Retain the Hofmann Forest
Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources
North Carolina State University
On October 29, 2013 NC State University, the College of Natural Resources, and the Natural Resources Foundation announced that they have approved the sale of the Hofmann Forest, our 79,000 acre educational forest on the Coastal Plain of North Carolina, to Walker Ag Group, a farming operation based in Danville, Illinois. We are writing to support retention of the Hofmann Forest instead of completing this sale, and are opposing the sale with a lawsuit as mentioned below.
Other than the principals announcing the sale, there has been almost unanimous public opposition to the sale, including a broad spectrum of professors, students, foresters, environmentalists, local residents, and citizens. More than 2000 persons have expressed their opposition to the sale of the Hofmann Forest, through an on-line petition (~1300 persons), Facebook (~330), faculty (50) and student (100) signed petitions, and a resolution from the North Carolina Division of the Society of American Foresters (representing ~600 foresters). Furthermore every one of many newspaper opinion or editorial articles have opposed the sale, as have the Onslow Commissioners, and dozens of blog writers in the popular and university web sites.
The Natural Resources Foundation Board, which is comprised of very distinguished pulp and paper, energy, and wood products executives, has voted twice to sell the public Hofmann Forest, and NCSU and the Endowment Fund are pursuing that effort now. However, a large majority of those board members live out of state and none live near the Forest. The Board has no foresters registered In North Carolina, no professors or students, nor any local residents.
In response to the proposed sale, a coalition of professors, foresters, landowners, and wildlife conservationists have filed a lawsuit to enjoin the Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund of North Carolina State University, the State agency that owns the Hofmann Forest, from selling the State Forest. We believe that selling the Hofmann in its entirety betrays our mission of teaching about natural resource management and practicing what we teach, will lead to substantial damage of the natural environment in Jones and Onslow counties, and violates state environmental and public process requirements for such a major environmental decision.
Hofmann Forest was transferred from the Forestry Foundation to the Endowment Fund of the Board of Trustees of North Carolina State University in 1977, in order to clearly place the forest under State ownership and thus avoid paying property taxes that would have otherwise been due in Jones and Onslow counties. The Hofmann is the largest single tract of property owned by the State of North Carolina, and it is the largest university-owned teaching and research forest in the world.
The Natural Resource Foundation and the Endowment Fund at NC State University did not complete any assessment of the environmental impact of different alternatives to selling State-owned Hofmann Forest, or seek any public agency or citizen input, which is required for State lands by North Carolina’s Environmental Protection Act (SEPA).
Given its immense size and its strategic location linking Croatan National Forest to additional core protected lands to the north and south, Hofmann State Forest is clearly one of the most significant public conservation areas and corridors for biological diversity in North Carolina. The Hofmann also has high quality runoff from the Forest that is the fount for three sensitive Coastal Plain rivers—the Trent, the New, and the White Oak.
These river systems drain immediately into beautiful coastal beaches and developments, supply drinking water supplies from Jacksonville to Emerald Isle to Beaufort to Newbern, but have already have suffered from water quality and development issues, including closing of shellfish areas. Perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 acres of the Forest are prime urban development land and up to 50,000 acres could have very productive organic soils for farming. Severe water quality degradation would result if urban development or conversion to row crop agriculture occur.
We believe that the enduring mission of the State Hofmann Forest has been to teach, research, and demonstrate our professional skills and principles of sustainable forestry and the land ethic, and to practice what we teach in the unique Coastal Plain environment. There are many alternatives that were promoted by the Natural Resource Foundation before their ultimate vote to sell Hofmann Forest in its entirety, such as conservation easements, timber deeds, partial land sales, or leases to the military or TIMOS/REITs, or simply retaining the Forest. Under SEPA, these alternatives should be fully examined for their economic, environmental, and social impacts. Furthermore, agency and public input should be sought and incorporated in a SEPA analysis before we decide the fate of this irreplaceable university educational asset.
NCSU spokespersons have stated that a sale will be a generate millions of dollars annually for students and faculty support. This presumes that we will get large returns from stock market investments, which is moot, or that we can spend the principal, which we should not. The Hofmann has generated about $2 million per year net to the College of Natural Resources. In FY 2012 undergraduate students received only about 6% of those funds for scholarships and other direct cash benefits, faculty less than 2%, and graduate student assistantships about 18%. The rest went to college and development office administrators and staff.
This high overhead ratio suggests that more money from a sale will not necessarily provide a windfall for students or faculty, but we would lose the Forest forever. We would be much better off with the substantial current Hofmann Forest revenues and keeping the Forest for its timeless educational, research, and demonstration values, even if we do seek some better ways to monetize its land value.
As a coalition of foresters, professors, students, alumni, local residents, environmentalists, and North Carolina citizens, we hope that the university will halt this sale of the state Hofmann Forest, comply with appropriate SEPA analysis and consultation requirements before a sale is even considered, and retain our ownership and pride in this world renowned university educational asset.
Details on the status of the sale and the legal challenge can be found on (1) the university web site, and on (2) a petition to stop the sale and a means to provide support, which are listed on the web addresses below.
We may be contacted at:
Fred Cubbage, firstname.lastname@example.org, (919) 630-8928
Ron Sutherland, email@example.com (919) 641-0060