Habitat Conservation Recommendations


Recommendations Summary

One of the primary purposes of the Green Growth Toolbox is to provide conservation recommendations that are based on the scientific literature regarding how much habitat priority wildlife need to remain in developing landscapes. These recommendations come from two N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission guidance documents below.

 Cover to Conservation Recommendations for Priority Terrestrial Wildlife Species and Habitats in North Carolina, featuring photos of a brook, bog turtle, cerulean warbler, and a salamander

  • NCWRC (2012) Conservation Recommendation for Priority Species and Habitats
  • NCWRC (2002) Guidance to Address Cumulative Impacts
  • We encourage local governments and developers to conserve as much habitat as possible as a first step, even if it is less than what is recommended.
  • Many wildlife species need specialized types of habitat or large blocks of habitat. When development fragments or degrades these habitats, the most vulnerable species are often lost. We encourage planners to use this information to do what is possible to minimize negative impacts to wildlife through planning, policies, and development design.
  • Incorporating these recommendations in plans, incentives, ordinances, and development designs will help reduce the likelihood that species are placed on the federal endangered and threatened species list and could reduce permit delays.


Recommendations for solar farms / facilities

We are working with local governments and solar companies to improve pollinator habitat on solar farms and reduce other impacts. There are benefits to minimizing impacts to wildlife habitat for solar companies, landowners, and local governments. Matching the correct native plants to soil, sun, and soil moisture levels, makes pollinator-friendly solar farms cheaper to manage. Low growing native grasses and plants, once established, do not need to be mowed often and do not require chemical applications. Native wildflowers are also more aesthetically pleasing and reduce soil erosion. Supporting native pollinators by providing native plant food sources supports local farmers because two-thirds of crop pollination is done by non-domestic native bees and other pollinators.

Project contact: Gabriela Garrison, Eastern Piedmont Habitat Conservation Coordinator: gabriela.garrison@ncwildlife.org, (910) 281-4388.

  • Click here to download the recommendations for ordinances, development siting, and design.
  • Click here to explore how to make solar farms pollinator-friendly. These are the NCWRC and the NC Pollinator Conservation Alliance recommendations for Native Plantings on Solar Farms and can be used in ordinances or as planning department guidance to solar companies.


How can this information be used?


In local government planning documents to inform:

• The goals, objectives, strategies and natural resources component in all community planning documents.

• Policy recommendations.

In incentives and ordinances to inform:

• The proportion or width of open space conservation to consider in certain districts or development standards.

In development review and site design to inform:

• Review of development proposals to evaluate habitat conservation opportunities.

• Development designs that will enhance wildlife habitat conservation.

Recommendations Summary
See Section 3 of the Handbook for more details



  • Large blocks of forest can be conserved by connecting forests across adjoining development parcels.
  • The area of forest needed to conserve priority wildlife species differs in the Northern Piedmont, Southern Piedmont (Uwharrie Mountains), Northern Mountains, Southern Mountains, Sandhills & Coastal Plain. 
  • In general, try to conserve at least 50% tree cover in your jurisdiction.


Click here for more detailed recommendations.



Grasslands & Shrublands

These habitats differ in rural and urban areas.  Urban grasslands need to be  larger and closer to one another to provide habitat for priority grassland birds of conservation concern.

  • Develop farmland protection plans and integrate grassland and early successional habitat conservation and management recommendations.
  • Focus on policies that maintain viable, contiguous working farms.
  • If your community has the resources to conduct active resource management, prioritize the protection and management of some grassland and shrubland habitat when purchasing land for open space. Consult with a qualified biologist to develop a management plan for long-term management of this habitat.
  • When early grassland or shrubland habitat is to be protected as open space in a development project, require applicants to submit 1) a long-term habitat management plan, and 2) plans to fund long-term management. Habitat management can be funded and administered by the homeowner association.


Click here for more detailed recommendations.




Riparian Habitats & Greenways

Recommendations for conserving riparian habitats and habitat within greenways are related because greenways often serve as riparian habitat.

Click here for more detailed recommendations. 


Conserving aquatic life in streams is essential to public health because stream life cleans our water.  Buffers that will protect aquatic life are wider than those needed for basic water quality for water treatment.

Click here for more detailed recommendations. 


Small Wetlands

Amphibians and reptiles that rely on small wetlands for their only source of breeding habitat need to live in the upland forests that surround wetlands.  We provide science-based upland habitat conservation measures needed to prevent loss of amphibians and reptiles in small wetlands. 

Click here for more detailed recommendations.



In addition to helping to protect communities from flood hazards, intact floodplain forests are a priority wildlife habitat identified in the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan. Many floodplain pools provide important habitat for breeding turtles, salamanders and frogs. When floodplain corridors are intact, they provide migration corridors for birds and mammals. 

  • Where the floodplain is wider than a stream buffer, protect the full extent of the 100-year floodplain.
  • Where feasible, do not place sewer lines, water lines, manholes and other utility infrastructure in the 100-year floodplain.
  • Try to avoid clearing, excavating, filling, altering, draining, or placing structures of any kind within the floodplain boundaries. This will also help to prevent or reduce the burden to taxpayers from disaster clean-up.
  • Consider extending these practices to the 500-year floodplain to safeguard against increasing extreme flood events.




Reduce Habitat Fragmentation

Conserving habitats means reducing habitat fragmentation.  Fragmentation occurs when habitats are interrupted by roads, yards, lawns and other development. Fragmentation makes it more difficult or impossible for wildlife and plants to travel among habitats, making species susceptible to extinction in those areas. We recommend that habitats in open space areas of developed parcels are conserved in contiguous, wide blocks, uninterrupted by development or roads.  Habitat open space should be connected among adjacent parcels.  Land use and transportation plans should consider how to avoid bisecting high priority habitats and wildlife travel corridors.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recommends that local governments and developers implement the following conservation recommendations, especially in priority conservation areas.  The Biodiversity and Wildlife Habitat Assessment (BWHA) of the N.C. Conservation Planning Tool provides a map of the highest priority conservation areas.  Download the BWHA for your region from the Conservation Data page. Below are recommendations for conserving habitat types within priority areas where development will occur.


When development comes up to the edge of high-quality habitats, the quality of those habitats is degraded. Over time, as more development encroaches on habitats, these cumulative impacts fragment and eat away at wildlife populations and other natural resources.  We recommend that local governments and developers do what is possible to maintain agricultural districts and natural areas within the buffer areas detailed below.


Hunting Safety Buffers Around NCWRC Game Lands

The NCWRC recommends a 150 yard hunting safety buffer on NCWRC Game Lands.  In urban areas especially, Game Lands are being surrounded by development making some areas of Game Lands completely unavailable to hunters.  Reducing hunting on Game Lands will make them less popular to hunters that spend money on gear in local communities and may lead to increases in the deer population, which increases nuisance situations.




Smoke Awareness Areas

Smoke Awareness Areas are mapped adjacent to conserved areas that are known to undergo periodic prescribed fire management. Prescribed fire is a critical management tool employed by certified professionals to improve wildlife habitat and reduce the chance of catastrophic wildfire.  Please see the N.C. Prescribed Fire Council website for more information on prescribed fire.  We recommend that agricultural districts be maintained in Smoke Awareness Areas which occur within 1/2 mile of conserved lands that employ prescribed fire management.  When development encroaches on habitats where prescribed fire is needed, the risk of wildfire and need for emergency response increases, the habitat quality degrades or the habitat type is lost.




Buffers that will protect aquatic life and riparian wildlife habitat are wider than those needed for basic water quality for water treatment.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recommends that local governments and developers do what is possible to maintain stream buffers to provide wildlife travel corridors and habitat through land use planning and development methods.




Wildlife and plants need to travel between habitats and cannot exist for long in isolated areas.  In order to conserve wildlife, habitats and other natural resources it is essential to maintain wildlife travel corridors in developing areas.  The scientific literature for the Southeast U.S. suggests that the following conservation measures will provide sufficient habitat connectivity for priority wildlife in North Carolina.


Maintain Agricultural Districts in key wildlife travel corridors, especially between Managed Areas that are conserved. Instead of setting one acre minimum lot sizes for development in these districts use dwelling units per acre and encourage rural cluster development.  This maintains property rights but allows for habitat to remain connected. 


 Conserve Riparian Habitat and Stream Buffers in priority riparian habitats.  See the Conserve and Manage tab for more information. 




Greenways are a great way to maintain habitat connectivity for wildlife and plants, provided:

  • Natural greenways are at least 150 feet wide at a bare minimum and are at least 300 feet wide in between core habitat areas.
  • Some natural areas of at least 1000 feet width are connected along the greenway.
  • Greenway trails are as close to the edge of habitats as possible.
  • Greenway trails are at least 100 feet from streams to prevent sediment or polluted runoff.








Connect Small Wetlands

One of the reasons priority amphibians and reptiles are declining is because of fragmentation of small wetlands.  Especially during drought conditions, pond breeding wildlife need to migrate to small wetlands that hold water.  Amphibians and reptiles experience almost total mortality when crossing roads that have more than 2,000 cars per day and often cannot cross open areas in developed landscapes without risking predation by feral cats and urban wildlife predators.  To maintain habitat connectivity for pond breeding amphibians and reptiles:

  • As much as possible, avoid placing development and roads between small wetlands that are within 1 mile of each other.
  • Connect wetlands to one another and to streams via forested wildlife travel corridors that are made to be as wide as possible and at least 330 feet wide.
  • Limit impervious surfaces to 10 percent and road density in watersheds that contain your jurisdiction’s most biologically diverse and important wetlands.
  • Maintain at least 50 percent natural vegetation in large, connected nodes throughout the landscape.





Habitat Management is Important. Without proper habitat management, some natural areas will not provide habitat for priority wildlife.  Many priority species have specific habitat needs for the composition of types of plants and the structure of the habitat.  For example, some species need forests with an understory of shrubs and low growing trees and some species need forests with an open understory of grasses and flowers without many shrubs or low growing trees.  Some grassland species need grasslands with shrubs and some do best in completely open grasslands with low growing grasses.  The habitat needs of species relates to how the species evolved to find food and avoid predators among other factors.  See the Conserve and Manage tab for more habitat management information.  Habitat management can be funded by the homeowner association.

Go Native! Use native plants in the majority of landscaping and avoid nonnative invasive plants.  Native plants are better adapted to drought, other local weather conditions, plant pests and diseases.  Click here to learn more about the economic benefits of using native plants in landscaping. Maintaining habitats and native plants reduces the amount of turf lawn needed, which greatly reduces landscape management costs.


Wetland and Stream Management should focus on keeping pesticides and herbicides out of the water, eradicating invasive nonnative plants and not disturbing the adjacent soil and leaf litter.


Stormwater recommendations explain how a development project must manage stormwater in order to be beneficial for wildlife and better safeguard the community from heavy rain events and flash flooding.

  • Control stormwater on-site and design stormwater management structures to mimic predevelopment hydrographic conditions.
  • Incorporate “low impact development” (LID) practices into site design, such as capturing rainwater for irrigation use and incorporating rain gardens into residential landscaping. LID provides significant cost savings.


  • Do not discharge stormwater to streams through pipes or ditches. Stormwater should only be released in a dispersed manner through vegetation.
  • Avoid using wetlands for stormwater discharge or retention ponds.
  • Design stormwater retention ponds to also provide or maintain wildlife habitat of native trees, shrubs and other plants around detention ponds.
  • Create rain gardens with native plants and wildlife-friendly materials.


Sediment and Erosion Control 

  • Minimize all clearing and grading associated with construction, particularly adjacent to waterways and steep slopes.
  • Only perform clearing and grading based on a stream protection strategy.
  • Instead of clearing and grading to landscape a site, retain as much natural vegetation and soil cover as possible.
  • Phase construction to reduce the area and time over which soils are disturbed.
  • Stabilize soils as quickly as possible (< 2 weeks) by establishing a native grass, creeping red fescue or mulch cover.
  • Establish appropriate perimeter controls at the edge of construction sites to retain or filter concentrated runoff from relatively short distances before it leaves the site.


Impoundments if not properly constructed and managed, can negatively impact water quality as well as aquatic habitats and species. In-stream impoundments can negatively impact fish migration, reduce aquatic ecosystem diversity and abundance and introduce nonnative species that reduce ecosystem health. With thousands of ponds and small in-stream impoundments in North Carolina, the level of cumulative negative impacts on the state’s streams is high.

  • Locate impoundments away from stream channels. Locate ponds on stream channels only when there is no other option.
  • Avoid constructing impoundments near existing wetlands to avoid altering the hydrology of that wetland.
  • Avoid locating ponds in naturally reproducing trout waters, anadromous fish species waters and waters that contain state or federally listed species.


Right of Ways can provide wildlife habitat when the following practices are implemented.

  • Minimize grading and retain large trees at the edges of construction corridors.
  • When disturbing the soil, stabilize it as quickly as possible. Reseed with wildlife-beneficial seed mixtures (e.g., native warm season grasses or creeping red fescue, native seed or fruit producing plants and so forth).
  • Avoid planting fescue (except creeping red fescue) or Bermuda grass based mixtures because these are invasive and provide little wildlife benefit.
  • Keep brush piles of woody debris at the edges of cleared ROW. These provide good cover and food.
  • Allow corridors to re-vegetate into a brush or scrub habitat.
  • Minimize ROW corridor maintenance and mow only between mid-March and mid-
    April to minimize impacts to ground nesting birds.


Keep ecosystems and our communities healthy by maintaining a con­nected network of healthy habitats.

The land use principles below are basic guidelines for designing communities that maintain healthy ecosystems. These principles can be goals to help your community achieve Green Growth.

1.  Maintain large, wide blocks of contiguous habitat to avoid habitat fragmentation. 

2. Maintain functional connections between core habitat areas that wildlife can travel through to avoid isolating habitats. Major roads and large developments, make wildlife travel difficult or impossible while working farms and forests aremore conducive to species movement.

3.  Protect rare landscape elements, sensitive areas and associated species.  Not all open spaces are created equal.  Natural open spaces—such as wetlands, riparian and native upland forests—will protect water, air and wildlife much better than manicured open spaces.  Protecting high quality priority habitats in open space will provide more bang-for-the-buck than protecting more common or degraded habitats.

4.  Allow patterns of natural disturbance to continue such as periodic fire and river flow patterns.  Encourage habitat management, which can be funded by homeowner associations and parks departments.

5.  Minimize the introduction and spread of nonnative, invasive species.

6.  Minimize the human introduction of nutrients, chemicals and pollutants, particularly near wetlands and streams.

7.  Avoid and compensate for adverse effects of development on natural processes, such as the cumulative effects of stormwater runoff on aquatic ecosystems. Maintain or mimic the natural hydrology on development sites.

8.  Avoid land uses that deplete or degrade natural resources in environmentally sensitive areas, including habitat for species of conservation concern.