Conservation Groups Give Thumbs Up on NC Senate Budget
Thursday, July 8, 2021
RALEIGH, N.C. - Conservation groups are praising Senate lawmakers' recent budget proposal, which provides more than $100 million toward the state's land and water conservation fund, parks and recreation fund, and farmland preservation trust fund.
The budget also includes $1.5 billion in federally funded grants for businesses impacted by the pandemic, more than $1 billion in water and sewer rehabilitations and $700 million to expand rural broadband.
Tim Gestwicki, chief executive officer of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, said the money comes at a time when the demand for outdoor recreation is spiking, and he said he believes it will only continue to increase.
"Hunting licenses increased 20% last year, fishing licenses exploded - over a 90% increase in licensing sales," said Gestwicki. "So conservation funding is absolutely critical."
According to the group Land for Tomorrow, North Carolina's state park system experienced record visitation during the pandemic in 2020, with more than 19 million visitors, despite being closed for six weeks.
House lawmakers now will hash out their own plan and eventually a final version will be sent to Gov. Roy Cooper.
North Carolina State Director of The Conservation Fund and Chairman of the group Land for Tomorrow Bill Holman said this would be the biggest increase in state funding for conservation and outdoor recreation in more than a decade.
"So I think the Legislature in part is responding to the public's demand for more opportunities for outdoor recreation," said Holman.
Gestwicki added that outdoor recreation continues to be a major driver of the state's economy, accounting for some $28 billion per year in consumer spending.
"We're pleased that the Senate has realized the need for supporting our green infrastructure as North Carolina is certainly one of the most rapidly developing states in the country," said Gestwicki, "and people come here for our climate and our mountains and our coasts."
The Senate budget also includes $40 million for state parks' water and sewer projects, $9 million for Pisgah View State Park, and $15 million for state historic sites.
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