fbpx

Public Lands Day 2022 Honors Efforts to Protect Waterrock Knob, Stewards and Partners

In late September, Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC) joined National Park Service leaders along with representatives from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and numerous partners in land conservation to celebrate the work to protect the Blue Ridge Parkway and Waterrock Knob.

We joined our partners from The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Blue Ridge Conservancy, Conserving Carolina, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, Piedmont Land Conservancy, Mainspring Conservation Trust, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, and others to celebrate the historic and current stewardship of the important natural and cultural resources along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the generous donors who make it possible.

In 2016, land trust partners announced a large-scale protection effort that would ultimately expand Waterrock Knob conservation area by over 5,300 acres. To date, conservation partners acquired and donated nearly 3,400 acres to the National Park Service. More properties are slated for transfer to the park over the coming months.

The addition of all the new land now enables NPS to prepare a new strategic vision for the greatly expanded Waterrock Knob area. These lands are part of a larger set of 16 separate tracts being donated to NPS by the nonprofit groups thanks to long-term support from major private and public funding sources, including Fred and Alice Stanback and the North Carolina Land and Water Fund. Five of the 16 have already been donated by CTNC, bringing the total number of properties donated to the Blue Ridge Parkway by CTNC to 29, dating back to 1997!

Waterrock Knob is located at milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway and features views of a vast landscape of rare Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests visible from the visitor center and 6,273-foot summit. It is one of the highest visitor centers along the Blue Ridge Parkway and one of the most critically biodiverse landscapes in the Eastern United States. Elk, rare salamanders, flying squirrels, and high-elevation spruce-fir forests all inhabit the area, which is also home to rich Cherokee history.

“Approaching the protection of Waterrock Knob area from a large-scale conservation perspective requires partners and communities to share a recognition that healthy ecosystems, vibrant communities and economies, cultural heritage, and local sense of place are best protected at a landscape level,” said Tracy Swartout, Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent. “The National Park Service is privileged to work alongside our partners in this work, and we look forward to how these lands will enhance and enrich the Blue Ridge Parkway experience for generations to come.”

National Public Lands Day, established in 1994 and held annually on the fourth Saturday in September, celebrates the connection between people and green space in their community, inspires environmental stewardship, and encourages use of open space for education, recreation, and health benefits.

Learn more about this event.

A Conservation Celebration

We had a great time at this year’s Conservation Celebration at Gideon Ridge Inn, raising more than $22,000 dollars in support of CTNC’s work. That’s more than double what was raised in 2021! This year, we also had more than 29 total event sponsors, the largest number of event sponsors we’ve had!

The owners of the beautiful Gideon Ridge Inn, Cobb and Cindy Milner, generously donated the food and beverage, staff time, and the use of their inn for this year’s fundraiser. As always, they were amazing hosts and we appreciate their time and effort to make this event memorable.

We were so very fortunate to have CTNC President, Brandon Robinson, and CTNC Executive Director, Chris Canfield, share with us an update on CTNC’s work and how the money raised during the event supports it. Proceeds from the celebration will help us continue our work to build resilient communities here in North Carolina.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for your support and we hope to see you all next year!

A special note of appreciation to this year’s sponsors – we couldn’t do this work without your support.

2022 Conservation Celebration Sponsors!

Patron Sponsors
Jo Scott Dorsett
Cobb & Cindy Milner
Tom & Susan Ross
Julia Truelove
Joe & Tina Vrabel
John & Ashley Wilson

Host Sponsors
Chip Anderson
Anna Neal Blanchard
Philip & Langley Borneman
Dodd Haynes & Clara Martinez Haynes
Ray Owens & Sally Higgins
Megg & Robert Rader
Kelley Russell
John & Marguerite Stanback
Walter & Jean Wilkinson

Supporter Sponsors
Kathy Hamilton Gore & Lucian Stamper
Juliana Henderson
Mark Kirkpatrick & Debbie Arnold
Hamp & Katty Lefler
Bill & Cindy Leslie
Mozine Lowe
Pat Mauldin
Margaret J. Newbold and Liz Watson
Alton Perry
Marc Rudow & Deborah Miles
Lisa & Aidan Waite
William & Judy Watson

Princeville Collaborative Shared with Top Environmental Officials

CTNC’s community-led projects are inspiring the nation to build stronger communities in the face of climate change.

Michael Regan, as EPA administrator, requested the establishment of the EJ4Climate grant fund to address environmental justice and community needs in the United States.

In July, as a recipient of the EJ4Climate grant fund, CTNC staff were invited to Mexico to discuss the accomplishments and plans of the Princeville Collaborative with government leaders from Mexico, Canada, and the United States. CTNC’s Chris Canfield and Mary Alice Holley traveled to Merida, Mexico, for the 29th Annual Session of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) Council and Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) Public Forum. The invite-only Forum was attended by the top environmental officials from the three North American countries, as well as youth, Indigenous groups and local communities.

At the event, the CTNC team added meaningful experiences to the “Community-led Environmental Education for Sustainable Development” theme. North American grantees shared their activities with communities directly impacted by our changing climate.

“What really stayed with us were those side conversations that gave us new perspectives about the challenges conservation and environment leaders are facing across our three countries. These encounters brought us a deeper appreciation for the work we get to do here in North Carolina. Perhaps what was most heartening about our visit was the affirmation that what CTNC aligned to support a few years ago in our new strategic plan – community-climate-equity – is what each country in North America, each in its own way, is embracing, too.”

-Mary Alice Holley, Director of Community Innovation

The 29th Council Session of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation addressed many of the most pressing environmental challenges facing North America’s communities, particularly vulnerable communities and Indigenous Peoples. This is a joint meeting between Canada, Mexico, and the United States (CUSMA, T-MEC, USMCA), led by their respective environment ministers as part of each country’s commitment to the Environmental Cooperation Agreement.

“I was proud to share that North Carolina is on the leading edge with our newly underway $20 million effort to build a statewide flood resilience model and plan. I’ve been collaborating with state officials on the process and am heartened by the holistic, community-driven approach they are undertaking. Flooding is not just a coastal issue, as the devastating recent events in Eastern Kentucky remind us. And conservation plays a crucial role in mitigating that threat.”

-Chris Canfield, Executive Director

Read the highlights of the Priceville Collaborative and more about all EJ4Climate Grant projects on the Commission for Environmental Collaboration website.

Crews Work to Conserve and Protect Princeville

Summer is the perfect time to accomplish work that builds a more resilient state.

Embarking on Phase II of the Princeville project, CTNC worked with Conservation Corps NC and the Town of Princeville to hire summer youth crews for conservation and maintenance projects in town.

The crew’s first stop was Heritage Park, 428 Mutual Boulevard in Princeville. This park, along the river, is an important piece of Princeville’s resilient future. By claiming it for public use, it offers much-needed overflow for river flooding and runoff. It will also be the future site of a permanent Farmer’s Market and an accessible walking trail. The crew’s efforts this summer have complemented the current use of the park while supporting future goals slated by Town leadership and community members.

At Heritage Park, the youth installed exercise stations, pollinator gardens, benches and trash receptacles, and walking paths, and also re-mulched the playground. They also installed trail signs that will serve as educational tools for parkgoers about the importance of pollinator plants, wildlife habitat, and stormwater management.

At Heritage Trail and the Elementary School, the youth completed maintenance of conservation projects installed in 2021 through similar partnerships. They mulched the newly established Heritage Trail, cleaned up debris, and removed weeds from the rain gardens designed and installed by NC State and M&M Landscaping.

Thank you to the young adults from Tarboro High School who worked with community leaders for six weeks to complete this project. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Work locations for this crew included Heritage Park, Heritage Trail, and Princeville Elementary School. This summer of work completed by the Conservation Corps North Carolina crew members fulfills the first goal of the EJ4Climate grant awarded by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

This collaboration is possible in part thanks to a grant from Anonymous Trust as well as the CEC, supported by the Environmental Protection Agency. This new grant program, called EJ4Climate, addresses environmental inequality and promotes community-level innovation and climate adaptation. CTNC was one of 15 projects across three countries to receive a grant award through the CEC, a tri-national effort to promote and facilitate sustainable development in North America.

Climate Resilience Leaders – Nick DiColandrea

Nick DiColandrea isn’t new to CTNC. For six years, he served as the Resilience Corps NC Program Director. In 2022, he returned to a new role – Climate Strategies Officer, a position that still involves him with AmeriCorps. He works to connect AmeriCorps service opportunities to communities in need of expanded climate mitigation and recovery capacities.

This work builds on his extensive experience in the nonprofit sector, holding positions across multiple organizations dedicated to community capacity building, youth leadership, mentoring, and community service. His free time activities focused on service also follow this theme: Board Treasurer of the Museum of Life in Science in Durham, the school PTA as VP of Fundraising & Volunteer Chair, and as Board Treasurer of his neighborhood’s HOA.

When did you first realize the real and present impacts of climate change?
I probably realized we were living in a climate-change-affected world a few years ago when we stopped getting annual snow storms of any significance in North Carolina. Having grown up here since the late 1990s, I distinctly remember colder and wetter winters, and even during my time in college. However, over the last 10 years, I can trace the lack of an actual winter now, and how it has happened more times in the lives of my children than my entire life in the state.

How have you seen climate change impact North Carolina?
When the state was hit by multiple hurricanes over 2016 and 2017, I got to see firsthand, and still do to this day, the impacts these more frequent hurricanes are causing people down east. Working with other disaster relief partners, I have heard stories about how even years later people are living in homes not yet fully restored and families permanently displaced outside of our state. These devastating disasters will occur more frequently and are going to result in a state we may seldom recognize in the decades to come.

What does climate resilience mean to you?
Climate resilience is helping communities be able to bounce back stronger after the climate crisis hits their homes. It means assisting standing communities’ economies back up, working with families suffering from the loss of their community, or developing plans or actions that will lead to quicker recovery through mitigation. It essentially means being there for people in their communities who will suffer from climate change.

What’s one thing everyone should know about climate action?
That no matter how small your action is, it will make a difference. We do not affect meaningful changes with just big ticket items on climate action, but that light you turn off, that conversation with your best friend or that walk to take to the store instead of the drive, all add up in profound ways to address climate change.

What are actions that organizations in NC can do right now to make our state more resilient?
Be a part of the conversations around resilience in your community. Find where your mission niche is and see how it connects to environmental and community resilience, and then dig in and get to work. Mitigating and surviving the climate crisis is not going to be solved alone by environmental organizations, and it is going to take everyone in the community being a part of this work in the years ahead.

Working in climate resilience can be overwhelming. How do you keep going?
Lots of coffee and lots of positive thinking. I take more mental health breaks now, sitting for quick meditation moments, and stopping more to unplug from the work and just enjoy being.

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.

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 – 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.

Turning the tide for flood-prone communities

Photo: NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab arial view of the Tar River.

There is even more great news about the Princeville – Seeding Resilience project! 2022 brings many exciting actions to protect this community from the changing climate.

Since the debut of our latest video, this story has captured the attention of conservation champions nationwide. The project was featured in:

As we conclude the first phase of executing recommendations outlined in the Princeville Floodprint, the collaboration is turning our attention to Phase II. This phase will further lay the groundwork toward establishing an effective model of community-driven climate change adaptation that can be replicated in communities across the state. Throughout North Carolina, rural communities established along rivers, the coast, and lakes face repeated flood events. With the increasing threat of climate change, more communities will experience these impacts.

Phase II focuses attention toward converting vacant and underutilized land.
The Town of Princeville, North Carolina State University Coastal Dynamics Design Lab, Conservation Corps NC, and Temboo Software will work to complete another round of conservation projects designed to better manage flood and stormwater, establish recreation opportunities for residents, build a model community garden to support locally-grown food operations, and connect youth and adults to environmental education opportunities. This phase focuses on transforming underutilized town-owned lots and property that FEMA has determined to be at risk of future flooding into absorbing flood impact while making them usable spaces for the community.

Over the next two years, this partnership will work to complete:

  • Installation of 6,000 square feet of rain gardens and managed wetlands on vacated lots to hold up to 28,000 gallons of water per rain event
  • Opening of a 24-bed model community garden on vacated lots to promote local, low-carbon agriculture
  • Planting of trees and native plants for 250,000 gallons of water absorption and 2,900 pounds of carbon storage per year
  • Creation of trails with educational and health-benefit elements at Princeville’s riverfront Heritage Park

“Our town has already seen the rewards from our collaboration with Conservation Trust, NC State, and all our partners,” said Princeville Town Manager Dr. Glenda Lawrence-Knight. “This next phase will only further prepare our town for the next flooding incident while showing a true investment in the health and well-being of our citizens.”

This is possible in part to a grant from the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, supported by the EPA, called EJ4Climate: Environmental Justice and Climate Resilience. This new grant program addresses environmental inequality and promotes community-level innovation and climate adaptation. CTNC was one of 15 projects across three countries to receive a grant award through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a tri-national effort to promote and facilitate sustainable development in North America.

In tandem with the on-the-ground work, CTNC and our partners are writing an effective model for building a resilient community. We hope this community-based model can be replicated to benefit others facing similar challenges.

“Communities across North Carolina will benefit from the lessons learned as a result of the partnerships and outcomes in Princeville,” said Andrew Fox, FASLA, PLA of NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab. “It’s exciting to see people benefit from the principles that we’ve studied and developed.”

Your support fuels all this work. Together, we can turn the tide for flood-prone communities, and you are the first line of defense.

This work will be carried out with financial support from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the Anonymous Trust, and generous donors who have made an investment in resilience through CTNC and our partners.

Categories