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North Carolina Gov. Cooper sets 2040 goals for wetlands, forests and new trees

The North River Wetlands Preserve in Beaufort, NC on Feb. 6. The 6,000 acre preserve used to be farmland. Now it's been restored back to wetlands to help improve water quality of downstream esturaries.
Josh Sullivan
/
WUNC
This file image shows the North River Wetlands Preserve in Beaufort, NC on Feb. 6, 2023, which used to be farmland. Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order on Monday that in part sets statewide targets for governments and private land-protection groups by 2040 to both "permanently conserve" 1 million acres of forests and wetlands

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said a series of environmental directives and goals he initiated to protect and restore forests and wetlands in the state will help counter climate change and aid the economy.

Cooper signed an executive order on Monday that in part sets statewide targets for governments and private land-protection groups by 2040 to both "permanently conserve" 1 million acres (404,686 hectares) of forests and wetlands and to restore 1 million new acres (404,686 hectares) of similar lands. The governor also wants 1 million new trees planted in urban areas by 2040.

Cooper's office called the executive action the most significant by a governor to protect the state's ecosystems since then-Gov. Jim Hunt's "Million Acre Initiative" for land preservation was announced in 1999.

"As our state continues to grow, we must be mindful to conserve and protect our natural resources," Cooper said in a news release following the order's signing at Falls Lake State Recreation Area east of Durham. The plan, he added, "will help us leave our state better than we found it for generations to come."

Among other items, the order from Cooper, a Democrat in his final year as governor, also directed state agencies to use plants and seeds in landscaping projects that are native to the Southeast, with a preference for North Carolina-native plants. He told agencies to seek federal funding to preserve wetlands that improve the state's resiliency to flooding and water quality.

Several environmental and conservation groups praised Cooper's order. Some of them said it would help counteract a 2023 state law that when combined with a U.S. Supreme Court decision weakens the regulation of wetlands.

Cooper's action "recognizes how vital wetlands are to North Carolina's people and wildlife, fisheries and flood protection," Mary Maclean Asbill with the Southern Environmental Law Center said in a separate news release.

Cooper's office said the order's goals and directives seek to implement recommendations in a 2020 "natural and working lands action plan" authored by several state offices and departments.

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