CARY — North Carolina Forever, a new partnership dedicated to conserving and protecting the state’s lands and waters, was formally launched Tuesday, the organization announced.
More than 100 representatives from business, environmental, agriculture and conservation organizations, leaders from the General Assembly and invited guests came together Tuesday for the announcement at the Umstead Hotel near Umstead State Park.
Leaders of North Carolina Forever announced that its first major project will be commissioning a benchmarking study by RTI International that will assess the state’s historical and current levels of land and water conservation funding and compare those levels to funding in other states in the Southeast as well as identify priority needs for the future.
These findings will guide North Carolina Forever as it advocates for increased statewide funding to conserve North Carolina’s lands and waters.
“Our unconventional partnership has a bold mission,” said Kathy Higgins, vice president of Corporate Affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and board chair of North Carolina Forever. “We have come together to help secure the funds needed to deliver on a commitment made in the State Constitution – that ‘It shall be the policy of this State to conserve and protect its lands and waters for the benefit of all its citizenry’.”
The impetus for the partnership came from Smithfield Foods Inc., which was instrumental in founding and leading a similar initiative, Virginia Forever. That organization is now in its 10th year of advocating for increased conservation funding in Virginia.
In addition to Smithfield Foods and Blue Cross Blue Shield, other founding partners of North Carolina Forever are Environmental Defense Fund, Martin Marietta, North Carolina Forestry Association, Friends of State Parks, North Carolina Farm Bureau, North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Recreation and Park Association, Partners for Parks and Audubon North Carolina.
David Kelly, Manager of North Carolina Political Affairs for Environmental Defense Fund, or EDF, and Vice-Chair of NC Forever said, “North Carolina is blessed with abundant natural treasures. EDF is proud to be working with these partners to advocate for the funding needed to preserve North Carolina’s rivers, sounds, wetlands, beaches, farms, forestlands, open spaces and places of beauty.”
Higgins added, “This is a time when so many things seem to be dividing us. I am proud to be part of a consensus-driven collaboration that brings together diverse interests. I am proud to be part of a collaboration with a bold and vital mission for our state.
“There is a fierce urgency to our task. Our state’s population is growing fast. There are now more than 10 million of us, with more on the way. We’re the ninth most populous state. Our urban footprint is growing even faster than the population,” she said. “North Carolina needs to make reasonable and necessary investments in the conservation and protection of its lands and waters. We, the partners of North Carolina Forever, have joined forces to encourage those in authority to do just that.”
The study, commissioned by North Carolina Forever, will serve as a key resource in formulating the partnership’s legislative agenda. Results of the study will be released publicly in the spring of 2018.
In addition to assessing current and past North Carolina funding levels and comparing North Carolina with other Southeastern states, the study will identify best practices for determining optimal levels of land and water conservation funding in the future.