Cooperatove Conservation Project

Ecosystem Enhancement Program

A National Model for Mitigation

Location: Southeastern Region: North Carolina

Project Summary: A nationally recognized program for its efforts to restore, enhance and protect the environment and foster responsible economic growth.
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The 4,500-acre Needmore tract in Western North Carolina, a preservation project by EEP and public-private partners that preserved 27 miles of the Little Tennessee River and 37 miles of tributaries, and that links U.S. Forest Service lands with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo by Ralph Preston)
Resource Challenge

North Carolina's Ecosystem Enhancement Program (EEP) became operational in July 2003 under an agreement among the N.C. Department of Transportation, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  It is housed in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

EEP addresses a problem familiar to every state in the nation: achieving responsible economic development while simultaneously protecting the environment.  During the mid-1990s, the state began to experience increased project delays in transportation-infrastructure improvements because of shortcomings in meeting federal clean-water permitting requirements.  


In response, the state began a process-improvement initiative in 2001 that involved input from 10 state and federal environmental agencies.  The task force examined the procedures of two state departments – Transportation, and Environment and Natural Resources – working independently to compensate for development through a process known as mitigation.  The panel found significant inefficiency in the old system and recommended a bold new approach.  

Through EEP, North Carolina addresses the challenge of balancing needed growth with environmental protection by making the state’s environmental agency – not its transportation agency – the watchdog over offsetting the unavoidable environmental impacts of new transportation infrastructure.   And, in carrying out this mission, North Carolina bases its mitigation on a solid foundation of watershed planning that transcends environmental-permitting compliance.   

Examples of Key Partners

State and federal environmental regulatory agencies; private landowners; private-sector biological and engineering contractors; stakeholders representing the state’s environmental, business, contracting, engineering and land-trust communities.

Results and Accomplishments
  • EEP’s mitigation efforts have helped to move forward nearly $1.9 billion in road building in the state since July 2003.  Not a single project has been delayed because of a lack of mitigation.

  • To preserve high-quality natural areas across the state, EEP has collaborated with public- and private-sector allies 2003 to set aside more than 30,000 acres for future generations, protecting about 130 miles of streams and 7,000 acres of wetlands.


  • To protect water quality and enhance watersheds, EEP and its private-sector partners are carrying out nearly 400 active restoration projects, including 215 stream projects totaling 780,000 linear feet of restoration, and about 7,600 acres of wetland restoration in 125 projects; EEP also has 30 watershed plans completed or underway in cooperation with local partners.

Funds are invested in advance by the state’s transportation leadership for environmental protection, before damage to wetlands and waterways will occur, allowing North Carolina to stockpile offsets years in advance of the time when they will be needed. EEP projects are accomplished by teaming with private engineering and biological contractors, while also overseeing project identification, design, development and review, and construction management. These efforts focus on comprehensive plans to restore, enhance and protect wetlands and waterways, thus improving water quality and protecting habitat in each of the state’s 17 river basins. Most significant – and perhaps unprecedented on its scale nationwide – is a relationship the initiative developed with the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and 22 separate land trusts to promote open-space preservation. The aim is to provide fair economic return to landowners while preserving high-quality sites in perpetuity.

Project Contact
Bill Gilmore
Ecosystem Enhancement Program
1652 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1652
Suzanne Klimek
Director of Operations
Ecosystem Enhancement Program
1652 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1652

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