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We plant trees, thousands of them!

Photos of recent tree planting in the buffer zone at Bass Mountain Stream and Nutrient Bank, North Carolina
http://www.restorationsystems.com/projects/bass-mountain/


How Many Trees Does It Take to Protect a Stream?

A strip of forest along a stream channel, also called a riparian forest buffer, has been proposed and used for decades as a best management practice to protect streams by filtering out contaminants from agriculture and other land uses before they can enter them. Their benefits are many, but one benefit has dominated social and political conversations, and that is their role in preventing contaminants from entering streams. A few years ago, Stroud Water Research Center proposed that riparian forest buffers also play another important role by improving the health of the stream and enabling it to provide more and better ecosystem services for both humans and wildlife — the processing of natural organic matter and pollutants, for example. Thus, a forest buffer provides a first line of defense (keeping sediment and nutrients out) as well as a secondary line of defense (keeping sediment and nutrients from moving downstream) for maintaining clean water in our streams and rivers.
READ MORE AT  http://tinyurl.com/n9s57gk
 

Forestry Management in Riparian Buffers

A Guide to Implementing Neuse River Basin and Tar-Pamlico River Basin Riparian Buffer Rules for Forest Management Activities was published by the NC Forest Service in July 2012 but worth re-reading or reading for the first time. The rules apply to perennial streams, intermittent streams, ponds, lakes, and estuaries located in either river basin. READ MORE at http://ncforestservice.gov/publications/Forestry%20Leaflets/WQ11.pdf

Letter: Eco-Advocates ask EMC to take action on Double-Dip

Below is an email sent by several concerned environmental advocates to the NC EMC regarding recent policy decisions concerning Compensatory Mitigation Requirements..

Date: Wed, 13 Jan 2010 16:16:07 -0500
Subject: EMC Agenda Item 10-09, Compensatory Mitigation Requirements and EBX

Dear Environmental Management Commission Members,

Given the recent press, you are probably aware of the concerns raised by the environmental community related to the double-dipping of ecological values produced by Division of Water Quality (DWQ) crediting policies.[1]  The concept of “additionality,” as used by DWQ (the gain of additional benefit without additional work), is illusory and should not be applied to the environmental laws and policies we rely upon to protect our public trust waters.

The use of acreage that has already offset stream or wetland impacts to obtain riparian buffer or nutrient offsets re-credits the same nutrient removal function already allotted to existing credits, resulting in net degradation of water quality.  This double counting of credits results in a net loss of ecosystem function, which is contrary to DENR’s purpose of preserving and protecting North Carolina’s outstanding natural resources, including water quality.  In addition, this policy allows mitigation banks-including the Ecosystem Enhancement Program (EEP)-to charge buyers for two restorations, even though only one environmentally beneficial action is created on-the-ground.

[2]  Special Report: Department of Environment and Natural Resources Wetland Mitigation Credit Determinations.  2009 December.
http://www.ncleg.net/PED/Reports/documents/Wetlands/Wetland_Report.pdf

Read more

Something Fishy

Red Herring?

Last Thursday representatives of the North Carolina Division of Water Quality (DWQ) concluded an overview presentation of their mitigation programs to the Environmental Management Commission in defense of credit stacking by expressing a red herring message of fear that without the ability to sell the same piece of mitigation twice,

mitigation costs will be higher

— NCDWQ

and that some areas of the state could

run out of buffer and stream sites

— NCDWQ

to restore??

I’m confused.  DWQ just threw away several hundred thousand dollars and caused an immediate and future degradation to water quality and they’re concerned that correcting the policy that led to this might cause mitigation fees to go up?!  That’s almost as ridiculous as their implication that running out of degraded streams and buffers would somehow be a bad thing.

The tone of these comments by DWQ staff force a reasonable person to ask:  is DENR more concerned with subsidizing the cost of development at the expense of the environment than actually protecting the environment? A skeptic would ask if DENR management is more concerned with protecting it’s empire of programs and divisions than the environment.  And a cynic would merely point out that the Endless Employment Project and the Ecosystem Enhancement Program share the same acronym.

Thursday’s presentation was given at the bequest of EMC Chair Stephen Smith in response to the recent publicity regarding DENR, DWQ, EEP, and EBX that questioned whether roughly a million dollars of mitigation fees required by DWQ, collected by EEP, and awarded to  EBX actually did anything to protect the environment.  According to the NC Program Evaluation Division the answer to that question is clear,

DWQ’s decisions related to this controversy resulted in actual and potential future losses to the environmental integrity of the Neuse River basin. — Program Evaluation Division, NC General Assembly

What’s not so clear is why DENR’s been making policy decisions that degrade the environment as opposed to protect it.  Their public explanations thus far have been premised as simplified versions of complicated issues.  The EMC rule makers need to understand that DENR’s not telling them the whole story.  The most notable omission is that EEP has been charging mitigation fees to developers based on the costs of providing unstacked mitigation credits, their nutrient offset program was at a huge deficit of  compliance,  and they seem to have used retroactive credit stacking, shielded by a process called  “direct purchase” to help balance their books.

It’s time for DENR to stop treating everyone from policy makers to legislators like children and start telling the whole story.   A good place to start would be explaining why DWQ Buffer Interpretation/Clarification #004 was written, and whether it was intended to help every public and private mitigation project that has subsequently taken advantage of it, or just the needs of a certain Canadian mining company.   The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.  Everybody makes mistakes, what’s important is that we learn from them.

Trying to get around all this monkey business, and as a bit of a Curious George myself,  I went to the Man in the Yellow Hat (an industry veteran) who reminded me that at its root, DWQ was a permitting agency.  This DWQ summary, and the Rationale and Methodology for Flexible Buffer Mitigation for PCS Phosphate Company, Inc. help explain the connection between the proposed Consolidated Buffer Rule, the 800 pound gorilla sitting silently at the back of all these public policy meetings, and DENR’s hesitancy to correct their mistake.

PCS Phosphate is currently pursuing a permit to make what could be the largest single impact to water quality in the state of North Carolina and they’re using the Consolidated Buffer Rule to help do it.  But DWQ’s most recent version of the Rule was not only a fix for PCS, but also a fix for DENR’s recently publicized policy problems.  Lucky for the environment, it has been temporarily tabled.  Maybe next time it’s presented they’ll stop monkeying around and call it what it is, The Rule to Help PCS Get Its Permit and Help DWQ Cover Its Ass.  Just goes to show that the Man in the Yellow Hat knows what he’s talking about, at its root DWQ is a permitting agency.

However, this still doesn’t help explain the DENR Assistant Secretary’s response when asked by members of the ERC on December 17th if the recent controversial policy decisions by her department had any impact on PCS, because she appeared to have no idea that there was a connection.  That’s a little ironic, considering she has served as legal counsel to the state’s mining commission, the Southern Environmental Law Center is currently challenging the PCS permit and DWQ has been working for several years on a new Rule to help PCS meet their buffer mitigation requirement.

Maybe she didn’t get the MEMOs, or like Peter Gibbons in Office Space maybe she just ignored them.  When I recently heard DENR had engaged the UNC School of Government to do an ‘outside, third party’ review of EEP and its practices I was encouraged.  But then I heard that the Dean of the School was married to the DENR Assistant Secretary. Sheesh.

The real world ain’t like  school and it ain’t like the movies, and sometimes it makes me sick.  As historian Howard Zinn’s book demonstrates in both title and text, You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train.   Letters and MEMOs are important and policy decisions have real and immediate consequences that can’t be brushed over by studies and simplified examples.

For the time being it’s looking more and more like the dead fish in the Neuse aren’t the only thing putrid effecting our waters.  In case they missed the other ones, I hope the DENR hierarchy gets this most recent memo from concerned advocates and this time decides to do something good for the environment.