from conservation and get the tools needed to build communities that are resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Climate Resilience Leaders – Chris Canfield

Since 2017, Conservation Trust for North Carolina Executive Director Chris Canfield has held the helm of the land protection nonprofit organization. He has steered it to face our state’s greatest economic and environmental foe – climate change.

His career path wasn’t always focused on conservation. His logical mind is balanced with a rational heart. After completing a bachelor’s in mathematics from Birmingham-Southern College, he traveled to England to complete a master’s focusing on 20th Century English Literature from the University of Oxford.

His first direct work in mitigating climate change was in his previous role as Vice President for the Mississippi Flyway at the National Audubon Society. He co-led a national coalition supporting climate resilience for the state of Louisiana and also advised on the formulation and rollout of Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report in September 2014.

As the executive director for CTNC, Chris has been asked to sit on numerous climate resilience coalitions and state committees, including the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency’s Steering Committee advising on the creation of a Community Resilience Planning Guide.

Chris is thankful for the foundation laid by the supporters and leaders before him. “I feel fortunate that the conservation work we and all of CTNC’s partners have been doing, long before most of us heard much about climate change, turns out to be an integral part of the needed response. Our preserved natural lands already provide a refuge that wildlife will need and store carbon and hold water in ways crucial for reducing impacts on communities in the future. Of course, we will need to greatly increase the pace of this work now that we understand that linkage to climate change. But we are already pointed in the right direction.”

When did you first realize the real and present impacts of climate change?
Like so many of us with long careers in conservation, I knew climate change was a threat decades ago. But what turned that parts-per-million into people-per-place was my return in 2010 to my childhood home state of Louisiana. There I led Audubon’s response to the BP oil spill disaster. I soon discovered that the place I spent the first ten years of my life was changing dramatically and rapidly. It is no longer theoretical when you see land disappearing at the rate of a football field every hour and see people displaced a hundred miles inland. Returning to North Carolina years later, I felt I had to share the story of what I had seen and learned. I would often hear, “yes, but Louisiana is a very different state.” And in so many ways, I, of course, agreed. But enough was similar to a coastal state in the hurricane zone not to give up on pushing for a massive mobilization in North Carolina to mitigate against and adapt to the changes coming.

What’s one thing everyone should know about climate action?
Climate change is not just an issue of science; it is an issue of community. Without strong intentions to change the reality, climate change will further stratify us into communities with more resources and options and those with markedly fewer. So any process for responding to its effects equitably has to bring all community voices to the table.

What does climate resilience mean to you?
Climate impacts are asking us to see resilience in environmental terms, but also social and economic ones. If we meet the challenge with that broad view, communities can end up not just able to survive the next hurricane, but actually fairer and more cohesive places for people in their everyday lives.

How have you seen climate change impact North Carolina?
It is increasingly well documented that we have more and stronger hurricanes and other storms and increasing droughts in North Carolina as a result of climate change. Those make the headlines. But personally, I see it in the shift in birds in my backyard, the timing of their arrival and nesting and migration. The changes in our gardening season and hardiness zone are likewise very real. I also see it (and feel it) in the increase in pollen, which has a longer and more intense season. And many places in the state I know and love that only thought about flooding in extreme conditions now see standing water and inundations without seeming direct causes – so-called “sunny day flooding.”

What are actions that organizations in NC can take right now to make our state more resilient?
The most important thing is acknowledging that this is happening and that we need to respond. I’m happy to see the 2021 legislative session in North Carolina embrace reality and support more than $200 million in planning and implementation of projects to help improve the state’s resilience. Of course, that is only a down payment. Louisiana has already committed to a 50-year, $50 billion plan. Many there acknowledge even that isn’t enough. Studies show that as high as those price tags sound, failing to plan and act now will cost many, many times more in damages later. And I’m convinced that we can also create economic resilience through climate resilience work.

Working in climate resilience can be overwhelming. How do you keep going?
First, I try to minimize the blame and shame part of climate change work because we all are complicit out of ignorance or denial in getting us here, and second because it is exhausting. I’d rather expend the energy on working together toward solutions that help build that more resilient North Carolina community by community. That is why the work with the people of Princeville is so important to me. Together we are creating a model that we believe many other communities can be inspired by and follow. On a tough day, just thinking about the resilience and hopes of the people of Princeville gets me up and at work again.

Do you want Chris to collaborate with your organization on climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation solutions or speak at your next event? Contact Chris – chris@ctnc.org.

AmeriCorps Profiles: Mawadda Almasri

A desire to live her life in service to others and the planet led Mawadda Almasri to Resilience Corps NC at the NC State Zoo in Asheboro, NC.

After graduating from NC State University with a degree in Sustainable Materials and Technology, she started her position as Diversity & Inclusion Assistant. “When I found the position with AmeriCorps, I knew it was a perfect opportunity for me to create a positive impact on the world.”

Learn more about Mawadda’s job and advice about AmeriCorps service.

What does your current service position entail?
My work mainly focuses on developing educational programs for under-resourced communities to educate them on climate change in a simple and engaging way. I’ve also put together an educational program on composting that can be presented to zoo guests in Kidzone, the zoo’s nature play area. In addition, I started a garden at the zoo, which will be used for educational workshops to emphasize the importance of growing our food.

What do you love about your current role?
I love creating programs. I enjoy deciding what information to include for the specific audience, how to organize the ideas to make them easily understood, what activities to incorporate, and what props to bring. But, for me, the best part is presenting the program to the audience and seeing them engage with the material and understand the concept.

What are the lessons you’ve learned since joining the program?
I’ve learned that things don’t always go according to plan, and that’s okay. Being an educator is about being flexible when there are last-minute changes or hiccups. I try to be patient with myself and remind myself of all I’ve accomplished.

What is your advice to others interested in AmeriCorps service?
Whatever your reason for joining AmeriCorps, always remind yourself of that reason throughout your service. Staying focused on it will keep you motivated and help you push through harder days. I always remind myself of how my service work is providing climate change education to children who might not otherwise get that education. That lesson might inspire those children to work in the environmental field.

What are your plans for the future?
I would love to stay in the environmental education sector, but I’m open to doing anything related to the environment that will allow me to make a positive impact. There isn’t a particular company or position I’m working toward, I just look and see what positions are available, and I apply to the ones that best align with my values and mission. I believe education is my calling, and I would love to focus more on educating people about various topics such as environmental justice, food waste and food insecurity, sustainable community gardens, consumerism and its impacts, and climate change and its impacts. At the end of the day, I know that as long as my work brings me joy and helps people and the planet, it will be a rewarding experience.

If you’re inspired by Mawadda’s story, click here to meet more Resilience Corps NC members (past and present) who are making an impact on communities throughout our state.

Princeville Elementary School teachers volunteer during a community planting day.

Seeds of Climate Resilience: FEMA Buyout Program

“Seeds of Climate Resilience” is a blog series to inspire ideas to help our state weather our changing climate. We can protect our families, economies, and the environment. The seeds of change planted today will help communities thrive for generations to come.

All too often, flood-prone communities are dotted with vacated lots that are scraped clean of man-made structures and left for nature to reclaim. These lots are usually deemed prone to future flooding, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has given the landowners a path to sell their property and move away from the potential of repeated flooding.

What are FEMA buyouts?
Buyouts are the primary federal program designed to increase disaster resiliency.

After a presidentially-declared disaster, local officials may decide to request money from the state to purchase properties that have either flooded or been substantially damaged. The state chooses to offer buyouts using FEMA’s money through its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to reduce future disaster losses.

Buyouts are voluntary, and no one is required to sell their property. As part of the federal buyout program, the area is deed restricted and cannot be developed with permanent structures in the future. Existing properties and structures are demolished, cleared, and permanently maintained as green space by the local government.

The voluntary buyout program gives property owners the option to sell their property and move away from the potential of repeated flooding while reducing property damages and expenses incurred from flooding. The flood buyout program can be an extremely useful tool for communities recovering from a natural disaster.

How does it help lessen climate change?
As our climate changes, communities are experiencing more frequent and severe rainfall as well as greater swings between rains and drought. Creating permeable spaces designed to capture water benefits people, plants, and wildlife.

Once homes are bought, the land is vacated and development rights removed. This provides communities with an opportunity to restore the land to a natural space that can be designed to store water and be flooded again while keeping future residents out of harm’s way.
North Carolina relies on FEMA-funded buyouts to create more open space and reduce future disaster risks.

What if these abandoned spaces were given new life through conservation work?
Land where buyouts occur is eventually deeded over to the town or other local government agency. The rules say that such lots can never be built on again. Too often they remain vacant and are seen as a blight to the remaining community members. But there are other options.

Organizations and local governments can sometimes turn these buyout lots into community use spaces. While these spaces are not safe for human habitation or businesses, with a little imagination, they can be transformed into spaces that support a thriving community. Communities where voluntary buyouts have occurred then have an opportunity to convert that land to a conservation use like a public park, managed wetland, community garden, or other non-permanent use.

North Carolina Success Story: Princeville
Finding effective land uses for FEMA buyout properties is a cornerstone in Princeville’s flood mitigation strategy.

In a project funded by an EJ4Climate: Environmental Justice and Climate Resilience grant from the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation and EPA, CTNC will work with the Town of Princeville to convert vacant and underutilized parcels to conservation benefits, including managed wetlands and a model community garden. This new grant program addresses environmental inequality and promotes community-level innovation and climate adaptation. The leaders and residents of Princeville hope this will become a replicable model that flood-prone communities across North Carolina will implement to protect their residents from the damage caused by severe flood and rain events.

In 2021, the NC General Assembly included over $200 million in the state budget to fund resilience projects that will aid communities in addressing flooding and building resiliency through conservation solutions.

How can citizens help determine how vacant land created from buyouts could be used or maintained?
Advocate with your local elected officials for shared community green space and conservation projects on vacant and underutilized land owned by your city, town or municipality. Where possible, a local land trust or conservation organization may offer programs to support this effort.

Over the past 20 years, The Land Conservancy of New Jersey has worked with communities impacted by ongoing, damaging storms. In many of these municipalities, FEMA cannot provide the relief residents need to leave their properties and settle elsewhere. The Land Conservancy office worked with these towns, the State of New Jersey, and homeowners to purchase more than 200 homes and convert the land to open space. Restoring the land to its natural condition provides additional capacity to hold stormwater, offers safety to residents, reduces further loss of property, and saves the lives of emergency responders who continue to put themselves in harm’s way during these dangerous situations. It creates a park where none existed before and answered a community’s needs to reduce the harmful and serious effects of repetitive, overwhelming storms in some of our most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Learn more about CTNC’s efforts to conserve land in watersheds as a climate mitigation tool protecting NC communities.

SOURCES:

Seeds of Climate Resilience: Rain Gardens

“Seeds of Climate Resilience” is a blog series to inspire ideas to help our state weather our changing climate. We can protect our families, economies, and the environment. The seeds of change planted today will help communities thrive for generations to come.

Rain gardens offer an attractive and effective solution to address flooding and increased rainfall on a property.

According to the North Carolina State Climate Office,

Heavy rains from hurricanes and other weather systems will become more frequent and intense. Annual precipitation is also expected to increase. These changes are driven primarily by increases in atmospheric water vapor as the climate warms. Extreme rainfall in North Carolina can result from hurricanes, Nor’easters, or other weather systems like thunderstorms. Severe thunderstorms are also likely to increase in a warming climate and can cause flash flooding, especially in urban areas.

https://climate.ncsu.edu/learn/climate-change/

Water containment will be increasingly important as our communities in low-lying areas or near lakes, rivers, and streams see rising waters and flooding.

What is a rain garden?
A rain garden has grasses, flowers, and shrubs that can survive in water-soaked soil after a rainstorm. Rain gardens are located in the low points of yards so that the water that runs off of roofs or driveways can be directed towards the rain garden. After the storm, the soil and plants absorb the rain, and the area dries out quickly.

A rain garden is NOT a wetland, a place for mosquitos to thrive, or difficult to maintain long-term. This garden area is dry to lightly moist most of the time. And it is naturally beautiful!

How does it help mitigate climate change?
As our climate changes, communities are experiencing more frequent and severe rainfall and greater swings between rains and drought. Creating permeable spaces designed to capture water benefits plants, wildlife, people, and the built environment.

If rainwater has nowhere else to go, it will often result in flooding or standing water. However, if rainwater is captured where it lands, it can promote healthy plants and sustainable ecosystems that provide a conservation benefit to nearby residents.

Supporting habitat: Rain gardens capture and store water after heavy rainfall. The water is held in the garden area, absorbed by the water-loving plants, and naturally filtered back into the soil.

Managing stormwater: Any water that does not infiltrate the groundwater then moves through a canal, ditch, drain, or pipeline until it reaches a larger body of water such as a river, pond, or wetland area.

Rainwater is not treated at a facility to remove pollutants before entering larger waterways. This means that rain gardens are essential to help naturally filter the water that passes through them.

This process allows communities to better manage heavy amounts of rainfall and stormwater by slowing it down and using natural spaces to provide an added layer of filtration before the water reaches your home.

North Carolina Success Story: Princeville Elementary School
After Hurricane Matthew devastated Princeville Elementary School in 2016, students had to go to schools in surrounding communities for three years until their school could be renovated and flood-proofed. Finally, in 2020, the Princeville Elementary School welcomed back its almost 200 students.

As part of a $200,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Wells Fargo Resilient Communities Program, CTNC worked with local organizations to install rain gardens at the school to capture and redirect water. Today, the gardens work to protect the school from excess water. The gardens were designed by the NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab and installed by volunteers from Conservation Corps NC, CTNC, NC State, M&M Landscaping Co. and residents of Princeville.

Learn more about our work in Princeville.

How can citizens help build a rain garden in your community?
This article from NC State has great tips to bring this climate adaptation strategy to your community:
“Why Your Yard Might Need a Rain Garden”

SOURCE: Rain Water Guide developed by NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab

AmeriCorps Profiles: Abby Cates

Photo of Abby Cates holding worm

Expanding her personal and professional skills plus having a whole lot of fun, Abby Cates’ serves with North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, NC through Resilience Corps NC.

Abby is one of 15 members of the 2022 Resilience Corps NC cohort. Learn more about the impact these members make while serving with community partners across our state.

Abby completed her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sciences at Elon University before joining AmeriCorps. Now she’s serving as a Natural Areas Conservation and Education Coordinator for the largest natural habitat zoo in the world.

“I joined AmeriCorps to gain knowledge and skills within my field that would propel me into my future career goals,” said Abby.

Learn more about Abby’s job and advice about AmeriCorps service.

What does your current service position entail?
In my role, I conduct wildlife research on a variety of different species across 2,000 natural acres owned by the NC Zoo. I am also responsible for planning and leading environmental education programming for both children and adults. Lastly, I have become knowledgeable in the construction and maintenance of hiking trails, and I am in the process of building ~2 miles of trails on zoo property.

Photo of Abby Cates leading education opportunity for students

What do you love about your current role?
I love that I can be outside in nature most days and feel that I am making a difference with my various research and conservation work. I have always felt a strong connection to nature and this role allows me to both appreciate and protect what I cherish most.

What lesson have you learned since joining the program?
There is no direct route to any situation. This has forced me to think deeper and more creatively to solve more complex problems in the community. Also, not everyone will understand or support your work. I have learned to have patience and adapt to unfamiliar situations.

What do you wish people knew about working in conservation?
I wish people knew that there are people doing this kind of work! I have been confronted by many people who do not realize that my type of service is a career option. There is a demand for work in conservation as the importance of preserving natural land and wildlife is coming into the forefront of people’s minds. Conservation Trust for NC and the NC Zoo granted me an opportunity to start my career goals in a time when I didn’t know where to start.

What is something you wish people understood about working with communities in conservation?
I’ve learned that not all audiences will connect with you but that can’t let you feel defeated or stop you from trying. This role has allowed me to reframe my thinking around the best ways to spread information and inspire a community about local conservation. While this can be challenging at times, it is important to know how to best connect and inspire action in your audience.

What advice do you have for people thinking about AmeriCorps?
Do it! AmeriCorps is a perfect opportunity for people trying to figure out their personal and professional goals. They make it easy to find a host site and service opportunities that pertain to your specific interests.

What are your plans for the future?
I do not have any set-in-stone plans after my AmeriCorps year. However, I have always known that I wanted to be a steward of the Earth, whether that is through research, conservation, or education. I hope to share my skill set with others and create a meaningful impact on the places I travel and the people I meet. I hope to one day have my own land and develop a permaculture farm to create a standardized system that allows humans to work with nature rather than against it.

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