Governor Cooper signs Executive Order 305 to protect NC wetlands

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has signed Executive Order 305, an order that sets goals for the state to preserve one million acres of land, restore an additional million acres, and plant one million urban trees by 2040.

The order comes after actions from the U.S. Supreme Court and NC legislature last year that significantly limited wetland protections.

According to the governor’s office, Executive Order No. 305 is the most significant executive action to protect the state’s ecosystems since Governor Jim Hunt launched the “Million Acre Initiative” in 1999 and set the most ambitious environmental conservation and restoration targets in the State’s history.

Cooper said the new conservation efforts could help clean drinking water, protect wildlife and native plants, as well as boost the hunting, fishing, and tourism economies in rural areas.

“North Carolina’s rich natural beauty is not only critical in our fight against flooding and climate change but important to our economy,” said Governor Cooper. “As our state continues to grow, we must be mindful to conserve and protect our natural resources and this historic Executive Order sets clear goals and puts a plan in place that will help us leave our state better than we found it for generations to come.”

Executive Order 305 also establishes a Native Plant Policy for the North Carolina State Government, expanding the policy implemented by the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to apply to all future state-owned projects. It also directs the state to avoid or minimize new projects that would adversely impact vulnerable wetlands like pocosins, Carolina Bays, and mountain bogs as well.

The order also directs state agencies to study the social, economic, and environmental value of protecting North Carolina’s wetlands and directs agencies to go after federal funding to protect and restore wetlands to enhance flood resiliency, improve water quality, and sequester carbon. It also directs agencies to promote and support new and ongoing conservation and restoration, and climate resiliency efforts within tribal communities, as well as directs the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to research the impacts of future climate conditions on the state’s biodiversity.

Several environmental groups voiced support for the order.

“North Carolina has set a game-changing target to conserve and restore millions of acres while addressing climate hazards and nature equity in urban areas,” said, Sara Ward, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Nature Based Resiliency Coordinator. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is particularly excited about the emphasis on the state’s internationally significant peatlands, known as pocosins, in today’s action.”

“Now more than ever, North Carolina needs to conserve our working lands—including wetlands and forests that reduce flooding, clean our drinking water, and sustain fish and wildlife. We’re grateful for the robust commitment this executive order makes toward protecting natural resources and providing good stewardship of our state’s valuable lands.” Grady O’Brien, North Carolina Conservation Network.

“Protecting and restoring natural areas is vital for the future of North Carolina. They ensure clean air, clean water, and recreational opportunities in a rapidly growing region. And, they are also crucial to our continued economic growth, most of which is centered on our natural resources.” Katherine Skinner, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy North Carolina Chapter.