North Carolina began enforcing game laws in 1738, even before statehood became a fact. Today we identify that act as the beginning of the process to form what we know today as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
By 1850, the state had embarked on an ambitious earth sciences program to include not only physical sciences but also agricultural and forestry functions. In 1823, the North Carolina Geological Survey was formed, later expanded, and in 1905 renamed the N.C. Geological and Economic Survey – the forerunner organization to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
State direction on environmental matters picked up speed as the 20th century dawned. As early as 1899, the State Board of Health was given some statutory powers over water pollution affecting sources of domestic water supply. The state’s power to control the pollution of North Carolina’s water resources has remained constant since.
The state employed its first graduate forester in June of 1909, leading to the creation of the North Carolina Forest Service (known today as the Division of Forest Resources) in 1915. When it was established, the service’s only task was to prevent and control wildfires.
Also in 1915, the state parks system was born when Gov. Locke Craig moved the General Assembly to save Mount Mitchell before loggers could ruin it. Legislators created Mount Mitchell State Park in response to the governor’s request.
That same year federal and state laws were passed to protect watersheds and streams. The General Assembly established the North Carolina Fisheries Commission Board, charging it with the stewardship and management of the state’s fishery resources. The board has the administrative power to regulate fisheries, enforce fishery laws and regulations, operate hatcheries and carry out shellfish rehabilitation activities.
Secretaries of Environment and Natural Resources1