Working Lands Conservation

Working Lands Conservation

The N.C. Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and a number of partners are working together to prepare a North Carolina Plan for Working Lands Conservation.  The plan contains seven chapters describing issues such as Private Lands/Public Benefits, Balancing State Policies and Priorities in Conservation, Local Leadership and Partnerships, Existing Tools, New Tools, Limited Resource and Beginning Farmers and Landowners, and Working Lands Conservation Funding.

North Carolina Working Lands Plan (full text)

Summary of Principles and Action Steps (a listing of the principles and action steps only)

Printable Plan Overview (as appears below)

The plan contains twenty-eight principles for working lands conservation and specific action steps to be taken to increase emphasis and capacity for working lands aspects of conservation.  The principles can be abbreviated as follows:

·      Educating the public and policy-makers about the public benefits of working lands.

·      Protecting lands for their working value, and keeping land in private ownership and in a working state in achieving conservation purposes.

·     Growing overall funding support for all forms of conservation, and creating a better balance among

state priorities in conservation.

·         Establishing a dedicated funding source for working lands conservation.

·         Expanding the level of state investment in technical assistance funding, and building a 21st Century conservation infrastructure.

·         Improving training for federal, state and local conservation staff and private sector technical service providers.

·         Increasing participation by the private sector.

·         Expanding the state’s investment in cost share funding for agriculture and forestry working lands.

·         Reshaping state policy to send a message to private landowners that their stewardship efforts are understood and appreciated, to improve landowners’ participation, and to provide incentives and opportunities for economic enhancement.

·         Attracting and rewarding more landowners, emphasizing limited resource and beginning landowners.

·         Building strong local leadership and effective local partnerships.

·         Creating and applying technical standards for new and innovative working lands conservation tools.

·         Promoting conservation planning that includes both a base level and “place-based” approaches, using high quality natural resources information.

·         Strengthening Voluntary Agricultural Districts (VADs) to provide a more meaningful and attractive program for working farm and forest landowners.

·         Expanding state and federal tax incentives to other conservation tools.

·        Incorporating additional business-related tools and professional services into technical assistance programs to include business aspects of working lands.
Under each principle are listed specific action steps to be taken to advance working lands conservation.  The plan recommends action by the State Association, Soil and Water Conservation Commission, partners (both traditional and new), agencies, boards, trust funds, commissions, and others.  Some actions are planned or underway by the State Association.  Many specific actions are recommended for the General Assembly, as this body establishes priorities and funding at the state level.

A few examples of action steps include:

Private working lands conservation should be elevated as a priority in state conservation policy.  Statutory direction should be provided by the General Assembly stating a preference that land shall remain in a privately owned working state where feasible in achieving conservation purposes.
Looking specifically at military properties and adjacent privately owned lands, military base closure or encroachment response plans should avoid relying on public purchase of adjacent lands, because such lands (e.g., agriculture and forest lands) should remain in private ownership and in a working state.
Agencies, boards and commissions administering conservation programs using public funds should be directed by the General Assembly to incorporate working lands conservation purpose and components into their programs as appropriate.
The NC Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts should co-host a series of local workshops with county commissions to discuss, in a public forum, local land conservation issues, and to develop a local strategy for land conservation.
The General Assembly should pass legislation adding forested properties to Voluntary Agricultural Districts, creating Voluntary Agricultural and Forestry Districts, and offering additional incentives, benefits and services to attract working forest landowners and mangers.
The General Assembly should consider extending state income tax credits to landowners participating in conservation programs applying agreements other than permanent conservation easements.
Soil and Water Conservation Districts, through the state association, should become part of the NC Farm Transition Network, joining the network of business transition and viability professionals to assist farm and forest owners with the development of business succession and transition plans, and to integrate conservation measures together with those business succession plans.
The General Assembly should direct state regulatory agencies and commissions to review regulatory programs, to identify regulatory disincentives for private working landowners practicing conservation, and to recommend changes in regulatory approaches to alleviate those disincentives and to establish innovative incentives designed to work together with conservation programs.
The state association should partner with other working lands conservation interests to identify funding source options for the General Assembly, and to establish a process for developing dedicated funding source(s) needed to support working lands conservation funding needs.

Readers are encouraged to review the complete list of principles and action steps, and to read background narratives in the full text draft plan available at the top of the page.