North Carolina legislature’s elimination of wetlands protections increases flood risks and endangers communities and fisheries
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Following an opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court that placed over half of America’s wetlands at risk of pollution and destruction, the majority of the North Carolina legislature today voted to take away protections for millions of acres of wetlands that buffer our communities from increasingly intense storms and floods, act as natural pollution filters that improve our water quality, and protect wildlife as well as fish and shellfish for fisheries.
In the Neuse and Cape Fear River basins alone, about 900,000 acres of wetlands are now at risk of pollution and destruction, according to an analysis by the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“Protecting wetlands protects our communities,” said Geoff Gisler, program director at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “By eliminating laws that have been in place for years, the legislature puts wetlands and our communities in harm’s way. This bill is the single most destructive action taken in North Carolina in decades—the legislature has abandoned our great natural resources, the rivers we depend on, and communities across the state.”
“It is hard to describe how harmful this bill is to North Carolina’s water quality, wildlife, fisheries and communities,” said Mary Maclean Asbill, director of the North Carolina offices of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “North Carolina is setting the wrong example by failing to protect our wetlands after the Sackett opinion.”
When it rains, wetlands act like natural sponges that absorb flood waters, lowering flood levels and slowing the rise of waters downstream—a life-saving combination. A one-acre wetland can typically store about one million gallons of water, so when developers and industry destroy wetlands, communities lose flood protection. The General Assembly’s vote will worsen the effects of floods, which take lives and cost millions of dollars in property damage and lost business, for North Carolinians for years to come.
In the Southeast, nearly all of the commercial catch and over half of the recreational harvest are fish and shellfish that depend on wetlands. North Carolina’s wild-caught seafood industry contributes nearly $300 million in value and 5,500 jobs to the state’s economy.
Wetlands are home to waterfowl and other wildlife that draw tourists and hunters from across North Carolina and the country. The economic benefits of hunting and fishing are especially pronounced in rural areas, where money brought in during fishing and hunting seasons can keep small businesses operational for the entire year.
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