RALEIGH, N.C. -- Trustees of N.C. State University's Endowment Fund have agreed to sell the 79,000-acre Hofmann Forest near Jacksonville to an Illinois-based agribusiness company for $150 million.
The News & Observer of Raleigh reports Wednesday that the money will be placed in endowment funds, and income from its investment will be used mainly to benefit the College of Natural Resources.
The buyer is a family-owned, multistate firm, Danville-based Walker Ag Group, headed by a third-generation farmer named Jerry Walker, NCSU officials said.
Conservationists, forestry experts and landowners oppose the sale. Last month, those groups filed a lawsuit saying the state was required to consider public input and the potential environmental impact of selling the land, among other issues.
Opponents of the deal say that, if the forest was developed, it could irreparably damage wildlife habitat, including that of black bears and an endangered rattlesnake. They say it also would harm three important coastal waterways: the White Oak, Trent and New rivers.
A judge denied the groups a temporary restraining order to stop the sale after lawyers from the state Attorney General's Office argued that the sale wasn't imminent.
University officials said the terms include that the buyer will maintain a working forest and allow students and faculty to continue performing research.
Timber sales from the forest had been generating about $2 million annually for the College of Natural Resources, but that had dipped recently. Investments from the proceeds of the sale are expected to bring in about $6 million a year, said NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson.
"As an asset, the forest's full potential was not being realized," Woodson said. "We have an obligation to our stakeholders - our students, faculty, staff and alumni - to ensure our colleges are positioned to provide a robust academic environment that attracts world-class faculty and the best and brightest students."