Onslow County commissioners voted unanimously Monday night in favor of a resolution to preserve the Hofmann Forest.
Onslow County Manager Jeffrey Hudson said the forest is vital for a number of reasons, and the resolution addresses them. The first goal of the resolution is to support "the preservation of Hofmann Forest in perpetuity through public ownership and stewardship."
Second, the commissioners said they want to identify a solution "which will meet the financial needs of North Carolina State University Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, College of Natural Resources that maintains the present use of Hofmann Forest.
Lastly, the commissioners requested that a long-term solution be attained "in collaboration with the Governor's Office, General Assembly, Department of Defense, United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, North Carolina State University's Chancellor, County of Onslow, County of Jones, City of Jacksonville, and any other stakeholders from the federal government, state government, university system or appropriate entity."
Hudson said the Hofmann Forest is a vital asset for the military. He said Marines rely on the forest to do various flight training scenarios.
Nat Fahy, the public affairs officer for Camp Lejeune, said the Marine Corps’ rotary wing and tilt-rotor divisions have used Hofmann Forest for many years for navigation training and low-altitude flight maneuver training. It had also been used for low-light operations using night-vision goggles.
"If the forest were sold to a buyer with plans that are incompatible to our training objectives, such a measure would force us to seek other available alternatives in Eastern North Carolina," Fahy said. "While we do use several other local areas to conduct this type of flying, the loss of Hofmann forest could further stress pilots’ ability to refine this critical skill set."
A representative from NC State's College of Natural Resources said about 20 parties have expressed interest in purchasing the forest. Potential buyers have until March 29 to submit a proposal. The representative said college officials will review these proposals to see if they fit the following requirements- asking for a reasonable price, but more importantly, maintaining the property as a working forest, where research, hunting and other opportunities can continue.
Danny Shaw says the Hofmann Forest is the crown jewel of the forestry program at North Carolina State University.
Now, the university's College of Natural Resources is trying to put the forest up for sale. The college's dean, Mary Watzin, says this sale could provide a steadier, and higher income for the college, proving more opportunities for education in the forestry field of study --opportunities like increased scholarship support and funding for research.
The forest has been a significant part of the university's forestry studies since 1934, when Prof. Julius Hofmann worked to gather 80,000 acres of land that stretches from Onslow County to Jones County, for students and other professors to study plant and animal life.
The forest also has provided revenue through it's source of timber.
Hofmann forest is important to Onslow County residents like Shaw, who is a graduate of NC State and former forestry agent. He's against the idea of selling the forest, for his fear of what could happen to the land.
"For us to sell this forest at this point, or at any point in the future,
would be selling [Dr. Hofmann's] legacy," Shaw said.
Another Onslow County resident, Ronnie Cox, owns land near the Southwest entrance to the Forest outside of Richlands. He, too, is afraid of the sale's possible outcome.
"The foresight that Dr. Hofmann had here years ago, if he knew that
university was even entertaining the idea of selling, he'd roll right over
in his grave," Cox said.
Watzin says there have been several petitions against the sale. She adds that although the College of Natural Resources wants to sell as soon as possible, it wants to sell to a bidder who values the research and educational opportunities the forest has given students.