ENVIRONMENT

Jul 13, 2020
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.
Jun 30, 2020
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of being stuck at home. While I understand the need during a global pandemic, months of “the new normal” has me missing the old one. Not being able to go to the gym, church, or the movies has got me—and a lot of other people—feeling anxious, and sometimes, pretty down. As it turns out, this is pretty normal, according to research. Folks at the Pew Research Center have completed a number of surveys over the past couple of months and found that half of all American adults are experiencing moderate to high distress during quarantine. There is a great deal of stress, anxiety and worry about health, finances, and the future, among other things. And the longer this continues, the more people report high levels of distress. Learning how to take care of our mental health during an extended quarantine could not be more important.
Jun 22, 2020
A bobwhite quail calling from the edge of a stubbled hayfield. Honeybees buzzing in every patch of clover.  Fireflies hovering just beyond reach as dusk gives way to night. These are the images that come to mind when I think back to summers outdoors in the Uwharries when I was young. Little did I know that over the course of my lifetime, each of those species would experience precipitous population declines. Or that I’d be so devoted to saving them.  
Jun 02, 2020
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.
May 27, 2020
June is upon us, and the rush of activity in the ponds, streams, and vernal pools of our state is already well underway. For many native frogs, it’s breeding season. Right now is a great time to experience the variety of nighttime songs that signal the return of summer in our waterways. The best part is, you don’t need to collect ticks or put on a pair of waders to do so. Frog songs can be enjoyed from a distance, just about anywhere there’s trees, grass or water. So grab your favorite beverage, head to the porch, and enjoy this guide to identifying a few of the most commonly-heard frog calls in Central North Carolina in the month of June. 
May 26, 2020
The English peas are finished. Given the long spell of mild weather we’ve enjoyed this year, I’d hoped this cool-weather crop might last a bit longer. Alas, they still flamed out in a matter of weeks. English peas (Pisum sativum) are the very essence of a Piedmont spring – sweet and tender and all too fleeting.
May 13, 2020
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, news headlines have called attention to both “essential workers” in the food system, such as farmworkers and grocery store employees, and extensive job losses for food system workers, primarily in retail and restaurants. There are requests for contributions to virtual tip jars and for customers to buy gift cards from small businesses alongside fears of food chain disruptions, empty grocery shelves, and virus exposure while shopping. All of this highlights the often invisible precarity of essential workers in the US food system — and the precariousness of the food system itself.
May 05, 2020
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.
Apr 27, 2020
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. 
Apr 27, 2020
Across the Charlotte region, parks have been full and streets largely empty for the past several weeks, as people try to get out of their houses for fresh air and exercise while staying home from work and school. Other cities have been opening vast stretches of their streets to walkers, joggers, bicyclists and others seeking outdoor space while following social distance guidelines. The logic is simple: Auto traffic has plunged to levels no one could imagine two months ago, while millions of people need more places to be outside than often-inadequate parks. 
Apr 07, 2020
It’s a great time to be in the woods and spot our region’s many wildflowers (socially distant and with plenty of room between you and anyone else on the trail, of course). Although many state parks are closed due to COVID-19 situation, the trails in the Uwharrie National Forest are still open, and exercise is a permitted activity within the state’s stay at home order. For those of you who live on your own land with a creek or stream, you may even be able to spot these commonly seen wildflowers in your own backyard. 
Mar 30, 2020
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. 
Mar 02, 2020
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. 
Feb 18, 2020
North Carolina is truly blessed with a fantastic and diverse system of state parks and nature preserves, stretching from the mountains to the coast.
Feb 11, 2020
It’s all around us, but we usually can’t smell or see air pollution. A major art piece and a series of events coming to Charlotte this spring could help change that.
Jan 27, 2020
Naeema Muhammad, organizing co-director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, will speak on campus this week at UNC Charlotte.  Muhammad's work includes a focus on promoting health and equality for people around issues of air quality, water quality, coal ash, fracking...
Jan 24, 2020
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.
Jan 21, 2020
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. Growth. 
Dec 05, 2019
In December, the familiar Fraser fir population reaches its fleeting peak in the Piedmont as Christmas trees are harvested from farms in the North Carolina mountains and brought to market.  But two other species of conifers largely restricted to the mountains have found surprising refuge in our region — at least for the time being.
Nov 18, 2019
Our purpose in studying the 32-county region wasn’t to merely document a Carolinas version of the familiar urban-rural divide. Instead, we sought to go beyond the conventional narrative of an irreversible split, and seek examples of connections –  either residual or new – between urban and rural communities. Connections that might provide opportunities for renewal in places still struggling to adapt to the changing economic landscape of the 21st century.
Nov 18, 2019
Ecosystems such as forests and wetlands provide clean air and water, food, building materials, and recreational opportunities. The benefits people receive from nature are referred to as “ecosystem services.”  Our interactions with ecosystems can have a positive impact, boosting our health and the economy. We can also have a negative impact on the health and survival of these natural resources.
Nov 05, 2019
About 45 minutes from Charlotte in neighboring Cabarrus County, the owners of 1,000-acre Porter Farms raise chickens and pigs on part of their land. The chickens are sold to Tysons Foods, and the pigs become sausage, pork chops and spare ribs for Smithfield Foods. Another part of the property is a cattle farm, and since 2012 it also has become a destination for those seeking a taste of the country. Two large, climate-controlled barns with expansive views of the scenic landscape host weddings and other events. Over the past few years, the family has taken steps to make sure their land won’t ever be used for subdivisions or gas stations.
Oct 29, 2019
In the far southeastern tip of Montgomery County, where Moore, Richmond and Montgomery counties all converge, a stream with an evocative name flows: Drowning Creek.  Drowning Creek is a high quality stream, which means it has little pollution and good aquatic diversity. The creek flows southward into the Lumber River, which was originally called Drowning Creek. 
Oct 21, 2019
Where the hard rock of the Piedmont gives way to the sandy Coastal Plain, two company towns that lost their companies are looking for economic revival to the rivers that put them on the map. Great Falls in South Carolina and Badin in North Carolina grew up along the geologic fall line beside wild, majestic stretches of whitewater that entrepreneurs harnessed for electricity and for industry, a quintessential American story retold up and down the East Coast in the early 1900s. Now, years after the textile mills in Great Falls quit spinning on the Catawba River and the aluminum smelter in Badin shut its furnaces on the Yadkin, both towns hope to reinvent themselves with a new kind of industry: ecotourism.
Oct 16, 2019
“There is a crisis that’s brewing,” said Davon Goodwin. “We have a lack of farmers and we have more people to feed. If that trend continues, it’s going to be bad.”
Oct 14, 2019
The narrative around rural areas has often held that people need to leave for a better chance to find success, typically in the city. But for many, leaving the place they love and call home never really feels like an option. Here are seven stories of people who are turning that narrative on its head. 
Oct 11, 2019
An outdoor, living exhibit on its way to the UNC Charlotte campus will tell the story of North Carolina through plants and crops crucial to the state’s development.
Oct 08, 2019
Natural aesthetic appeal, increased economic vitality, a reason to leave your car behind, a walking and biking connection between communities in two states: Organizers hope to deliver all of that, and more, through the growing Carolina Thread Trail network of greenways, waterways and trails.
Oct 02, 2019
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.
Sep 24, 2019
Charlotte has a reputation as a car city, but many of its leaders badly want to promote more biking, walking and transit use. That’s one reason an intriguing idea kept surfacing at this week’s City Council Transportation & Planning Committee meeting: Why not take all the cars off a major street in uptown or South End, creating a pedestrian-only space?
Sep 03, 2019
Think of an important waterway: You’re probably picturing a rushing river, a huge lake or a roaring waterfall. But what about the humble creek running through the woods near your house? That’s where most of our waterways start, and if those creeks aren’t healthy, larger waterways won’t be healthy either. 
Aug 20, 2019
How do you protect a plant that grows only on rocky outcrops at high elevations in the Amphibolite Mountains of northwestern North Carolina? It takes a team. 
Jul 29, 2019
After visiting a city with a waterfront, maybe stopping for a drink and a bite to eat along whichever river or ocean it’s built along, I’m usually left with one overriding thought: “Wow, Charlotte could really use some of this.” Water plays a prominent role in the design and history of most cities, whether it be a river, bay or ocean. And Charlotte’s skyline and downtown sit tantalizingly close-but-yet-so-far from a major river and lake system. So, the question looms: Why isn’t Charlotte built on the water?  It’s a straightforward question I realized I had never actually asked, despite a decade living in Charlotte. So I called up an expert. 
Jul 24, 2019
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.
Jul 23, 2019
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.
Jul 01, 2019
When you think of rare species, your mind might turn to majestic tigers, ferocious grizzly bears or majestic elephants. But how often do you think of bogs, sandbars and the slimy rocks coated in spray? A recent Natural Heritage Program Rare Plant and Natural Communities Workshop in Hendersonville highlighted the importance of these unusual ecosystems for many of our region’s rare plants. Such environments play an important role in our state, but many are threatened.
Jun 24, 2019
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.
Jun 17, 2019
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.
Jun 11, 2019
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. 
Jun 04, 2019
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. 
May 28, 2019
It turns out you can see disparities on the map in Charlotte across way more dimensions than traditional measures like household income. 
May 22, 2019
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. 
May 20, 2019
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.
May 03, 2019
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. 
Apr 26, 2019
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.
Apr 25, 2019
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.
Mar 28, 2019
 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. 
Jan 30, 2019
For years, food waste has been cast as a financial and moral issue, with money and opportunities to feed the hungry lost when food is tossed in the garbage. It also is increasingly becoming an environmental problem as scraps and spoiled food fill landfills across the country, where they emit potent greenhouse gases.
Jan 29, 2019
For vegetable gardeners in the Piedmont, 2018 was a challenging year. The weather whipsawed between mundane and extreme.
Jan 02, 2019
This book aspires to be much more than just another field guide. It’s a longitudinal documentation of avian life in the Piedmont, a region undergoing tremendous change.