A beautiful forest once towered over Lake Michie Dam Road, north of Durham. But one day in June the forest looked like Godzilla had a stomping party. Twelve acres of trees were gone, their stumps poking out of the ground, limbs strewn into piles. Bare, pulverized earth glared white in the sun.
The site looked like other clear-cuts in the Piedmont, but this was a conservation forest with 85-year-old trees owned by the Triangle Land Conservancy. The nonprofit land trust has begun logging sections of its nature preserves in Orange, Chatham and Durham counties and may remove trees from hundreds of acres of woodlands by the time the forest workers are done.
Most donors and the public know little or nothing about the timbering activities of the group that over the years has featured colorful images of dense forests, sparkling streams and habitat-sensitive frogs in brochures and on its website.
A private organization with an annual operating budget of $950,000, the TLC has refused to release its forest management plans for timbering to the public. Yet the group accepts public and private funds to fulfill its mission of acquiring and protecting forests, stream buffers, wildlife habitats and farmland.
Now the TLC wants more taxpayer dollars: It has asked water customers in Raleigh, Durham, Cary and Orange County to pay a surcharge on their monthly bills so it can acquire more land, which TLC officials say will guard the area's water quality.
Disagreements abound over whether logging trees is appropriate for conservation. Some sources say at the heart of all timbering is a financial motive, which the conservancy denies. Its revenues have been hurt, however, in the economic downturn, and money from the trees could help steady the nonprofit's tenuous finances.
"It's for wildlife habitat and for forest health," said TLC's Jeff Masten, the conservation strategies director who ordered the Lake Michie Dam Road cut. "It's not about money."
But the TLC's own forester said money was why he cut down the woodland. "As beautiful as it is ... we recommend a final harvest," forester David Halley wrote to the land trust responsible for protecting the forest, a stand of very large short-leaf and loblolly pines, with hardwood trees mixed in.
Halley, who operates True North Forest Management Services, said the trees had reached their economic peak and would fetch $2,000 to $3,000 per acre. "We felt that the timber value was maximized," he said in a recent phone interview. "We decided, let's harvest part of this and turn that revenue around," he said, explaining that the money could be used to pay conservation-related expenses.
TLC officials refused to discuss current or projected revenues from the tree cuts occurring at three of its nature preserves: the 708-acre Horton Grove Preserve in Durham County, the 422-acre White Pines Nature Preserve in Chatham County and the 269-acre Irvin Nature Preserve south of Chapel Hill. TLC officials are also considering tree-cutting plans for the 613-acre tract north of Chapel Hill known as Brumley Forest, Masten said. (See "Logging on TLC lands" map.)
All this is troubling news to Valerie Yow of Chapel Hill who contributed to the TLC precisely to stop the cutting of local forests. "I think they should make their plans known," she said. "There should be transparency."
"Every time I see our woods cut down and a shopping mall built, I have a sinking feeling," the writer-historian said. "I grew up in Greensboro. There was a huge forest out our back door. We felt completely safe there. It was wonderful. I think contact with nature is absolutely important and necessary to being human."
In 2004, Kevin Brice took over the reins of the group that many people considered the pinnacle of local environmentalism. That reputation was built on 20 years of preservation successes. From its inception in 1983 to 2004, the group had opened four nature preserves for hiking and bird-watching, saved local forests from development and kept intact stretches of working farmland.
Then Brice, the TLC's president and CEO, initiated a change to the group's 2004–2005 IRS tax form that added "silvicultural uses" to the nonprofit organization's tax-exempt purpose statement. Silviculture is the practice of growing trees, cutting them down and usually selling the logs.
In a recent phone interview, Brice said the Form 990 was a way to communicate with the public. That arcane tax form was the only place the public could have learned of this policy change, which was not announced in newsletters, press releases or on the website. Neither was the change voted on by the TLC's board of directors, which provides governing policy and oversight for the organization.
"Done strategically, there are opportunities and needs for targeted clear-cuts," Brice said in a recent interview, explaining that silviculture could be considered a type of conservation.
Brice has a bachelor's degree in psychology and managed mergers and acquisitions for an investment firm in Chicago. In 1993 he visited Tanzania, and some conversations he had there with primatologist Jane Goodall inspired him to pursue conservation work. In 1996 he worked as a volunteer for the TLC and has worked his way up the organizational ladder.
Since 2004, when Brice became its leader, the nonprofit group has acquired extensive tracts of land—and done so with taxpayer funds and the donations of many individuals. Some of these forests span several hundred acres and are among the last remaining large and mature hardwood stands close to the Triangle's urban core.
"So many birds depend on them," zoologist Harry LeGrand of the N.C. Natural Heritage Program said of the forests. In the TLC's forest holdings, pileated woodpeckers cling to trees searching for tasty insects. Great horned owls hatch nestlings in the winter, under the cover of pine branches. And locally rare redback salamanders skitter among fallen leaves.
These forests can also provide Triangle hikers and children a place to experience nature close to home. Today the land trust owns about 4,000 acres; of that total, 609 acres, about 15 percent, are open for public use, according to TLC website figures. However, the land trust has not opened a new preserve to the public since 1999. TLC officials say they plan to open more forests in the future.
Swaths of these recently acquired forests are protected by conservation easements that forbid timbering. The public paid millions of dollars for these easements, which are legal agreements that restrict the use of a property forever. For example, about $5 million came from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the state's Ecosystem Enhancement Program, state officials said, all money that helped the TLC acquire the Horton Grove and Brumley Forest holdings.
But the easements only apply to particular sections of the forests. For other areas of the woodlands, the conservancy has kept its options open. And since 2008, the group has pursued developing tree-cutting plans for these areas, which are not yet open to the public.
Recently, Brice and Masten allowed this reporter one morning to view the plans, which spanned hundreds of pages. They would not allow copies to be made or to be released to the public. They would not permit this reporter to look again at the plans to check against notes. Brice revealed that the plans existed only after this reporter had stumbled on the group's logging activities and in May began asking questions.
There are three basic plans: one written in 2010 by Halley for Horton Grove, where timbering has begun on about 90 acres of woodlands. There is a plan for White Pines written in 2008 by Halley, with the timbering due to begin this year, Halley said. (But Brice said in June the timbering would be delayed.) And there is a 2010 plan for the Irvin Nature Preserve, where Jerry Gaertner of North State Forestry began timbering on about 70 acres in 2009 before the plan was written.
Both Halley and Gaertner are private logging contractors who work with the TLC to decide which trees to cut and where. They hire the tree-cutting machinery and are paid a percentage of the trees they cut.
In their plans, the foresters divide the forests into parcels (see "A forest management plan"). Some areas are targeted for clear-cutting, where all the trees on a site are downed, and others are bound for selective cutting, where some trees are left standing. Herbicide use, prescribed fires and no action are also recommended for different areas.
At the Horton Grove preserve, Masten explained that the TLC's vision is to create a mosaic of forest types that he said would appeal to different animals. By cutting trees, he said, the wildlife habitats can be diversified. In the future, walking trails would wind through the preserve, which would one day be open to the public.
For example, the logged site along Lake Michie Dam Road would give visitors a chance to see the brush and weeds that could grow up and attract songbirds. Plus, the upturned dirt from a clear-cut provides grit for the birds, he noted, and lizards would enjoy resting on the sun-baked ground. He said that clear-cuts are actually "imperiled" landscapes, a term some wildlife experts also use to indicate that there aren't enough cleared places in the Piedmont for the animals that like that habitat.
"What they are proposing is absurd and does not abide by the spirit of a land trust conservation purpose," said Ben Prater, associate director of Wild South, a nonprofit group that advocates for the South's wild lands, including forests. "The wildlife benefits can be provided naturally."
Prater noted that the animals that like those weeds and bushes, such as turkey and quail, would only benefit for a few years. Then the trees and vegetation would grow back so thick and bushy that "the habitat becomes unusable to anything," he said.
"These methods sound like classic silviculture, which is about cultivating trees and making money, not about protecting forests," Prater said. Prater, of course, did not have access to the conservancy's forest management plans and noted that his impressions might change if he had the chance to read them.
If left alone, the mature short-leaf and loblolly pine forest would have continued its transition into a mature hardwood forest, which ecologists say is a veritable cafeteria for wildlife. The hardwood trees provide berries, acorns and nuts, and they host the insects that many animals eat.
Another reason to cut trees is to make the forest healthier, Masten said. That is why he is sending sawheads and skidders back into the slopes of Horton Grove, where 50-to-90-year-old trees have created a wild world not far from the city lights of Durham.
This time the forest workers will roam across a 212-acre mature oak-hickory forest and remove understory trees, such as dogwoods, maples, beeches and sourwoods. Once the understory is removed using a technique called a "shelterwood" cut, the sunlight hitting the forest floor will spur the growth of even more oak trees. Halley said that oak trees are favored because they produce such valuable timber and also grow acorns that feed wild animals.
"The shady environment of these high-graded forests has encouraged the growth and occurrence of species such as red maple, sweet gum, dogwood, hornbeam, sourwood and beech which tolerate more shade but are worth much less for timber," Halley wrote in the plan.
Halley also plans to clear-cut patches in the hardwood forest, taking out mature trees, including oaks, so that young oaks can regenerate in the open sunlight. In his 2010 plan, Halley rated the stocking of oak trees in this forest as fair to excellent, and the growth rate as fair to good. His methods, he said, will further speed up growth and production. During a brief October walk in Horton Grove, numerous large hardwood trees, including oaks and hickories, were marked in blue, the logger's indication that they will be cut down.
But most of the more than 15 experts interviewed for this report—including ecologists, environmentalists, conservationists, forest watchers and other professionals—expressed reservations about cutting into a mature hardwood forest. That's because a hardwood forest of this age has such a rich ecosystem—from bacteria and fungi and soil components to birds and mammals and amphibians. Unusual plants, mosses and lichens can inhabit the forest, not to mention bizarre bugs.
Like other Piedmont forests, Horton Grove can host insects like the hickory horn devil caterpillar and the wheel bug, its armored crest shaped like a cogwheel and its beak a sword that pierces victims. A mature hardwood forest of this complexity can take 100 to 200 years to become established, according to figures on the Duke Forest website.
Forest ecologist Robert Peet, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said oak trees are not as common as they used to be, and that selective cutting has been used to regenerate oak trees. But taking out the understory trees does not necessarily make the forest healthier. "Does this help forest health? No," he said. "Does it improve biodiversity? Not at all."
And some forest watchers warn that the sunny patches can be entryways for invasive plants, whose growth may compel forest managers to use herbicides. Alarmingly for the salamanders, the increased sunlight can dry out the soil and leaf clutter. In dry conditions, the salamanders suffocate.
Locally rare redback salamanders live on the moist, north-facing slopes of Horton Grove, where males with red-striped bodies and dark, protruding eyes rub their chins on the noses of females hoping to convince them to breed. "Cutting trees where they live would wipe them out," said LeGrand, the zoologist. "They are found in only a few places in the Triangle."
Though Masten said the TLC is cutting trees to help make the forest more productive for wildlife, he could not answer questions about how the "shelterwood" cut would affect some of the animals that thrive in the interior of the Horton Grove forest, such as the redback salamander, the pileated woodpecker or the wood thrush, whose local numbers are plummeting.
"I am not a forester and [I'm] not going to try and answer the shelterwood question myself, but I get the impression you are viewing things narrowly," Masten responded, adding that it is important not to lose sight of the "big comprehensive picture."
Masten, the TLC's conservation strategies director, has a bachelor's degree in finance. He worked for the U.S. Army and then as a manager distributing magnetic tape for BASF, now the world's largest chemical company. He says he felt a calling to do conservation work after volunteering for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, an unusual combination of a land trust and a forestry association that practices logging. He earned a master's degree in regional planning from UNC-Chapel Hill and began working for the TLC in 2001.
Speaking generally and not of the TLC's particular plans, Derb Carter Jr. of the Southern Environmental Law Center said that nature can take care of the forest in most cases and does not require the guidance of loggers.
"It makes you wonder how the forest survived before the Europeans arrived," he said in an interview. "In my view, the economic interests have abused the term 'forest health' because it sounds good to the public. Unless you get into the nuances and details, who can oppose a healthy forest?"
Deep in the TLC's White Pines preserve, the Rocky and Deep rivers converge. The waters ripple over stones, cooling the surrounding forest and creating a micro-climate where relics from the last Ice Age have survived.
The relics are trees—a rare type of white pine trees whose branches are wispy, the needles bluish-green. This stand of white pines is rare because the trees have survived temperatures that have warmed over the last 10,000 years. Some naturalists say the trees are genetically adapted now to the warmer climate, are unique to Chatham County and are of national geological significance.
In 2004, Brice led the group's first timbering project. White Pines is the best example, Brice said, of the conservation group's forestry efforts—which are targeted at conservation goals, he said, not economic return.
At the time, the TLC's press release and news coverage said the TLC would thin about 100 acres of loblolly pine trees in order to bring more sunlight to the forest floor. TLC land managers thought this would improve the survival chances of the 50,000 white pine saplings that they intended to plant in 2007, a date detailed in the TLC's 2004 news release.
The first step of the plan was the timber harvest (which tax forms indicate generated $34,000); the second step was the collection of white pine seeds from the forest floor; and the third step was growing the saplings at a nursery. Once the saplings were two years old, they would be replanted at the White Pines preserve to help shore up the existing population of these native trees.
Conservationists have been enthusiastic about projects like this one, in which timber harvesting is used to restore a native species. And so on a sweltering June day, this reporter went to White Pines to see these very special young trees that had been planted.
The path at White Pines was thick and soft with decaying leaves and descended down the slopes to the edge of the rivers. Along the riverbanks, huge sycamores leaned over the water, creating cool harbors for fish. Turtles resting on logs plopped into the water. Across the river, two herons seemed to court each other. The male with the heightened crest flapped his wings.
Occasionally, a young white pine was visible close to the path. But these were naturally propagated, not planted, and were growing in the shadow of the other forest trees.
Back up the slopes, the flatlands extended, the canopy of trees overhead still lush and green. Down a logging road, hardwood trees were marked with the blue spray-paint, that loggers use to indicate the trees that will be cut down.Still, no white pine saplings were visible.
Then the sun beamed overhead. The canopy of the forest stopped at the sprawling former clear-cuts, patches where life now seemed to choke other life, the vegetation twisting with briars and loblolly and sweet gum saplings. Ticks crawled among the invasive plants that exploded along the pathway—but no white pine saplings grew among the weeds.
Interviewed soon after the visit, Brice acknowledged that the 50,000 white pine saplings were missing. In fact, they'd never been planted, he said, though it has been seven years since the cutting was done to make room for them. Staff changes caused the delay, he said.
That same day, on the TLC blog, he described the White Pines restoration project as "disciplined and methodical." He'll plant a crop sometime next year, he said in the interview, of perhaps 2,000 saplings.
Providing oversight of the TLC staff is an 18-member board of directors composed of many real estate developers, corporate executives and businesspeople. One environmental planner sits on the board, but it does not include a biologist, an ecologist or a wildlife specialist.
On June 22, the board posted a forest management policy to the group's website. Prior to the policy's adoption, the TLC had already logged sections of three nature preserves—and this reporter had begun asking questions.
In its policy statement, the board said the TLC will cut down trees for conservation-related purposes, such as for forest health or for safety, but not for financial gain. Revenue generated from logging trees would be simply a "spin-off benefit," the policy said. Logging would only be done if it could enhance the property's condition, the board members agreed.
Asked how the clear-cut at Horton Grove could be considered an enhancement, Board Chairwoman Anne Stoddard, a Chapel Hill real estate developer and consultant, said, "You are using the words clear-cut. I'm not aware of anything being done that is a clear-cut."
Stoddard said she has not been to the actual forests being cut, nor has she read any of the forest management plans. "I couldn't read a forest management plan," she said. She added that it is not the board's job to "second-guess" Brice, who she said had asked her to join the board in 2005.
Board member Bill Holman has a bachelor's degree in biology, but works as director of state policy at the Duke University Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. He had not returned calls and email messages by press time.
Understanding exactly what takes place in the TLC's forests is difficult. TLC officials are not subject to the same public records and open meetings laws under which public agencies operate because the TLC is a private, nonprofit organization. This is true even though the group has received public funding and is considered a publicly supported organization by the IRS.
Brice confirmed that the TLC's annual operating budget is around $950,000—90 percent of which is devoted to paying 13 staff members. Staff salaries, benefits and payroll taxes totaled $863,000, according to the TLC's 2009–2010 IRS tax form. To pay those expenses, the group is under increasing pressure. State cutbacks in the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (reduced this year from its high of $100 million per year to $11 million) and other state conservation funds are affecting the group's bottom line.
The TLC is also facing a decline in donations, including a 46 percent dip in individual contributions two years ago. As a result, the group suffered a $100,000 operating budget deficit in 2009–2010, Brice confirmed.
Though the forest management plans contain no financial information, the group's IRS tax forms have indicated timber sales of about $51,000 from the 2004 and 2009 cuts. This figure does not include timber sales from this latest, rather active year because the 2010–2011 tax form is not yet due.
The loggers provide other economic benefits to the TLC, such as building access roads through the properties and clearing land for TLC's new agricultural and educational projects. Some of the felled trees have been milled and then used by the TLC to build structures that it leases to other nonprofit groups.
For example, wood from the downed trees was used last spring to build a food processing building and a school pavilion at the Irvin preserve, which is not open to the general public. Brice declined to specify how much rent and fees are collected from the groups that use the new facilities.
TLC officials say these buildings were built with trees cut to rid the Irvin woodland of a pine bark beetle infestation. But an itemization in the forest management binder indicates that of the 2,525 hardwood and pine trees cut in the 2009 logging, only 125 pine trees were infested with pine bark beetles, a native insect. Some ecologists say that the pine bark beetle plays a role in the forest ecosystem; others say the beetle is a pest that should be eradicated.
In addition to those trees, the document indicates that most of the understory trees were destroyed in the logging because the TLC could not afford to hire an arborist to teach the loggers how to save them.
Many of the nation's 1,700 local land trusts recently have had to tighten their belts. But while most other land trusts are limiting new programs and cutting expenses, the TLC is creating new facilities and plans.
On a May visit to the Irvin preserve, it appeared that the TLC was busy. Painters were putting the finishing touches on the new food processing center and teachers were waiting by the school pavilion for children to arrive.
The processing center and surrounding gardens are leased by the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle to prepare food for low-income communities. The barn will be used to wash and package vegetables grown in the shuttle group's nearby rented plots.
The Irvin Learning Farm, another nonprofit group, uses the school pavilion for nature programs such as a forest kindergarten that costs $395 per child for 15 sessions. Teacher Wendy Banning said she is thrilled to see how much the children enjoy the outdoor learning.
Past the new buildings and down a logging road, under the still branches of the oak and hickory trees, lay more stacks of milled lumber awaiting the TLC's next step.
"It is the evolution of a conservation organization," Brice said, later explaining that in his view people were no longer enthusiastic about the traditional preservation mission of the group. Its membership has not grown but has leveled off at 3,000 members for the last 10 years. "The definition I think about when I think about conservation is wise use—how to put to use our natural resources in a way that benefits us but also that leaves a small footprint on the landscape as possible."
Despite the ongoing work at the Irvin preserve, the TLC is reluctant to share details of the plans, just as it has been reluctant to share those for timber management. Tucked into a forest management binder on this reporter's July visit to the TLC's Raleigh office was a conceptual map for the Irvin preserve that indicated expanded vegetable gardens, livestock pastures and new facilities, including another food processing building and greenhouse, additional barns and operations buildings and classrooms.
Masten declined a request to copy the conceptual plan so that it could be shared with the public.
The TLC's recent directions raise questions. What is protecting a forest? What does conservation mean? Is a healthy forest one where decaying trees feed new life? Or does a healthy forest efficiently grow trees that will be cut and sold?
Historic maps of the U.S. virgin forest show that the Piedmont's natural heritage was not weedy fields, not clearings, not young forest kept young by repeated timbering. In the early 1600s before the European settlers arrived, the entire Piedmont was covered with trees hundreds of years old, a vast virgin forest.
Then the settlers arrived and began cultivating, building and logging. Former chief of the U.S. Forest Service W.B. Greeley published maps of the virgin forests as they existed in 1620, 1850 and 1920, which show over time the disappearance of the old-growth trees, according to a 1925 edition of Economic Geography.
Today in the Triangle, not a single virgin forest is left. Mature, upland forests with trees more than 100 years old are uncommon. What the Piedmont has in abundance is younger, previously timbered forests. Indeed, the Triangle has about 250,000 acres of privately owned woodland devoted to timber production, according to figures provided by Chatham, Orange, Wake and Durham tax officials.
In her books, Among the Ancients: Adventures in the Eastern Old-Growth Forests and Teaching the Trees: Lessons From the Forest, biologist and forest ecologist Joan Maloof details the complex process of old-growth forests, where life initiates in the decaying parts of old trees.
Old-growth forests are important because they are habitat for animals, insects and other organisms that survive only among older trees, she says. Old-growth forests remove more pollutants from the air and water than younger ones, she says.
"I would be disappointed if my land trust were not letting forests regain maturity," she said in a phone interview. "That is one place where we can let the land heal and provide critical habitat and pollution abatement."
Humans find forests more beautiful the older the trees get. "The importance of beauty is an area of research we humans know very little about," says Maloof, an advocate for public access to older forests.
Larry Tombaugh, a TLC board member and specialist in forest economics—he was the dean of the N.C. State College of Natural Resources from 1989–2001—says that the TLC can cut trees and still keep the forest ecologically healthy. Cutting down sick and diseased trees is important for overall forest health, he said in an interview. In his 1986 article, "Conservation—An Outmoded Concept?", published in American Forests magazine, Tombaugh made the case that logging can be considered a type of conservation.
"Forests are living environments that need to be managed a little bit," he said in an interview. "It's hard to define forest health until you don't see it anymore."
The TLC's mission—to protect important open space, including stream corridors, forests, wildlife habitats and farmland—was a grassroots inspiration, said David Bland, a Durham lawyer and one of the TLC's original founders. He said the founders in 1983 manned tables at festivals, knocked on doors and made hundreds of phone calls, telling people they could save the places they loved from the encroachment of development.
Clearly the TLC has saved places from development. The group owns not only the 4,000 acres of conservation land, but also about 5,000 acres of conservation easements on privately owned land. Many of these holdings preserve rural landscapes, such as along Dairyland Road in Orange County, and stream buffers, such as a 13-mile stretch along Durham's New Hope Creek.
And the group has rented space and land to other nonprofit groups serving local needs, such as the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and the Irvin Learning Farm.
But how extensively the group will use its forests for commercial production is uncertain.
Robin Schectman of Chapel Hill gave money to the TLC after she was impressed by a visit to the White Pines preserve. She donated money, she said, because she likes to have places to hike close to her home.
She wants to think that the TLC has good reasons to cut the trees. "But if all I know is that they have these forest management plans that they don't want to make open, that's suspicious enough to keep me from giving them more money," she said.
"It does seem odd for a conservation organization to be making money by cutting trees," she added. "In that case, they should be called the Triangle Timber Organization."
Research support was provided by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
Laura Herbst teaches newswriting at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Sun magazine and in The News & Observer.
The Horton Grove Preserve in Durham County (see "Logging on TLC lands" map) is undergoing a timbering campaign by its owner, the Triangle Land Conservancy. Here's how the plan divides the forests and recommends actions. The TLC will decide which actions to take.
Source: Horton Grove Forest Management Plan, David Halley, True North Forest Management Services, for the Triangle Land Conservancy
Last March, Triangle Land Conservancy officials, including President Kevin Brice, met with several Triangle city leaders over dinner at a restaurant near the airport, according to Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, who attended. At the dinner, Brice and other TLC officials discussed the idea of a penny surcharge on water rates to help the trusts continue buying land.
The forested conservation land would soak up pollutants that could sully Raleigh's water supply, land trust officials said. But the TLC's officials haven't told city leaders that they've been cutting down some of the trees in their nature preserves and selling the trees for timber.
Meeker said he didn't know logging might be in store for forests that city water customers help to buy. The TLC has already dipped into the city's water fund once; last year the utility fund gave the TLC $500,000 so the land trust could buy Brumley Forest.
We haven't addressed that issue," Meeker said of the logging. "Naturally Raleigh customers would prefer the land not be disturbed."
The Raleigh City Council in September approved a surcharge on water rates that will affect Raleigh and Garner customers beginning Nov. 1.
The surcharge of one cent per 100 gallons of water will raise about $1.5 million to help local land trusts, including the TLC, buy conservation land around Falls Lake and near streams that drain into the lake. The fee will cost the average Raleigh residential household about 45 extra cents monthly, city officials said, and will also help pay some of the land trusts' operating expenses. The revenue could be used for other projects, including water treatment system improvements.
Durham Mayor Bill Bell was at the dinner as well, he said, although he added that the Ellerbe Creek organization, on behalf of several conservation groups, had also made a public presentation at a May 5 City Council work session.
In June, the Durham City Council approved a water rate increase of one penny per tier for each of the five tiers (tiers are determined by the average customer usage.) The surcharge took effect over the summer and will raise about $100,000 annually to help local land trusts, such as the TLC, and the city buy land for conservation. The city is particularly interested in conserving land in the Lake Michie, Little River and Jordan Lake watersheds.
The fee will cost the average Durham water customer an extra 84 cents per year.
Bell confirmed that the decision to approve the surcharge was related in part to the conservation groups' request. But he was not aware that the TLC logs some of its land, adding that, "It would be my recommendation that we go back and put a stipulation that the money could not be used for that."
The Orange Water and Sewer Authority, which serves Carrboro, Chapel Hill and UNC-Chapel Hill, is considering the rate increase as well, but Planning Director Ed Holland said he is not certain how the land acquisitions would help OWASA water customers. More data is needed, he said, on the locations of the possible purchases. He noted that zoning and other regulation could also be ways to protect local water supplies.
Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said the town's water customers would not support a rate increase this year. But he is looking into other ways for Cary to help fund the land trusts that are struggling after state budget cutbacks. He said he was surprised to hear that the TLC was logging trees in its preserves.
"It's my impression that the council and the Cary citizens would have concerns," he said of the land trust logging. "We would want to know why they are doing what they are doing."
Eighteen people serve on the TLC's board of directors and provide governing policy and oversight for the environmental group's staff. In the 2010–2011 year, the board members consisted of many real estate developers, corporate executives and business people. There is one environmental planner and one agricultural soil conservationist, but no ecologist, biologist or wildlife specialist.
Here is the rundown of the board members and their occupations:
Conservation forests are important to a community.
Sources: Interviews with more than 15 ecologists, conservationists, environmentalists, forest watchers, psychotherapists and other professionals.