Charlotte is losing over three football fields a day worth of trees.
That’s the sobering conclusion of a study by the University of Vermont in collaboration with TreesCharlotte, detailing how development, age, storms and other factors have cut down Charlotte’s tree coverage. The percentage of Charlotte covered by tree canopy fell from 49% to 45% of the city between 2012 and 2018.
The novel coronavirus is extracting a terrible toll from our society, replete with mind-boggling statistics: A death toll of more than 100,000, 40 million people unemployed, a 95% plunge in airline passengers and so many more.
The losses are immense. Grief is immeasurable. It’s still unclear how far-reaching and deep the economic pain we’re facing will run.
Amidst that, however, the pandemic offers lessons, and opportunities for change. Here are three lessons surfaced by COVID-19 that we should not let fade even after the virus is under control.
On one recent hike, I saw a fantastic bird up close that I’d not seen in person before – the red-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus). These birds typically prefer to stay near the tops of trees, so spotting them is not easy. I was fortunate that these birds were using my friend’s bird feeder, dining on birdseed and sunflower seeds. I was able to get some good photographs of them with my camera with the 40x optical zoom. I tried with my phone but was not able to get anywhere near them, as they are pretty skittish.
For a lay naturalist, springtime in the Uwharries can be exhausting. There’s a sense of urgency this time of year – the migrating birds and spring ephemerals come and go in a matter of weeks. I’ve resorted to multi-tasking. I’ve given up binoculars in favor of birding by ear. This allows me to identify the black and white warbler by its squeaky-wheel song as I search for wildflowers along a path through the bottomland forest.
After weighing the pros and cons of taking groceries to elderly parents; after assessing the risk of exposing them to coronavirus while driving them to the doctor; after worrying about friends who are sick in New York City, those who are considered essential workers and those who are now unemployed; after obsessively wiping surfaces with bleach solution and slathering hands with sanitizer; after years of developing virtual networks only to be unnerved by social distancing, I find moments of respite while pulling winter weeds.
Nothing speaks of the winter sky quite like a flock of blackbirds flying in unison above a sprawling pasture, field or marsh.
They spiral and bank and funnel, breathing life into a void of leaden gray. It’s a spectacle you won’t observe in any other season.
In the Piedmont, these flocks are often composed of an assortment of common species, not all of which are native or even considered true blackbirds: starlings, robins, brown-headed cowbirds, common grackles and red-winged blackbirds. Sometimes the rusty blackbird, an erratic winter visitor in our region, joins them. In other times of the year – when these very same birds are establishing territory, breeding and raising their young – they tend to be more solitary and competitive, and nest in pairs or loose groups. When winter comes along, they become more cooperative and sociable.
Mama has a knack for finding four-leaf clovers. We’ll be strolling along, chatting, and she’ll stoop down and pluck one. She doesn’t break stride to stop and search – they just jump out at her.
She doesn’t focus on finding the oddity. Instead, she takes in the sameness of the masses until something different catches her eye.
I’ve tried her approach, but I still fail miserably with four-leaf clovers. I guess I didn’t inherit the luck of the Irish. But I have trained my eye to pick out goldenrod galls among the millions of stems in our early successional habitat in the Uwharries.
Cold and wintry weather have (finally) settled in, but spring will be upon us before you know it.
In honor of the soon-to-be warmer weather, here are some of my favorite hikes for springtime. There are lots of great places in the Uwharries to hike any time of year, but these five trails are particularly nice from March to June, because of the flora and fauna that show up when winter gives way to springtime.
Air pollution, runoff and sediment in our waterways, disappearing open space and development chipping away at our tree canopy: Charlotte’s facing many environmental challenges with one common cause.
Most people who hike trails don’t take time to think about who makes and maintains paths through the woods.
In the Uwharries, as in most recreational areas, most trail-building is done by dedicated volunteers.
The National Land Trust Rally put on annually by the Land Trust Alliance, the umbrella organization for land trusts, is in Raleigh this year. The Land Trust Alliance also administers the national accreditation program and serves as a clearinghouse and learning center for land trust staff across the U.S. The rally includes optional field trips on Wednesday and Thursday of the conference week hosted by local land trusts, giving us an opportunity to show off the Piedmont region.
Today it’s hard for many, especially newcomers, to imagine Charlotte’s interdependency with the small towns and rural communities surrounding Mecklenburg County. But Charlotte’s emergence as a New South city was the result of a manufacturing economy established throughout the region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That economy was mostly built on textiles, with its concentration not in the urban core (as was the case with Pittsburgh’s steel industry or Detroit’s auto sector), but in small towns scattered throughout the Carolina Piedmont – where brick textile mills were built along the banks of the South Fork River in Gaston County and the Great Falls of the Catawba in South Carolina, and along the rail lines that stretched in every direction to places like Kannapolis and Hamlet.
Hellbenders - a species of large salamander with an evocative name - can tell us something about the health of a river. Macroinvertebrates are good indicators of water health across the state. Insects, crustaceans, molluscs, and arachnids can all tolerate water quality in different degrees. Mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, hellgrammites are all highly sensitive to pollution. Their presence anywhere indicates good water quality. Dragonflies, damselflies, crayfish and clams are somewhat tolerant of pollution. Black fly larvae, lunged snails, and leeches are all pollution-tolerant.
Common rush (Juncus effusus) is often used in riparian restoration projects. It provides cover for wildlife and helps stabilize soil and filter stormwater runoff, and it can be found throughout the Uwharries. Jim Matthews, professor emeritus at UNC Charlotte and founder of Habitat Assessment and Restoration Professionals, calls it the “Cadillac of wetland plants” because it can grow in standing water but also tolerate dry spells.
Found primarily along the Southeast coast, white-bracted sedge also grows with abandon in wet, sunny meadows you can create in your Charlotte backyard. The flowers attract a crazy array of pollinators - bumblebees and honeybees, bizarre bugs and colorful moths, tiny bees and flies. And the bracts remain attractive deep into fall, even after a hard freeze has turned them to parchment.
Most people who visit the Uwharrie region, east of Charlotte, for recreation probably know about spots like the Uwharrie Trail and Morrow Mountain State Park. Or maybe you’re used to driving west, to Crowders Mountain State Park. However, there are a lot of lesser-known gems in the region that many tourists miss out on, and some that even locals have never been to see.
The world uses millions of tons of phosphorus per year in fertilizer, and almost all of that is mined. But Charlotte Water plans to start extracting the mineral from a new source: What you put down the drain.
Wildlife habitat comes in all shapes and sizes, as does opportunity for improving it. The rural nature of the Uwharries and other areas around Charlotte allows us to restore grasslands and forests on a landscape scale, but the same management techniques have also proven successful on smaller parcels in urban parks and nature preserves. One of the most promising interventions in the rapidly developing Piedmont is to enhance backyard habitat.
From field sparrows to gnatcatchers to scarlet tanagers, from local residents to neotropical migrants from thousands of miles away, there’s a wealth of biodiversity of birds in the Uwharries near Charlotte.
Eight years ago, Charlotte set a goal for itself: 50 percent tree canopy coverage across the city by 2050. But because of rapid development and an aging tree population, the city likely won’t reach that goal, officials said last week. Instead, they’re refocusing on smaller, neighborhood-level targets and other “fifty-themed” tree promotion efforts.
Mecklenburg County is poised to substantially increase funding for its park system, after years of stagnating budgets and staff cuts following the 2008 recession. It could help the county improve its ranking of dead last among major U.S. cities for parks and open space.
When I was a novice birder, attending bird walks in New York’s Central Park, I asked the leader which field guide I should buy. Without missing a beat, and without a hint of sarcasm, he replied, “All of them.” While I’ve come to appreciate his wisdom, there’s also something to be said for having a basic, indispensable guide you can turn to again and again.
As cities continue to grow and thrive, with downtowns reviving and old neighborhoods being redeveloped, is their future still really in the suburbs? That's what one advocate said this week at a real estate forum, provoking debate about growth, transit and sprawl.
I was a preschooler with a bad case of eczema so my pediatrician sent us to an allergist in downtown Greensboro with an office on Elm Street. Growing up in the Uwharries, I’d never laid my country eyes on anything so grand — block after block of offices and shops towering over the sidewalks.
Find the story in the numbers. See below to explore facts about Environment in the Charlotte region. See how the region's counties compare to one another and how the metro area compares to peers around the country.
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Welcome to the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute's data portal. See below to explore facts about the Charlotte region from among 11 topic areas, compare your county to the metro region and the state, and explore in-depth data from...
Charlotte's carbon footprint is dwarfed by other metro centers like Washington and Atlanta, but within the Charlotte region some areas produce much more carbon than others. Interactive maps from UC Berkeley now let you see the differences by ZIP code. (Graphic: UC Berkeley CoolClimate Network)