Is Hofmann Forest Safe?

The 79,000 acre Hofmann Forest causing so much controversy for the last two years is the largest single tract of state-owned land in North Carolina, and it has been operated for the benefit of NC State University for 80 years.

Hofmann Forest 1937
J.V. Hofmann and class measuring pine in reed bed at Hofmann Forest, about 1937

Hofmann Forest is critical for clean water and wildlife habitat connectivity.

North Carolina State University has been trying to sell the property to an agri-businessman from Illinois, Jerry Walker. Walker leaked his plans to destroy 50,000+ acres of the forest to make way for pig feed cornfields and golf courses, so communities and concerned citizens fought back, staging protests and sending thousands of letters to Attorney General Roy Cooper as well as key decision makers, urging them to re-open Hofmann Forest and use this world-class facility to its full potential as an outdoor classroom for forestry, wildlife conservation and ecological restoration so that we can all enjoy this huge tract of state-owned land.

NC State eventually revised their plan to focus on a combination of conservation and sustainably managed forestry.

This is great news! However, the details of the new arrangement are a mix of good and concerning. Coastal Review Online writes,

The university’s Endowment Fund and Natural Resources Foundation, which technically own the forest, will negotiate sales of easements and leases to the Navy and Marine Corps for training. They will also investigate selling a multi-decade timber deed on close to 56,000 acres of existing pine plantation, with requirements for certified sustainable forestry practices, and negotiate conservation easements for about 18,000 acres known as the Big Open Pocosin. The university may also sell the current 1,600-acre farm for continued agricultural use and two mitigation banks, totaling about 450 acres, for continued mitigation use. The one provision in the university’s announced plan that worries…is the potential sale of about 4,000 acres along U.S. 17 near Jacksonville for development.

North Carolina State University Professor of Forestry AND OPPONENT OF THE SALE, Fred Cubbage, shares his thoughts with us here on the Failed sale:

OK, so as quoted in The News & Observer editorial of Monday, March 23, I think this apparent approach is a great step forward, and I certainly agree that the participants do not enjoy contentious discussion and confrontation.

So now, to make this new approach really work, NCSU and the Natural Resource Foundation should do what opponents of a complete sale contended all along;

  1. Perform an environmental analysis of the alternatives for managing or selling parts of the Hofmann Forest
  2. Explicitly involve forestry, conservation, faculty and local stakeholders in those analyses and discussions in open and transparent processes
  3. Place a working forest conservation easement on all or the vast majority of the Hofmann Forest
  4. Reappoint forestry, conservation and local interests to the Natural Resources Foundation Board, as its charter mandates, and as prevailed in the past before a sale was attempted

Last, as an aside, the university should ensure that university communications about the Hofmann Forest, such as the current wildly negatively slanted Hofmann Forest Facts site, are vetted and approved by all of those interests. Pretending to seek progress while at the same time the Orwellian NCSU press releases and websites malign the most valuable asset the university owns and our forestry program legacy destroys trust.

A sincere reformed approach to the university keeping the Hofmann Forest will help advance our mission of teaching and research about sustainability and forest management and protection; increase endowment funding and contributions, and foster long term good will among all stakeholders involved. Let’s do that in an open and collaborative approach!

Teach what you believe, practice what you teach: forest resource management, conservation, transparency, collaboration.

Runnning Creek in Hofmann Forest
Runnning Creek in Hofmann Forest

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