Point of View

Woodson: On Hofmann Forest sale, obligation to students came first

November 1, 2013 


A stand of loblolly pines trees is seen Tuesday in the Hofmann Forest near Jacksonville. Trustees of N.C. State University’s Endowment Fund have agreed to sell the 79,000-acre research forest to an Illinois-based agribusiness company for $150 million, the university announced Tuesday morning.

TRAVIS LONG — tlong@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

When considering strategic decisions, N.C. State has an obligation to put our commitment to students first and provide these bright young minds with the best possible educational opportunities. This obligation, more than any other consideration, led the Natural Resources Foundation and the Board of Trustees for N.C. State’s Endowment Fund to support the sale of Hofmann Forest.

We understand not everyone agrees with the decision, but we are confident that, over time, the benefits of this sale will be clear. Our decision to sell was made thoughtfully and strategically. The process was openly communicated to faculty, staff, students and other constituents of the College of Natural Resources, and there were multiple opportunities for opponents and supporters to present their views.

The Natural Resources Board, Endowment Fund Board and university leadership carefully considered the opinions presented but ultimately decided a sale provided the best outcome. When completed, this sale will preserve the legacy of the forest and allow for the continuation of the current uses of the land, including opportunities for research, while also providing outstanding new opportunities for students, faculty, staff and constituents.

When “Doc” Hofmann started the college, he emphasized a “new” way of teaching, using Hofmann Forest as a laboratory for hands-on learning. In the 1950s, forestry teaching moved to nearby Hill Forest, and our research and engagement programs have spread across the state and around the world.

Today, 98 percent of our forestry research is conducted outside of Hofmann Forest. As these changes occurred, Hofmann transitioned from a teaching and research site to a financial resource generating income as a commercial pine plantation.

Meanwhile, over the last decade, the annual income generated from the forest has fallen significantly while the risks, including fire and disease, remained. Given these realities, the sale of Hofmann Forest offers unmatched opportunities that cannot be ignored.

The private, nonprofit Forestry Foundation purchased the Hofmann property with private funds specifically to support the college. The donor’s intent is reflected in the original deed gifting the forest from the Forestry Foundation (now known as the Natural Resources Foundation) to the Endowment Fund in 1977. The proceeds from the sale will remain in the N.C. State Endowment Fund, with CNR as the sole beneficiary of the proceeds.

The annual benefit is projected to be $6 million, three times the annual income from the forest in the last few years. A diversified endowment portfolio will also provide consistent income allowing the college to strategically plan for use of these funds.

In tight budgetary times, our obligation as academic leaders is to ensure we use available assets in ways that provide the greatest benefit for our students. The conversion of this asset will create unprecedented opportunities for the college and all its students.

The need for innovative natural resource and environmental professionals has never been greater. The legacy of this sale will be apparent in generations to come – in the students and faculty that help create a more sustainable future for North Carolina and the world.

Randy Woodson is chancellor of N.C. State Univeristy. Mary Watzin is the dean of the NCSU College of Natural Resources.

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