A forest’s future

A forest’s future,  N&O

Nice editorial and sentiments from the N&O as usual. It is good to see that the university has agreed to keep the Forest, but they still need to fulfill and enhance the vision of “..using the forest as an academic research center.”

The Hofmann should be used for research, for students, and for education (its original and enduring intent), and for benefits to local citizens–who forego property tax revenues for the “nonprofit educational forest”–yet pay for all the roads that the loggers and truckers use for free to access the forest, as well as forego local school, fire, and police revenues.

Despite the NCSU rhetoric and PR, Faculty and students and locals are still being denied access to use the Hofmann Forest, which in no way fulfills its mission or its treatment as a charitable, scientific, and educational tax-free organization. So, the Hofmann should renew its NCSU and local education and conservation missions, so everybody can benefit from its protection and management, not just private fund raising administrators in Raleigh.

Fred Cubbage


ex mero motu

Dear Friends of Hofmann Forest,

One of the “downsides” of the unexpected collapse of the Hofmann Forest sale agreement was the risk that the NC Supreme Court would then consider our legal case to be moot. We downplayed that possibility, especially after both parties let the Court know that we didn’t think the case was over. As you may recall, we filed the lawsuit before any buyers were publicly revealed – our legal arguments were aimed at the decision to sell the forest without protections, not the identity of the buyers.

But on Friday, the NC Supreme Court issued a one sentence decision declaring the Cubbage et al. lawsuit to be moot, ex mero motu (of their own accord).

What does this mean? The bad news is the lawsuit is over for the moment, the good news is we didn’t lose, and if NCSU leaders foolishly stumble ahead into another sale agreement that doesn’t protect the forest, we can (and will) sue them again, this time with most of our legal arguments already written.

We hope it doesn’t come to that, we hope the University seizes this rare second chance to make a better decision with respect to Hofmann Forest. Now that the case is out of the Court’s hands, it is back to being entirely up to us to convince NC State University to do the right thing.

So can I ask that if you haven’t already, you please take a few moments this week (or next if you’re traveling), and send the Chancellor and Board of Trustees those “Holladay” cards (Chancellor Woodson works in Holladay Hall!)? Just urge them to have the patience and wisdom to look for a win-win solution that protects Hofmann as a 79,000-acre public forest, while providing a decent financial return for the university. Good examples: selling a conservation easement on the land and keeping the forest for NCSU use (but with generous provisions in the easement for public access), or selling the land outright to the US Forest Service for inclusion as part of Croatan National Forest. There are other good options as well – we just don’t want them to sell the land to private commercial buyers with no actual protections (which is what they did last time).

Addresses below for the cards.

Thanks for everything you have done so far on behalf of North Carolina’s largest tract of state-owned forest! Stick with us, if we all push together we can save this forest once and for all….

Happy Holladays – and let’s finish this job in 2015!

Ron Sutherland, Ph.D.
NCSU Biology ’99
Conservation Scientist
Wildlands Network

Exploring North Carolina — Where Rivers are Born, WUNC

Pocosins, Where Rivers are Born

Join host Tom Earnhardt for this weekly series highlighting the state’s diverse local landscapes & unique natural features—from the Black Mountains trails atop Mount Mitchell, and the gold and gemstone mines lining the piedmont to the endless fossil digs in the clay beds of the coast.  This episode explains Pocosins, Where Rivers are Born, and the important role they play in coastal hydrology.  Hofmann Forest’s important role is also presented.

Thoughts Regarding Monday’s NC Supreme Court Hearing on Hofmann Forest

Here are a few more detailed thoughts regarding Monday’s NC Supreme Court hearing on Hofmann Forest:

Our lawyer Jim Conner’s main point was this – we’re appealing the decision last November by Superior Court Judge Shannon Joseph to dismiss our case under a “12b6 motion” made by the attorneys for NCSU and the Natural Resources Foundation. In order to dismiss our case under a 12b6 motion, the Judge is supposed to assume all of our factual allegations are true, and then still find that we have no chance of legal victory.

We’ve alleged that public monies were spent in the process of putting Hofmann Forest up for sale, and we’ve alleged that significant environmental impacts will occur as a result of the sale. If those two points are true (and we think they are) then it is clear that the NC Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) should apply, and NC State University should have completed an Environmental Impact Statement before finalizing the decision to sell Hofmann Forest.

The NC Department of Administration is charged with implementing SEPA, and their simple guidelines for when SEPA applies are as follows [with my notes]:
1. was public money spent or public land used?  [yes and yes]
2. was there an action by a state agency?  [yes, NCSU knows it is subject to SEPA]
3. is there a potential environmental impact?  [yes, almost off the charts]

So we’re optimistic that the NC Supreme Court will rule in our favor, and send the case back to the trial court, where we will finally be able to gather and present evidence supporting our claims. The case back in November was dismissed before we had a chance to do discovery, depositions, etc – and a mere 24-hours before the prospectus from Jerry Walker was leaked to us showing the buyer’s actual plans for Hofmann Forest.

NC State University leaders, of course, really want to keep that evidence-gathering process from happening, as all kinds of new information will come to light in our favor.

Although we don’t need the NC Constitutional argument to win, it is worth pointing out that Paul Flick, the attorney for the Natural Resources Foundation, made another attempt to re-write history by inventing his own definition of what Article 14 Section 5 of the NC Constitution really means.

Here’s the amendment, for your easy reference:

Sec. 5.  Conservation of natural resources.

It shall be the policy of this State to conserve and protect its lands and waters for the benefit of all its citizenry, and to this end it shall be a proper function of the State of North Carolina and its political subdivisions to acquire and preserve park, recreational, and scenic areas, to control and limit the pollution of our air and water, to control excessive noise, and in every other appropriate way to preserve as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty.

To accomplish the aforementioned public purposes, the State and its counties, cities and towns, and other units of local government may acquire by purchase or gift properties or interests in properties which shall, upon their special dedication to and acceptance by a law enacted by a vote of three-fifths of the members of each house of the General Assembly for those public purposes, constitute part of the ‘State Nature and Historic Preserve,’ and which shall not be used for other purposes except as authorized by law enacted by a vote of three-fifths of the members of each house of the General Assembly.  The General Assembly shall prescribe by general law the conditions and procedures under which such properties or interests therein shall be dedicated for the aforementioned public purposes.

Paul Flick argued before the NC Supreme Court that this amendment is solely focused on establishing the state system of dedicated natural areas described in the second paragraph. The first paragraph, according to his view, is just a fluffy preamble with no actual meaning.

We, on the other hand, contend that the first paragraph stands on its own as a definitive and powerful policy statement for North Carolina. Why do we think that? Well, back in 1972, when this amendment was put to voters, the ballot measure said “Conserve and protect our natural resources”. It didn’t say “Establish a dedicated natural areas system”. So when 87% of voters in that statewide election (with Presidential and Gubernatorial races on the same ballot) voted yes for this amendment, they were indicating their strong and nearly unanimous preference for NC to commit to protecting our natural resources.

Second, we can also point out that many of the action steps mentioned in the first paragraph (controlling air pollution and excessive noise, for example) are not easily accomplished through a dedicated natural areas system. Clearly this amendment constitutionally authorizes the State to undertake all manner of environmental protections, under the controlling aegis of the plain language policy statement that leads off the amendment.

Unlike other recent amendments that I needn’t mention here, Article 14 Section 5 has never been found in conflict with the US Constitution, and it is clearly still relevant to North Carolina citizens today. Many people have never heard of it, but with your help I think we can fix that deficiency.

If conserving our lands and waters is state policy according to the NC Constitution, then it follows that selling the largest tract of state-owned forest to private buyers (and handing said buyers a commercial development plan covering 9000 acres, as NCSU did!) is an unacceptable violation of that policy.


Ron Sutherland, Ph.D.
Conservation Scientist
Wildlands Network
919-401-7271 w 919-641-0060 c

Clean and Clear Waterways for All!