Elected leaders from across our state are gathering in Raleigh to make key decisions that will shape the trajectory of conservation funding, land-use policies, and critical investments in community resilience strategies. Conservation Trust for NC is meeting with decision-makers to advocate for strong conservation policies you care about and to further expand our mission to build resilient, just communities throughout our state.
Our Board, staff, and community partners hope to collaborate with leaders in our state to achieve a range of conservation goals in our upcoming session:
Build Capacity for a Statewide Resilience Service Network Building on the success of AmeriCorps in bringing new energy to the world of conservation, CTNC is working with partners to launch a statewide Resilience Service Network. This effort is designed to support North Carolina communities seeking to address the impacts of flooding, fire, extreme heat, and other environmental challenges. The Network proposal was informed by the results of a feasibility study completed with funding from the State Service Commission. Over the course of the year, network supporters will begin educating our lawmakers about the opportunity, the funding requirements, and the ultimate benefits to communities throughout the state.
Push for Additional Landowner Protections Through the Uniform Act 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 legislation safeguards families from involuntary partition sales and allows access to beneficial funding and aid programs, including FEMA disaster recovery and the USDA Farm Bill. We believe North Carolina should be the next state to adopt legislation that better protects heirs’ property rights. We strongly believe the UPHPA provides substantial benefits and safeguards to North Carolina families. We join a bipartisan group of conservation organizations, land trusts, family farmland preservation advocates, and more in encouraging the enacting of these protections.
Fund North Carolina’s Trails Conservation Trust for North Carolina supports recommendations from the Great Trails State Coalition for appropriations to establish the Great Trails State Fund.
Bring Back Funding and Conservation Tax Credit Conservation Trust for North Carolina supports restoring dedicated funding from state deed excise stamp tax revenues to the Land & Water Fund and Parks & Recreation Trust Fund and restoring the 25% conservation tax credit.
Support Job Expansion and Additional Conservation Staffing Conservation Trust for North Carolina strongly supports requests by the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and Department of Agriculture requests for staff to manage the conservation trust funds and to manage new state parks, historic sites, game lands, and state forests.
We’ll need strong voices committed to sharing their commitment to conservation and community resilience throughout this year. Join our advocate network to be alerted about opportunities to support conservation policy-making alongside CTNC and our partners.
New Map Helps Pinpoint Where Climate Resilience Will Benefit Communities Most
By identifying these places, CTNC can be more strategic in delivering conservation that builds community resilience through a lens of equity and inclusion.
This project was inspired by CTNC’s collaboration with the Town of Princeville and NC State. “We saw the importance of incorporating data into project planning,” said Mary Alice Holley, project lead. “In Princeville, data compiled through the Floodprint, developed by NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab, helped identify problem areas in town where conservation interventions could have an increased positive benefit to surrounding people and places. We set out to identify other communities in North Carolina where similar partnerships could be established to inform how other communities could benefit from conservation interventions designed to build resilience.“
Mary Alice, who serves as CTNC’s Director of Community Innovation, hopes that by prioritizing conservation interventions in vulnerable places, CTNC can provide communities with proven tools to build strength before the next disaster occurs. Those tools might include acquiring land in a flood zone for increased water storage or partnering with certified controlled burn crews to reduce the fuel load in a nearby forest. In places like Princeville, conservation has become a proven tool to support people living in flood-prone areas. CTNC hopes to bring this concept and the capacity to execute projects to more communities in the coming years.
Over CTNC’s 30-year history, it has developed a prioritization and scoring model that ensures Blue Ridge Parkway land protection work is strategic and effective. The Community Resilience Model brings this knowledge and expertise to measuring climate resilience and prioritizing conservation solutions where they will matter most.
This map tells the story of North Carolina’s potential climate future. Similar maps have been created to identify the most resilient and pristine places that are advantageous for land trusts to conserve. This map does the opposite. The new model evaluates where predicted climate change impacts – such as flooding, fires, mudslides, etc. – will have the most negative impact on North Carolina communities in need.
This tool is not recommended for other conservation organizations to use for their project planning. CTNC hopes to inspire others to visualize our strategic plan priorities and goals in a concrete way for future effective conservation interventions that benefit people and places in North Carolina.
The seeds planted with this project can grow into a more just and resilient North Carolina. By pinpointing the most vulnerable areas, funding and expertise can flood in to provide the necessary information and projects to protect communities.
Stay tuned for another story in the New Year about a mapping tool designed to serve land conservationists across the state. Through a collaboration with Duke University and the Open Space Institute, CTNC has developed a state-of-the-art resource that allows partner organizations to see how lands they have or plan to conserve can help reduce the impacts of climate change while strengthening communities.
CTNC is partnering with experts statewide to help build resilient, just communities. Together, we can be ready for whatever hits our state. It just takes data and care to make it happen.
Duke Nicholas School Stanback Fellow for Summer 2022, Chloe Ochocki, worked to develop the GIS map. Through the program, CTNC was provided Chloe’s talent and time for 11 weeks to complete the project. Thanks to Fred and Alice Stanback, who fund the Stanback Fellowship Program through Duke University, and their generosity, this project was completed at no cost to the organization.
WIN: The legislature passed a budget with the Governor’s signature that made significant increases to our state’s conservation trust funds. As a result, annual recurring funding of $48.4 million to the state’s conservation trust funds will increase resources for CTNC and other organizations to continue their work.
Specifically, the budget increases recurring funding for the North Carolina Land and Water Fund and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund to $24.2 million each. A major win for protecting our parks, air and water.
The budget also continues to invest in climate resilience for communities across the state by maintaining hundreds of millions of dollars in funding previously allocated to build out a statewide flood resilience plan and begin community-driven natural infrastructure projects.
WORK TO BE DONE: Despite last-minute heroics by our legislative champions and you, our conservation advocates, House Bill 367 – Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act did not advance this session. While extremely disappointing, it is important to remember that bills as complex as the heirs’ property bill are rarely passed in a single legislative session. We will continue to work with other members of the NC Heirs Property Coalition to educate lawmakers of the importance of passing reforms that protect family-owned land throughout North Carolina. Thanks to everyone who helped in ways big and small. It was truly a team effort.
Our state leaders heard your voice and support. Thank you for moving our state forward to enable people to build resilient communities. We look forward to continuing to advocate for strong conservation policies on behalf of our community partners and advocates like you.
Preventing Involuntary Land Loss: Uniform Act Helps NC Families
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.
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 Alice – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Uniform Act Makes Way Through State Legislature Approvals
Land provides a significant source of economic stability and growth for many families. This type of land ownership is common in North Carolina. Although no one is immune to the vulnerability of losing their land to a forced partition action, this issue disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and People of Color throughout North Carolina.
A Legislative Solution:
The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act
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. This bill has been enacted
in 17 states including Georgia and South Carolina. We hope North Carolina will be next.
Currently, the North Carolina General Assembly is considering
adoption of the bill that would safeguard families from forced sales through
partition action. The NC House
recently passed the heirs property bill (H367) with strong bi-partisan support.
We deeply appreciate those showing leadership on this important issue. The
Senate will soon vote on the bill.
Families in an heirs’ property situation have difficulties
accessing federal funding for sustainable forest and habitat management,
agricultural work, and natural disaster recovery. In states where the Uniform Act
is adopted, federal law allows landowners to gain access to beneficial funding
and aid programs, including FEMA disaster recovery and the USDA Farm Bill.
CTNC has joined a coalition of non-profit and for-profit partners advocating for the adoption of the Uniform Act so North Carolina families can be protected from involuntary land loss.
Who is involved? Black Family Land Trust
Inc., Roanoke Electric Cooperative, Audubon North Carolina, Conservation Trust
for North Carolina, The Conservation Fund, The Land Loss Prevention
Project, members of the North Carolina Bar Association, academic partners,
and other experts.
Championing climate-resilient conservation to achieve statewide systemic change
“A resilient North Carolina is a state where our communities, economies, and ecosystems are better able to rebound, positively adapt to, and thrive amid changing conditions and challenges, including disasters and climate change; to maintain quality of life, healthy growth, and durable systems; and to conserve resources for present and future generations.”
Executive Summary, North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan, June 2020
The report states that “immediate focus must be on developing strategic priorities for public and natural infrastructure improvements as well as actions that integrate climate resiliency into agency operations, local disaster recovery programs, and long-term planning.”
Embracing equity as a guiding priority for our work, we’re inspired to see North Carolina leadership acknowledge the need to build capacity among our most marginalized communities. That emphasis is key to seeding systemic change toward greater resilience. Our state now has the opportunity, and the responsibility, to adopt policies that promote statewide resilience for the health of our land and all our people.
A close-up on the strategy in action
CTNC’s holistic resilience strategy is already taking shape.
With the help of amazing community partners, the expertise of the NC State’s Coastal Dynamics Design Lab, and the trust of the Princeville citizens, we are completing the Floodprint this fall. This detailed plan shows how smart conservation and landscape planning can help the town survive future floods while building a vibrant economy that preserves and celebrates Princeville’s proud history.
We are collaborating with partners to build water-absorbing, green infrastructure around the Princeville Elementary School. The school building, at the hub of the community, has been recently renovated and flood-proofed. CTNC’s project adds rain gardens, bio-swales, and other natural approaches to water management on the expansive school grounds. A Conservation Corps North Carolina crew will do much of the work, including building an educational trail for public use. A CTNC AmeriCorps service member will help develop an environmental education curriculum in partnership with students and faculty.
We are documenting our steps during this process to learn from, improve our work, and share lessons toward developing a statewide, community-based model for building resilience.
These are only the beginning steps in a multilayered and multiyear partnership. We know that achieving resilience will be an ongoing, challenging mission, but we are excited – and hopeful – that you will join us to help build a resilient, more just North Carolina.
CTNC’s mission is to help build resilient, just communities. Our focus is conservation, because that is our expertise. But when people, especially people of color, do not feel safe, whether outdoors or in their own homes, then there can be no resilience. And certainly no justice. We stand with those calling for systemic changes to our laws, policies, and practices.No one should live in fear because of the color of their skin. Every person should be able to enjoy a resilient, just North Carolina.
CTNC’s board and staff have committed to changing our internal policies and practices in ways that build a more just North Carolina where all people share in the benefits of healthy lands. As part of this journey, we have committed to exploring the ways white privilege, white supremacy, systemic racism, and unjust practices intersect with our conservation work both personally and professionally.
For those looking for ways to take action, we’ve compiled a few resources for engagement and education about systemic racism, the racialized history of land, and how we as a conservation community can become strong allies to people of color.
CTNC acknowledges that we as an organization, a community, and individuals have much to learn about our own race equity practice but we share these resources with the hope of inspiring others to join us in holding ourselves and each other accountable for learning and growth.
From the Blue Ridge Parkway to the eastern coast of our amazing state, the Conservation Trust is working alongside communities to conserve land in ways that build resilient, just communities throughout North Carolina.
We are committed to finding land-saving solutions that benefit all people.
CTNC has developed a courageous new vision for conservation that is powered by the people of our state. Our work now focuses on addressing communities’ greatest needs: climate resilience in a changing state, conservation that is led by communities, and seeding an equitable sector that benefits all people regardless of race or economic status.
Our conservation work needs to be relevant to the times we live in, meaningful to the people we work with, and effective for the future. We’re building a conservation movement powered by the people of North Carolina.
CTNC strives to seed equity and inclusion throughout the conservation community
born on the land. Eat food grown in it. Drink water that flows over
it. Build our communities within its hills, valleys, plains and rivers. There’s
not a single aspect of our lives that’s not touched by land.
land connects us all, it has also been used historically to separate us. Entire
communities of people – especially people of color – have been intentionally
displaced and excluded. That shared history of inequity means that collectively
our conservation work does not benefit all people as we intend it to.
“It’s really important for us to build these connections for youth of color in conservation because there isn’t a network like there is for other populations in conservation.”
Dawn Chávez, Asheville GreenWorks
We all benefit from greater inclusion.
CTNC is proud of the strides made over the past decade, our collective history
and the current state of conservation indicate that there’s still so much to be
done. Our work must not only create pathways to employment for rising
leaders of color, but also change our culture and practices. We must honor the
stories of black, indigenous and other people of color who have felt the loss
of access to productive land for living, farming and for preserving their
A conservation movement powered by people must include all people, not just those who have traditionally been seated at the head of the table. That’s why CTNC is committed to promoting equity through our work. Our vision is for all communities, regardless of race or economic status, to have a seat at the table.
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