The Endowment Fund of N.C. State University has signed a 50-year contract with a private timber investment company to manage 54,334 acres of Hofmann Forest near Jacksonville – a deal that will earn the fund $78 million.
The contract covers the majority of the 79,000-acre forest, which was acquired by a foundation in 1934 as a research and demonstration forest that would also generate income for NCSU’s forestry program. Hofmann Forest was deeded to the university’s endowment fund in 1977 specifically to aid the College of Natural Resources.
Under the deal announced earlier this month, the forest lands will remain accessible to NCSU students and faculty for research. Meanwhile, the company, Resource Management Service, agrees to manage the forest sustainably, leaving stands of trees of various ages when the 50-year contract ends.
“This new agreement ensures the sustainability of the timberland for the long term,” N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson said in a statement.
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The proceeds from the timber lease will be invested in the endowment fund and are expected to generate about $3 million a year for the College of Natural Resources, NCSU officials said.
The timber contract is part of a larger plan for the forest announced last year. It includes selling 1,600 acres of agricultural land and seeking funding from environmental groups for conservation easements that would permanently protect a sensitive 18,000-acre section of “pocosin” or wetland. It also proposed the possible sale of rights to the Department of Defense to allow continued training on and over the forest.
Hopefully this protects the forest basically for the rest of our natural lives here.
Ron Sutherland, conservationist
All of those ideas are still on the table, but the timber deed is the first to come about, said university spokesman Fred Hartman.
The plan also called for exploring the idea of developing about 4,000 acres along U.S. 17 near Jacksonville. Most of that land will now be managed by Resource Management Service or RMS.
The plan was a major shift from the university’s controversial deal to sell Hofmann Forest for $131 million to a group that included timberland investors and agribusiness officials. Environmentalists filed suit trying to block the sale, but it ultimately fell apart in late 2014 after two years of discussion and negotiations when the buyers couldn’t put together the financing in time to close.
Conservationist Ron Sutherland, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, says the timber contract with RMS “sounds like a good deal.” Sutherland was especially happy to learn that the 4,000 acres along U.S. 17 will be kept in timber, because, he says, that land creates a forested wildlife corridor between the rest of Hofmann Forest and tens of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat to the east at Camp Lejeune.
“Hopefully this protects the forest basically for the rest of our natural lives here,” he said.
Sutherland notes that in addition to the 18,000-acre contiguous wetland in Hofmann Forest, there are thousands of acres of other wetlands scattered throughout the timberland that aren’t covered under the RMS deal. Even if the endowment fund can’t find conservation groups to buy easements on those wetlands, he says, they are protected by federal law.
“If those wetland laws stay intact, then that other acreage is not touchable, either for development or for conversion to agriculture,” he said.