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The Rise of Native Plant Legislation: A Green Shift in Government Policy

As I helped plant native plants in Pittsboro's Pop-Up Park on Earth Day, I felt so fortunate to live in a community where the municipality is embracing native plants and creating outdoor space to celebrate them.

In recent years, a significant shift has taken place within legislative frameworks that underscores the increasing role of government in environmental stewardship. A prime example of this shift is the recent legislation enacted in North Carolina, particularly the

Native Plant Policy law which was adopted in July 2023 by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

This groundbreaking law mandates that any entity receiving grant funds from the department must use native plants, with only a few exceptions. This policy impacts a wide range of sites across the state including 100 historic sites, 35 state parks, numerous recreational areas, trails, and zoos.

The reasons behind this legislation are compelling and highlight the benefits of such policies. Native plants are not only more likely to thrive but also do not overburden the local ecosystem. Additionally, these plants support local wildlife, notably increasing bird populations, and play a crucial role in reducing greenhouse gases by sequestering more carbon in the soil compared to non-native species.

This move by the government is not just about environmental conservation but also about fiscal responsibility. By using taxpayer dollars to fund projects that both save money in the long run and improve environmental conditions, the government is setting a precedent for what it considers as judicious spending. This indicates a readiness in the marketplace for transformational change.

Another notable initiative took place in July 2019 when the Audubon Society—advocates for bird conservation—encouraged the North Carolina Department of Transportation to support legislation for planting native species along roadways. This led to the introduction of Senate Bill 606, underscoring the growing recognition and support for environmental sustainability at the legislative level.

However, the integration of native plants into urban planning presents challenges, particularly in municipalities where specific language and requirements are needed to enforce the use of native species. Additionally, community associations and homeowners' associations (HOAs) must also adapt to these changes.

Despite these challenges, the enthusiasm for native plant initiatives is evident. North Carolina has seen a rise in native plant botanical gardens which not only draw tourists but also serve as educational and recreational resources for residents.

Furthermore, community-led initiatives like the pollinator garden installed in downtown Pittsboro for Earth Day are becoming symbols of attractive, forward-thinking communities.

As we continue to witness these developments, it is clear that the embrace of native plants in public policy is more than a trend—it's a transformative movement towards a more sustainable and environmentally-conscious society.

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