Jerry Walker, an Illinois agri-businessman and third-generation farmer, is the prospective buyer, according to N.C. State University press release.
James Conner, the attorney for a coalition of professors, foresters, landowners and wildlife conservationists that filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the sale, said there are a number of conditions in the contract that must be met before the 79,000-acre property can change ownership.
One is that the lawsuit—which was brought against the forest’s owners, N.C. State’s Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund and the N.C. State Natural Resources Foundation, Inc.— must first be resolved.
The N.C. State press release says a working forest will be maintained on the property and students and faculty will have access to the forest to conduct research. Additionally, the contract recognizes U.S. military interest in obtaining an easement from the buyer, which the press release says “would ensure long-term protection” for 70,000 acres of the property, and “formalize the military’s long-standing interest in the conservation of the property.”
Ron Sutherland, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and conservation scientist for the Wildlands Network, says the N.C. State press release misrepresents the contract that has been drawn up.
“The contract does not say that Hofmann Forest will stay a working forest at all,” Sutherland said. “We knew the military has an interest in protecting (the forest) from being overrun with houses, but the easement could still allow forestry, crops and livestock production. They’re selling it to a farming consortium, not a forestry group. We will be surprised if some level of agriculture is not attempted on the property.”
Furthermore the provisions of the contract are binding only on the current buyer.
“If (Walker) sells in ten years, that’s it for University access,” said Sutherland. “And they can change the name to Walker Farms if they want to.”
In the worst case scenario, Sutherland said, Hofmann Forest could lose up to an eighth of its land to development while as many as 40,000 acres could be converted for agriculture.
“It gives us a lot more ammunition for our case, to be able to say the potential of significant environmental impact is huge,” said Sutherland.
Read the press release here: http://news.ncsu.edu/releases/hofmann-forest-sale/
See the purchase agreement here:
Check next week's issue of the INDY for more coverage of Hofmann Forest.
A contract to sell Hofmann Forest is in the works, but an injunction hearing to block the sale is still scheduled for later this month.