North Carolina Wildlife Action Plan

By the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

North Carolina’s Wildlife Action Plan is a guide and planning resource for conserving North Carolina’s wildlife and habitats. It builds on the strategic thinking of many organizations in North Carolina’s conservation community and reflects the ideas and input of many of the state’s citizens. 

The Plan takes a habitat-based approach to addressing the needs of the state’s conservation priority wildlife. The plan gives 371 species statewide priority status for conservation efforts. It categorizes those species with one of 23 habitat types – such as beach/dunes, floodplain forests, bogs and associated wetlands – or 17 river basins in the state. The Plan then identifies threats and appropriate conservation actions by habitat type or river basin.

The Wildlife Action Plan also includes sections on strategies for urban wildlife management, private lands management, land conservation and conservation education, outreach and recreation.

Wildlife Highlights

Sea turtles nest on the state’s Atlantic beaches. Thousands of nesting pairs of royal terns may take flight simultaneously off an island rookery when disturbed. Red cockaded woodpeckers live in remnants of what was once a vast longleaf pine forest. The small wavy-rayed lamp mussel lies on the floor of a mountain stream displaying her offspring in a package designed to look like a small fish in the hope that the smallmouth bass will strike the lure and give her offspring the chance to attach to the fish’s gills. The fluorescent flecked green salamander lays her eggs attached to the roof of a moist crevice at the base of a large rock outcrop in the mountains.

Primary Challenges to Conserving Wildlife in North Carolina

North Carolina is located in the rapidly developing Southeast. Its population has increased from 5 million people in the 1970s to more than 8 million today, putting pressure on all wildlife species and their habitats, including special wild areas like beaches and dunes along the coast, large tracts of habitat in the piedmont, and wetlands in the mountains. Many of the threats facing species of conservation concern and their habitats are derived from this growth. The challenge is to manage human population growth to minimize those threats. 

Habitat Loss 

Only 3% of a formerly vast longleaf pine forest and 1% of its canebrake and white cedar forests still exist in the Southeast. Experts estimate that North Carolina has half of its pre-settlement wetlands, the rest having been converted to development or cropland. Land use changes have increased sediment deposits and altered streamfl ows, resulting in smothered stream bottoms and changed natural stream channels. All of these changes are direct threats to those species dependent upon the habitats destroyed.

Habitat Fragmentation

Road construction, urban corridors and dams are examples of manmade barriers that break larger habitat units into smaller units, hinder wildlife movement, and isolate wildlife into smaller and more vulnerable populations. Dams deny access to spawning grounds for fish that live in the sea and reproduce in freshwater, while associated reservoirs may isolate freshwater mussel populations trapped in the small headwaters of drowned tributaries to the impounded waters. Available space for animals that need large blocks of habitat can become too small to continue to support those animals.

Working Together for North Carolina’s Wildlife

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission made a concerted effort to involve other state and Federal governmental agencies, local governments, conservation NGO’s, academia, and private citizens. Over 40 meetings were held with nearly 50 stakeholder groups stakeholder groups in order to solicit direct input on the plan.

Outreach to the general public included more than 15 magazine and newspaper articles designed to introduce the public to the planning process, and a website created to allow the public to respond to drafts of the plan. An email list was developed from all of these public interactions and quarterly communications were issued reporting on the plan’s progress and inviting input and response. Finally, several of the Commission’s partners reviewed the final draft of the strategy.

The North Carolina Wildlife Action Plan charts the course, and North Carolinians now have the opportunity to help conserve the wildlife resources of the State of North Carolina for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.


The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies represents all of North America’s fish and wildlife agencies, promotes sound management and conservation, and speaks with a unified voice on important fish and wildlife issues.

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