Fred Cubbage: Back to the drawing board on Hofmann Forest

November 5, 2013 

Regarding the Nov. 2 Point of View piece “First obligation is to NCSU students” about the sale of Hofmann Forest: It is interesting that Chancellor Randy Woodson and Dean Mary Watzin stand behind the shield of student obligations to justify a paternalistic decision made in secret with no input from students (or faculty, alumni or citizens).

Cashing out on 80 years of painstaking efforts in our local community in Eastern North Carolina to make a windfall profit betrays our mission, our profession of natural resources and the reputation of N.C. State University. It violates state law for environmental impact analysis, which is the basis for a lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court.

The secrecy behind this sale – closed meetings, secret votes, no minutes, no input sought with advance notice, no clear rules for who bids – has not only disenfranchised stakeholders but also probably reduced the funds received. The eventual agribusiness buyer from Illinois was incorporated with complete Articles of Organization in North Carolina only 12 days after the proposed sale was first announced – an amazingly fast response. Many other forest land company buyers were not invited to bid, never knew where they stood or what rules governed the decision. One recent hopeful buyer stated it could offer $300 million and give us retained rights to manage the forest but was refused bidding rights. The process has not been prudent.

The buyer’s representative offered assurances that it does not intend to convert any land to crop or development use. This is not credible. If the university cannot make enough money growing trees with no debt and no taxes, how can a buyer pay off a $150 million debt, pay property and income taxes, allow the same research and teaching uses and make more money than we did without finding more developed uses? If it can, we must have managed the forest incredibly poorly.

Every undergraduate forestry student takes classes each year that visit the Hofmann Forest, and many graduate students do as well. The claim that 98 percent of “forestry” research occurs elsewhere is disingenuous; the Hofmann is a working forest, not a national science center.

If the $150 million sale price were received in one lump sum payment, if there were no reductions in the principal and if the stock market alternatives earned 4 percent per year without any loss of value, we would get $6 million per year (not including inflation losses). None of these ifs seems likely or guaranteed on a yearly basis.

In fiscal year 2012, the vast majority of funds derived from the Hofmann Forest were spent on staff and administration development, not on students or faculty.

Keeping the Hofmann Forest and conducting a deliberative open dialogue and analysis about its use, befitting a public institution and public lands, would show students and the public the importance of natural resource education, management and sustainability that we profess at N.C. State University.

Fred Cubbage

Professor, Forestry and Environmental Resources, NC State University

Raleigh

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the Point of View.

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