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Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership - Soundings 2012-06-18

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Reflections on sound country

Guest post by Tony Reevy, UNC Institute for the Environment and APNEP Policy Board member
June 18, 2012

Tony Reevy honored for his service as Policy Board chairman

Tony Reevy honored for his service as Policy Board chairman in Columbia.

As I conclude my term as chairman of the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program's Policy Board, I've been asked to reflect on the program and its many accomplishments. Before sharing any thoughts about APNEP, as it is known, I'd like to first reflect on the wonderful area the program serves.

The Albemarle-Pamlico watershed, similar to the neighboring Chesapeake Bay watershed system, is immense. You can hear the coal trains whine along the Blue Ridge Grade near Roanoke, sip coffee at a Starbucks in Raleigh or kayak toward North Carolina's Outer Banks and you'll still be in the Albemarle-Pamlico watershed.

It's a land of sparse population — the region's only relatively large cities are Roanoke, Durham and Raleigh — but of immense natural resources and important history. It has a quiet beauty that, while understated compared to the Blue Ridge or Great Smoky Mountains, is equally moving if accepted on its own terms. Bland Simpson's heartfelt writings about what he calls the "Sound Country," the part of the region east of Interstate 95, capture some of this. But to feel the full extent of the region's reach and value, you must also learn to know a large part of Southside Virginia, much of the northern North Carolina Piedmont, and the foothills and mountains surrounding Roanoke. The Albemarle-Pamlico is not T. R. Pearson's "small place" with a "short history." Rather, it is a large spread of land, with widely varied characteristics.

Simpson is interested in the region because of his roots in Elizabeth City, and family connections in other sound country communities such as Columbia and Beaufort. I agreed to serve on the APNEP Policy Board because of my love for Northern Durham, where I lived during my high school years. I have learned something new about that wonderful "small place" through my contacts with the program's staff. Northern Durham is a watershed area that is just as critical to Raleigh's drinking water supply as the Catskills are to New York City's.

The Albemarle-Pamlico watershed is an important region, and the APNEP staff labors to serve it with a budget that is miniscule compared to that provided to the Chesapeake Bay Program (which has a land area approximately twice the size of the Albemarle-Pamlico's). It is a monumental task, but a critical one. During the last two years, staff members completed and adopted the program's first Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan since 1994 and its first ecosystem assessment since 1991. Speaking personally, I am particularly proud of the latter, which manages a broad sweep of content without losing attention to detail and a focus on scientifically sound information and analysis.

What is next for APNEP? That is for others to say, going forward. I will posit three things. First, these are, for a number of reasons, difficult times for governmentally related environmental programs such as APNEP. The shoals of the present discourse on things environmental will be difficult to navigate. Second, we know too little about the region, particularly about the two major sounds, Albemarle and Pamlico. There are those who do not want to know if there are problems in the sound country, particularly water-quality challenges or challenges involving endangered species such as the Red-cockaded Woodpecker or the Atlantic sturgeon. There are those that believe investing in finding out more is not a good use of limited resources. These opinions will need to be met, and critics will need to be persuaded. And, finally, the economic challenges of the Great Recession mean that APNEP must make its case for the funding to enable us to learn more about these great spaces in a climate of limited funds. But, let us remember, as we draw water from a tap in Raleigh or land a fish from the Neuse River or one of the sounds, this is a case that needs to be made—for all of us who love the sound country, and the lands beyond.

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