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Great Outdoors

North Carolina’s “Forest Action Plan” Greenlit

Elijah Mears

North Carolina recently received the federal green light to move forward with a comprehensive proposal to preserve thousands of acres of publicly owned forests. The aptly named Forest Action Plan will play a significant role in determining the future status of as many as ten different forests throughout the state.  

North Carolina’s Forest Service will be spearheading the mission, which includes overseeing the stewardship of state-owned woods like Dupont State Recreational Forest and both the Holmes and Headwaters forests.

Photo Courtesy: Luca B

The plan is based on five core goals, each looking into existing conditions and trends and looming threats or opportunities that might play a role in the future health of these natural spaces. As outlined by the state’s forest service, the five are as follows: increasing sustainable management and conservation; reducing the negative impact of any potential threats to forest conditions; increasing the prevalence of prescribed burns; managing the current clean water supply and enhancing the tangible benefits of managing these forests with sustainability in mind. The language of these goals is broad enough to allow for a wide range of agency and industry decision-making while also acknowledging more specified goals within the overall spectrum. The final goal, for example, indicates a strong push to create valid incentives for private cooperation. 

North Carolina sits in a unique position compared to much of the country. The state is dominated by forests, with more than 60 percent of land covered by trees. The portion of woods that operate under state or federal control is relatively small relative to the percentage owned by other entities. Nearly 19 million acres of forest sit within state boundaries. 

Photo Courtesy: Yusuf Onuk

Because of the lack of far-reaching government control over this land, the lawmakers behind the state’s Forest Action Plan had to be creative, coaxing landowners to see the mutually beneficial aspects of preserving the treescape. Though the over-reliance on private cooperation could undoubtedly be a worry for the plan’s overall success, a substantial portion of these landowners share a sustainability interest as it works to their benefit. Sure, the logging industry is predicated on cutting down trees, but harvesting more trees than they can replenish is bad long-term business. Such a reality is why the state collectively replenishes more than the 209,000 acres of trees harvested every year, with more than 110,000 acres being artificially replenished.  

The forest can be viewed as the lifeblood of North Carolina from both an economic and environmental health standpoint. More than 320 million trees exist at any one time within the state, trees that store tens of millions of tons of carbon each year. Another 50 million tons of additional pollutants are sequestered by state forests annually. Beyond that, the economic contribution is nothing short of massive, with roughly $20 billion of North Carolina’s total economy coming from forestry. This booming financial sector also contributes over $4 billion in payroll to nearly 80,000 industry workers. 

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