Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Signs of Spring

Although the month of February has just begun, signs of spring abound in the forests of Western North Carolina.  A few early annuals have germinated.  Leaves of some perennials, clinging low to the ground, capture early sunlight.  Rhododendrons are extending their new leaves, covered in protective fuzz.  Animals are more active.  In the neighborhoods of Asheville, the spring torch heather is blooming, one of the first flowers along with the hardy dandelion that was blooming in our yard in January.  This is the ever-changing cycle of the seasons at play, as daylight hours increase and the sun moves higher in the skies of our hemisphere.  What are the signs of spring that you notice?  When did they first arise?

For many around the world, these are the days of the Spring Festival, or in our culture, Groundhog Day.  Groundhog Day is one of those odd festivals that began in agricultural Europe so that now one groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania named Phil determines when people might plant their garden.  Either way and wherever you're celebrating, it's time for renewal and this year Phil feels spring will come early.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Forest Stewards

Private landowners are entrusted with the care and responsibility for a large percentage of forestland in the Eastern United States.  With ownership rights, a landowner is given a wide range of choices.  Should I develop my land?  Should I cut those old trees up the hill?

Sometimes, property or income taxes determine land management decisions.  In other cases, a regular stream of income is needed.  In most cases, though, decisions are not cut-and-dry.  Landowners care for their land, their family, their community, and perhaps the global ecosystem these days.  Decisions involve multiple values and needs.

This is where forest landowners can become stewards.  North Carolina and other states have Forest Stewardship Programs that can help with technical support and cost share.  The cost share program helps to fund the development of Forest Stewardship Plans for landowners. 

On November 30, Lloyd Raleigh attended the Forest Stewardship Plan Writers Training at the Yancey County Cooperative Extension Service.  Les Hunter, the Forest Stewardship Plan Coordinator led the training, which is required for plan writers in North Carolina.

Once the plan is written and approved, a landowner can implement the plan and apply for Stewardship Forest Certification.  This certification is a significant accomplishment for a forest landowner, showing that the landowner has enhanced their property for wildlife, timber, soil, water, and more.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Positive Impact and the Small Picture

Anyone can make a difference with simple steps.  Many people may feel overwhelmed these days, with global warming, pollution, the loss of farms and forests, wars, and more!  Billions of people live on this planet, how can I make a difference?

Looking at the moment, the small picture, allows us to take a deep breath and realize that the small picture is the way to make that difference.  Many people are working in this way, by redesigning their yard or insulating their house, one step at a time.

I met with Jorge Riano, the founder and owner of GreenBy3, at the Green Sage.  Jorge Riano smiled as he talked about his business over a cup of tea.  He embodied the small picture.  His mission is to help people take simple steps so that we can begin to make a difference in our environment, communities, businesses and homes. 

I look forward to more conversations with Jorge in the future as we take our simple steps each day, one at a time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Wildlife Conservation Lands Program Provides Landowner Benefits

This year, the State of North Carolina provides new property tax benefits for landowners with rare species and rare habitats on their lands. This new initiative, called the Wildlife Conservation Lands Program, can provide a win-win situation for landowners and wildlife.

Lands with rare wildlife or rare wildlife habitat can now be assessed at a much lower value, reducing property taxes significantly.  Properties are typically assessed at market value, meaning values are determined based on highest and best use.  Often this means your land is assessed for residential or commercial development, meaning a valuation of thousands of dollars per acre. 

Wildlife conservation lands, on the other hand, are assessed at the same rate as forest lands, which can be assessed perhaps 75% less than residential or commercial lands.  The difference in value provides significant savings for landowners who qualify.

Do you qualify?

You might own tracts of land containing a stream or creek or river you just might.  These are considered priority habitats for wildlife and provide clean water for wildlife and people, if kept pristine.  Buffer zones around these riparian areas will help maintain or enhance the waters of North Carolina and are one step towards qualifying your land for reduced property taxes.

Other rare habitats that qualify include Longleaf pine forests, early-successional habitats, bat caves, small wetlands, and rock outcrops.  These habitats and buffers around them must at a minimum be twenty contiguous acres to qualify.  If you own 140 acres, for example, 50 acres may be streamside buffer zones or rock outcrops.  Helia Environmental can help you map these habitats using GIS and GPS and create buffer zones that meet your needs and the needs of wildlife.

In addition to rare habitats, rare wildlife species living on your land can also qualify you for the program.  Rare species must be located and verified as living on the land.  Dozens of rare species are imperiled in North Carolina and you could help them to recover, while benefiting financially with reduced property taxes.

In order to receive this tax benefit, your county assessors must approve the application.  Part of this application is a Wildlife Habitat Conservation Agreement approved by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.  This agreement includes steps to protect the habitat or wildlife species.  For riparian zones, this can mean letting the forest grow naturally.  For longleaf pine forests, this can mean prescribed burning or planting.  Funding is available through various state and national programs for active management of wildlife habitat.  A good example of this is Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.

Once approved, your lands will be reassessed by your county government, wildlife will benefit from the program, and you will be rewarded with lower property taxes.  This is a one-time application that can provide these benefits for your lifetime and beyond.

Contact Helia Environmental to see if your lands fit with the Wildlife Conservation Lands Program.  We're happy to assist you and facilitate the process!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Celebrating Helia Environmental's Birth

Helia Environmental is official.  Our doors are open, and we hope to be of service to you!

Now that we're also up-and-running on Blogger, we'll be posting here with a wide variety of environmental and ecological stories, news, and more.

So who are we and what do we do?  My name is Lloyd Raleigh and I'm here to serve you.  Whether you’re a private landowner, a non-profit organization, or a government agency, Helia Environmental can provide you with the environmental insight, knowledge, and support for your specific needs.  Contact me at for a free initial consultation and we’ll be happy to serve you through:
  •       Management Planning
  •       Facilitation
  •       Project Management
  •       GPS and GIS Mapping
  •       Ecological and Socioeconomic Research
  •       Land-use and Disturbance History Reports
  •       Conservation Easement Monitoring and Baseline Documentation
  •       Habitat and Species Monitoring
  •       Rare Species Recovery
  •       Ecological Assessments
  •       Habitat and Wetland Delineation
  •       Grant Writing and Applications
  •       Sustainability Assessment and Design
  •       Permitting
  •       Photography
  •       Video Production and Editing

For all projects, Helia Environmental will provide high-quality reports with highly accurate and useful maps, easy-to-read yet informative and relevant information.  Helia Environmental believes that reports should be concise while also providing useful supplemental materials.
Let Heila Environmental enhance your projects with award-winning video production and editing, digital photography, presentations, and other multi-media products.

We've carefully developed a code of ethics that guide all of our services:
  • Superior customer service
  • Healthy respect for all humans, animals, plants, ecosystems, and life in general
  • Clear understanding of complex management and stewardship choices involving living beings 
  • Equal and balanced commitment to the natural world, clients, stakeholders, and other voices
  • Firm resolve to improve our relationship with nature
  • Rich knowledge that humans are a fundamental, keystone part of nature and its dynamics
Here's to a harmonious planet!


Lloyd Raleigh