The bill creates a 17 member Mountain Resources Commission appointed from residents of the mountain counties who represent a broad range of interests - local government, mountain Councils of Government, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, the North Carolina National Parks, the Parkways and Forests Development Council, the tourism industry, and the land trust community.
The commission is tasked with coordinating multiple, ongoing local efforts to conserve water quality, wildlife habitat, native forests, scenic beauty and other natural resources in the mountain counties.
Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina as seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway (Photo by S.F. Dylan)
The commission will support existing programs by recommending new strategies and seeking federal and foundation support for mountain planning.
The legislation also creates a Mountain Area Resources Technical Advisory Council of 13 members to be appointed by the commission.
In the legislation, the General Assembly said, "Millions of tourists travel to the mountain region of Western North Carolina to see and experience the natural beauty of the mountains, including the vistas near national parks, national forests, state parks, and state forests. This tourism is vitally important to the economy of Western North Carolina.
But, the General Assembly said, "The same beauty and natural abundance that is valued by North Carolina residents, tourists, and the United States Congress is being adversely affected by land-use practices that are negatively impacting the public's enjoyment of the important mountain resources of the mountain region of Western North Carolina, including publicly owned lands."
The purpose of the measure is "to encourage quality growth and development while preserving the natural resources, open spaces, and farmland of the mountain region of Western North Carolina," the bill states.
Among the threats to North Carolina's mountain region are poorly planned development, particularly steep-slope development; proposed coal-fired generating stations; invasions of non-native plants; climate change and drought.
Western North Carolina mountain farm (Photo by Tipper Pressley)
The bill is the result of a bipartisan effort spearheaded by state Senator Joe Sam Queen, who introduced the bill, with support from many members of the mountain legislative delegation.
Passage of the Mountain Resources Planning Act is part of the North Carolina Common Agenda: Priorities for the Environment, a collaborative effort by an alliance of state and national environmental groups to pool their energies behind strategically selected priorities.
Environmentalists were pleased with the new legislation.
Attorney D.J. Gerken of the Southern Environmental Law Center said, "In recent years, the mountain region has struggled with a range of challenges unique to our mountain topography, but lacked a regional forum for those discussions. We're grateful to Senator Queen and the many legislators and others who worked to create that forum."
Jay Leutze, trustee for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, said, "The scope of the work conservationists do needs to fit into a comprehensive strategy for the region because natural resources often occur without respect to county boundaries. Rivers, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail are examples of resources that we can capitalize on to benefit more than a single county or municipality."
Julie Mayfield, executive director of the Western North Carolina Alliance, said, "This commission is an important development in the stewardship of the mountain environment WNCA works to protect. We're thankful we had the support of partners across the state as we worked to bring this bill to fruition."
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.