ENVIRONMENT

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 13, 2019
At first glance, the proposed fiscal 2020 budget for Mecklenburg Park and Recreation looks like a slam dunk. With the clarity of a slow-mo replay, however, stripped of its glitter and pizzazz, the budget looks a lot more like a mediocre layup.
May 06, 2019
The Sandhills are one of the more diverse landscapes in the state, mainly because longleaf pine ecosystems house so many unique and endemic species. The transition area between Sandhills and Uwharries is especially diverse as you may find species found in the coastal plain, Sandhills, Piedmont and the mountains all in one place.
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. 
May 01, 2019
Responsible and thoughtful design entails understanding the relationship between the built environment and its impact on ecological systems.  With 6.7 billion people projected to live in urban areas worldwide by 2050, there are many achievable strategies that should resonate with architects, developers and local governments to sustain the natural environment even as growth and development continue. 
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. 
Mar 19, 2019
Beginning birders face some notorious identification challenges.  Empidonax flycatchers and “confusing fall warblers” come to mind.  Sparrows also test a birder’s proficiency.  Not only do they tend to skulk in heavy brush, making it hard to get a decent look, most are small and mottled brown, with subtle distinguishing characteristics.  I’ve been in the field with expert birders who are sometimes reduced to calling one an LBJ, short for “little brown job.”
Mar 18, 2019
No matter how much I hate to admit, I have found myself at times lost in the woods. Not just disoriented, but completely turned around. One such trip was on a property adjoining the Birkhead Wilderness Area, 6,000 acres of open forest, and it was on my birthday.
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.
Dec 31, 2018
As the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2019, we are reflecting on how our history and growth mirror both the region we focus on and the university that nurtures us.
Nov 28, 2018
Day by day, hour by hour, trees are dropping their leaves, allowing us to appreciate their architectural structure.  While growing conditions can shape a tree’s form – a white oak’s limbs will be truncated in a crowded forest, but in the middle of a pasture, they’ll sprawl – each species also has its own inherent traits.
Oct 24, 2018
Monarch butterflies generally start arriving in the Uwharries in May.  Their timing seems to coincide with the flowering of the common milkweed in our grasslands. 
Sep 13, 2018
In an ozone garden, the plants can tell an astute observer whether ozone pollution is a problem.
Sep 06, 2018
A special spot of ancient prairie, never worked or plowed, has been preserved.
Aug 23, 2018
An invasive berry vine that’s trying to take over the world – including a Charlotte park.
Jul 25, 2018
On a preserved tract in Gaston County, one determined man is fighting a long-term war to remove the invasive plant species that choke out native plants and wildlife.
Jul 03, 2018
It was time for young barn owl, raised at the Carolina Raptor Center, to be sent into the world. Would she be safe?
Jun 19, 2018
Charlotte first adopted a greenhouse gas emission reduction resolution in 2007.  Now, 11 years later, the City Council is considering a new resolution to move the initiative ahead.
Jun 13, 2018
I recently stumbled on an especially interesting habitat while exploring the flora and fauna on a site that once held granite quarries.
Jun 06, 2018
You may not have considered how justice, the environment and climate change intersect. But Jacqueline Patterson has.
May 31, 2018
I saw it coming. Every time I saw the cable wrapped around that oak, I’d throw up my hands and think, “Too late now!” The oak slowly succumbed to strangulation. Last spring, it didn’t leaf out. Now, poison ivy creeps up the trunk, hiding my shame.
May 24, 2018
Moving back to Charlotte after 10 years away, I noticed changes in Latta Park. Were my memories idealized? Had it always looked like this? Or had it been neglected in my absence? Commentary.