Hofmann owners endorse plan to conserve, retain ownership of forest | News

Hofmann owners endorse plan to conserve, retain ownership of forest


Hofmann Forest, or most of it anyway, is no longer for sale

In a letter to students in N.C. State University’s College of Natural Resources, Dean Mary Watzin says Hofmann’s current owners—the University’s Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund and the Natural Resources Foundation—will retain ownership of “the majority of the property,” and will ensure conservation over as much as 70,000 acres of the 80,000-acre tract of land.

“The plan preserves the Hofmann Forest name, maintains access for students and faculty and maintains a sustainable working forest, the same three goals that have been paramount in any transaction from the beginning,” Watzin’s letter states.

Although the sale of the forest to Illinois agri-businessman Jerry Walker fell through in December, some facets alluded to in the original deal still appear to remain in place.

Watzin says the owners still intend to negotiate the sale of easements and leases to the US Navy/Marine Corps for training, as well as the sale of the current 1,600-acre farm on the property “for continued agricultural use.” And they will “develop a long-term strategy” for the approximately 4,000 acres south of State Highway 17 that is considered the forest’s highest market value.

A prospectus leaked last year earmarked this land for commercial development; environmentalists fear it could be turned into strip malls.

New ideas include potentially selling a “multi-decade timber deed” on 56 thousand acres of pine plantation with requirements for sustainable practices, negotiating conservation easements for the 18 thousand acre Big Open Pocosin, selling two mitigation banks and “exploring additional conservation prospects.”

Watzin says the plan is a “different approach,” where the Endowment Fund would keep most of the forest, “trading off short-term financial return for control of the property and greater return over many years.”

“We believe this is the most responsible way to move forward,” said N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson. “We learned a great deal during last year’s sales effort and in the process became aware of long-term opportunities that allow for greater control of the land, and ultimately more benefit to the College of Natural Resources, its students and faculty.”

Watzin says the Endowment Fund could see more than $125 million in return under this strategy over the next several years. She says the additional resources will pay for academic offerings and research programs within the College of Natural Resources, including scholarships, new “experiential education opportunities,” and supporting interdisciplinary research and new professorships. The Endowment Fund Board is looking to hire a financial advisor to manage the new long-term strategy.

“I am pleased by this approach,” Watzin said. ”This plan will generate significant income for the college while maintaining control over future uses of the property.”

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