Course:FRST370/Management of Hoke Community Forest for Conservation, Environmental Education and Economic Welfare in North Carolina, USA

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Introduction

This page examines the first southeastern USA community forest located in Hoke County, North Carolina. Hoke Community Forest is a 532 acre piece of land dedicated to and managed for conservation, environmental education, and economic welfare. The community forest is co-owned by the non-governmental organization (NGO) The Conservation Fund (TCF) and Hoke County. One of the main conservation goals of Hoke Community Forest is to conserve the unique Sandhill ecosystem which is home to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis). These conservation efforts provide valuable environmental education for the youth and citizens that live nearby. Because of the rare landscape, recreation and tourism is also prevalent, bringing in additional revenue to the county. However, logging still occurs on the land, but it is sustainable and aids in the restoration of longleaf pines. The income from logging and tourism makes Hoke Community Forest a valuable asset to the citizens of Hoke County.

Description of Hoke County and its Community Forest

Map of North Carolina, USA: the red highlighted area represents the location of Hoke County.

Hoke Community Forest is a 532 acre parcel of land located in Hoke County in North Carolina, United States of America.[1] It is situated north of Raeford and about a mile from the world's largest military base: Fort Bragg.[1] Hoke Community Forest is currently owned by Hoke County and the non-governmental organization (NGO) The Conservation Fund (TCF).[1] The property was purchased by TCF in 2006 from the paper-producing company International Paper.[2] Since then, TCF has helped Hoke County raise over $900,000 to purchase a section of the property, and will continue to fundraise until the county can assume complete ownership of the forest.[3]

Hoke Community Forest is situated in the Sandhills region of the United States.[4] This rare ecosystem is home to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis) and longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) forests.[5] Hoke County also contains numerous important local fresh water sources, such as Rockfish and Nicholson Creeks.[4] The county was being pressured by the federal government to conserve this unique region and all within it, but county representatives resisted to act.[2] The county could not afford to give up more land which would be free of property taxes and would cause potential revenue losses through decreases in development.[1]

Before Hoke Community Forest was implemented, Hoke County was in economic distress.[3] Due to many manufacturing job losses and agricultural downturns, the county was not prospering.[3] Many commercial businesses left the county, forcing most of Hoke County’s residents to shop and work in other counties.[3] Because they were not receiving much sales tax, most of the income for the county came from property taxes.[3] The accommodation of the large military base Fort Bragg was also an issue, as it also pays no property taxes and was expanding at a rapid rate.[3]

File:Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) (32306278790).jpg
A red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis): a rare endangered bird that is dependant on the Hoke Community Forest ecosystem for its survival.

Why Implement a Community Forest

Community forests are distinctively different from state or federally-owned forests because community forests often involve active participation from the local community.[6] Having a greater say in what happens within their community forest provides locals with the opportunity to manage the forest for the benefits they desire. Most often these benefits are focused on the social, environmental, and economic impacts that community forests can provide. Some of the benefits, or goals, that are pursued by community-forest actors include:[6]

  • Protecting local water sources
  • Providing habitat for wildlife
  • Recreational activities
  • Educational opportunities for the community
  • Demonstrate sustainable forest practices
  • Income generated to be used for improving the community
  • Providing fuel for heat/ energy for local residents and businesses

Community collaboration in community forestry projects creates a vision for how the forests will be used, managed, and maintained. The community manages the costs and benefits the forest provides, while creating governance and management plans to ensure the forest's longevity and promote sustainable practices.[6]

Tenure Arrangements

The land which is now Hoke Community Forest was previously owned by International Paper, who managed the local resources primarily for pulp production.[3] TFC planned on buying the land with the intent of implementing a community forest, but first engaged in dialogue with Hoke County members and representatives to ensure they supported the idea[3]. The county's approval was necessary for TFC to be able to hand the management over once proper management plans were created and the community forest was implemented[3]. When TCF bought the land for $1.3 million in 2006, TCF representatives and Hoke County volunteers and employees worked together to create the community forest management plans. TCF had specified to the county they did not have any plans to continue to own any of the community forest and hoped that the county could raise enough funds to one day completely purchase all of the land from them.[3] Since 2006, TCF has helped Hoke County hold community fundraisers to raise money to be able to slowly buy back the land from the NGO and obtain a freehold tenure agreement to the land. A freehold tenure agreement will allow the county to have complete legal control of the land and will also provide the county with the ability to decide without limitations as to what happens with the land.[7]

Hoke County has raised approximately $900,000 and used these funds to purchase land from TCF in efforts to claim sole legal ownership of their local forests.[3] The county desires complete legal ownership of the community forest because it would give them complete control of the property and allow them to reap all the benefits from community-owned forest management activities like recreation, habitat restoration, fresh water protection, and valuable economic opportunities.[3] Until Hoke County has raised enough money to fully buy back the land, TCF has agreed to actively participate in conservation and management efforts of the community forest in order to satisfy the wants and needs of the county. Moreover, TCF has not only helped co-manage Hoke Community Forest, but is actively preparing and educating the county on how to adequately manage the forest completely on their own when they receive sole ownership.[3]

Administrative Arrangements

Hoke Community Forest is managed by many private and public entities: Resourceful Communities Program members, Hoke County community members, local officials, conservation and forestry experts, Army personnel, and Sandhills Area Land Trust members.[4][2]

Because TCF is such a large organization, there has been some decentralization of power in regards to who helps manage Hoke Community Forest. Members of TCF's Resourceful Communities Program are the NGO's representatives who work most closely with the county.[4] The people assigned to work with Hoke County are in charge of organizing their fundraisers, develop their sustainable forest management plan, help build the site's infrastructure, and recruit volunteers.[4]

Forestry and conservation experts were involved in the process of creating the sustainable forest management plan to ensure that it protects water quality and critical wildlife habitat.[4] Stream buffers along the property were created to ensure water quality of Rockfish and Nicholson Creeks.[1] The creeks are now permanently protected under a conservation easement that will not change even when Hoke County obtains complete control of the property.[1] Because the easement is placed over the entire riparian area, both the water quality and the hardwood trees in the buffer zone are protected.[3] The Sandhills Area Land Trust (SALT) is comprised of community and agency partners who ensure that the community forest is managed in compliance with the forest stewardship plan that has been developed.[2]

Because Fort Bragg is only 1 mile away from Hoke Community Forest, its activities have an impact on the the community forest.[4] The base is very active and expanding rapidly which has caused tension for decisions regarding the land surrounding Fort Bragg.[3] Development means less conserved, harvesting, and recreational areas.

Once Hoke Community Forest is owned solely by Hoke County, the same management entities will remain, excluding the Resourceful Communities Program members since they work for TCF. However, before they leave, they will make sure the county feels prepared to manage and maintain the community forest on their own.[3] They will do this by engaging county leaders during the entire community forest implementation process, working closely with the local county forester, recruiting a local land trust to manage any easements on the property (in this case, SALT), and ensuring that a long-term forest management plan is in place.[3]

Affected Stakeholders

Affected stakeholders are the social actors whose lives are directly affected by what occurs within and around Hoke Community Forest. In many cases, the affected stakeholders' livelihoods are completely reliant on the forest. The affected stakeholders of the community forest are as follows, listed in order from who has most to least power:

Affected Stakeholders
Group Role and Relative Power
Hoke County Leaders The county executive is responsible for managing all of the county's departments and agencies and has authority to implement or dismiss community forest management decisions.
Hoke County Parks and Recreation Dept. Oversees the short and long-term management and operations of the community forest.
The Sandhills Area Land Trust Monitors water protection easement and ensures the community forest is managed in accordance with the forest stewardship plan.
Local Economic Development Agencies Raeford-Hoke Economic Development Commission and Blue Springs-Hoke County Community Development Corporation: work to grow the county's local economy.
Hoke County Employees Livelihoods are dependent on the community forest; many work as park employees, timber harvesters, and pine straw harvesters.
Fort Bragg Military Base World's largest military base, located within 1 mile of the forest. Their need for expansion contrasts with the conservation and recreational goals of the community forest.
Raeford City Residents Closest proximity to Hoke Community Forest; affected by what occurs within.
Hoke County Residents Users of community forest and directly receive benefits from economic development.
Girl Scouts & Boy Scouts USA Assist in day-to-day operations and maintenance.

Interested Stakeholders

Interested stakeholders are the social actors who are not directly affected by what happens to the community forest, but still have interest in the social, economic, and environmental benefits it provides. The interested stakeholders of the community forest are as follows, listed in order from who has the most to least power:

Interested Stakeholders
Group Role and Relative Power
The Conservation Fund Implemented and co-manages the community forest; has helped develop sustainable management funds while educating the county on conservation importance and methods.
US Fish and Wildlife Service Overlooks the conservation of the freshwater sources and the habitats of endangered red-cockaded woodpecker located within Hoke County.
State Economic Development Agencies North Carolina (NC) Rural Economic Development Centre, NC Community Development Initiative, and NC Association of Community Development Corporations: work to grow the state's economy.
Clean Water Management Trust Fund Provide direct funding to the Sandhills Area Land Trust to monitor the water quality easement.
US Department of Defense Provides funding to Hoke Community Forest.
Visitors Utilize community forest for recreational and personal purposes.

Benefits of Hoke Community Forest

The community forest is actively managed and maintained to generate revenue for the local economy, conserve important habitat and species, and provide recreational opportunities for locals and visitors.[1] All of the community's goals for the forest are outlined in their management strategy plan, but they are primarily focused on restoring wildlife habitats, protecting riparian buffers, expanding recreational areas, and providing jobs and economic opportunities to residents of Hoke County.[6]

Environmental Benefits

Part of the long-term management plan for the community forest is focused on creating more and improving existing habitats for the red-cockaded woodpecker.[6] The plan aims to improve the red-cockaded woodpecker habitats by replacing loblolly pine stands.[6] By replanting native longleaf pines and thinning out thick underbrush, the habitat becomes suitable for the woodpecker.[6]

There have also been easements created protecting the surrounding fresh water streams, like Rockfish and Nicholson Creeks.[3] There have been permanent buffers created around the riparian areas in the community forest which protect the water quality and the important hardwoods near the streams.[3] The buffers guarantee that Fort Bragg will not be able to expand into these areas and they will always remain undeveloped.[3]

Economic Benefits

Hoke Community Forest provides vast sustainable economic benefits and opportunities to the community. These benefits come primarily through local employment and timber & tree stump harvesting. According to a 2018 Forest and Environmental Resource survey completed by graduate and PhD students of North Carolina State University, the specific benefits provided by the county's forests are as follows:[8]

  • Hoke county forests provide around 57 jobs to local residents.
  • The labor income of these 57 jobs is $2.24 million.
  • The growth to harvest ratio for the forests of Hoke county is 2.8 million green tones.
  • The estimated annual stumpage harvest for the forest owners is approximately $2.3 million.
  • Total forest sector of Hoke County provides approximately $9.1 million in industry output to the county’s economy.

Hoke Community Forest provides essential revenue to the county which they greatly needed. Much of the income from the community forest comes from sustainable timber harvesting.[4] This type of harvest also allows for the restoration of longleaf pine stands which are critical for the red cockaded woodpecker.[4]Another economic opportunity available to local Hoke residents presented from the community forest is the harvesting of pine straw; a commercially valuable good that also employs sustainable harvesting techniques.[6] These harvested resources are estimated to be ten times more profitable than revenue from taxes from a privately owned parcel in the county.[3] There has even been consideration to allow goats to graze in the community forest to manage the understory.[2] Local 4-H members would be able to generate revenue by selling their meat. [2]

Social Benefits

Hoke Community Forest has been attracting a wide range of visitors looking to use the forest for their recreational interests. Visitors spend their time mostly hiking, biking, and canoeing, which are easily accessible thanks to newly built facilities and access points throughout the forest.[9] The community forest managers have been actively working to address the limited-ness of recreational space through implementation of new horseback trails, hiking routes, camping and fishing opportunities.[6] These recreational spaces will provide additional income for the community through increasing number of visitors to the forest using the newly planned spaces.

Furthermore, the community forest has been providing local groups an opportunity to actively engage in the management of their local forests.[9] Groups such as the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have been working with the county to help keep the trails clean, accessible and maintained.[4] There are always many volunteer opportunities to participate in the ongoing projects at the community forest, such as:[4]

  • Trail clearing, creation and maintenance
  • Trash pick-up
  • Leading the outdoor classroom
  • Future longleaf pine tree planting
  • Working the information kiosk
  • Putting up environmental signage (species identification)
  • Establishing geocaching points

There is also currently a youth environmental education program which aims to engage young residents of Hoke County into learning about the importance of the natural resources that are in the county and explaining the significance of the unique Sandhill ecosystem that is present.[4]There is even a designated outdoor classroom site in the community forest to allow youth and families to gather and participate in educational activities.[4]

Other Conservation Project in Hoke County: Calloway Forest Preserve

Another NGO is also working with Hoke County with a conservation project. The Nature Conservancy has partnered with the county to create the Calloway Forest Preserve. The Calloway Forest Preserve consists of old-growth longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) that are roughly 80-100 years old with an understory abundant of wiregrass (Eleusine indica).[5] Visitors of the forest have access to numerous hiking trails, hunting opportunities (when in season) and picnic day areas. [5]

Wiregrass (Eleusine indica) located within the understory of Calloway Forest Preserve, North Carolina, USA; this is an abundant and dominant understory vegetation wihtin the area.

In the Calloway forest, fire suppression in the late 20th century led to an abundance of hardwoods such as scrub oak (Quercus berberidifolia).[5] The abundance of scrub oak caused turmoil for native plants and trees, which in turn led to a population decline in certain native bird species like bobwhite quail and red-cockaded woodpeckers.[5] However, due to recent changes in management of Calloway forest has caused native species such as the longleaf pine to start to re-populate the forest. Prescribed burns of dense lower canopy areas and the encouragement of fire dependent species such as wiregrass and longleaf pine have allowed for this stand to nearly return to its original state. [5]

Discussion and Recommendations for Hoke Community Forest

Discussion

Hoke Community Forest has been relatively successful in achieving their management goals as outlined in their preliminary plan. Conservation of important resources has been achieved through the implementation of permanent water protection easements. Reforesting of longleaf pines has increased critical habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker that is endemic to the Sandhills region. Economic development has been attained through the sustainable harvesting practices of longleaf pine and pine straw. Recreational opportunities have been generated by creating access points for fishing and canoeing, hiking and horse trails, and multiple educational resources, like the outdoor classroom site. Through the implementation of Hoke Community Forest, the residents of Hoke County are greater informed about and involved in management decisions of their forests.

An issue for the community forest is the constant pressure to use the land for development. Before the community forest was implemented, the county relied on development taxes to generate revenue, however, now because of the timber harvests, the land is more profitable than it ever was. Only the riparian areas are permanently protected under the easement, so the county constantly refuses developmental proposals regarding the other land in the community forest.

Similarities Between Hoke and Creston Valley Community Forests

The goals of Hoke Community Forest share similarities to the goals of the community forest in Creston Valley, British Columbia, Canada. In both cases, the forests are being actively managed to:[10]

  • Preserve the integrity of the water catchment
  • Attract tourists
  • Enhance and stabilize the local economy through forest activities
  • Improve the quality and quantity of benefits the forest provides

Creston Valley community members created the Creston Valley Forest Corporation in order to manage the forests at a local level.[10] This is similar to the management entity of Hoke Community Forest since they too are trying to implement local level management.

A problem for Creston Valley was insufficient reporting of the management decisions to the local community.[10] Hoke Community Forest also appears to lack reporting, as there is not much information available for the public regarding specific details of the ongoing management.

Recommendations

  • The Hoke Community Forest management entity provides more widely available sources exhibiting their management protocols
  • Implement prescribed burns to re-populate the forests, like in the Calloway Forest Preserve
  • Allocate most of the revenue generated from the community forest to benefit the county residents directly through newly built infrastructure and road repairs
  • Place more protection easements over the land areas in the community forests to guarantee these areas will remain undeveloped and protected indefinitely

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 The Conservation Fund. "Hoke Community Forest" (PDF). The Conservation Fund.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Saxton, Kelly (2012). "Seeing the Forest for the Trees (and the Community)". Land Trust Alliance.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 Resourceful Communities Program (2007). "Case Study: Hoke Community Forest Engaging Communities and Protecting Forests" (PDF). Resourceful Communities Program.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 The Conservation Fund (n.d.). "Hoke Community Forest Project". The Conservation Fund.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 The Nature Conservancy (2019). "Calloway Forest Preserve". The Nature Conservancy.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Cox, Mary (2008). Acquiring and Managing a Community-Owned Forest: a Manual for Communities (PDF). Maryland: The Communities Committee. pp. 1–41.
  7. Gray, Paul (June 2, 2015). "What is the Difference Between Freehold and Leasehold?". Ludlow Thompson.
  8. Chizmar, Stephanie., Parajuli, Rajan., Bardon, Robert (August 22, 2018). "Hoke County Forest Impacts 2016". North Carolina State Extension: 1–2.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Mullen, Rodger (February 9, 2014). "Hoke Community Forest Attracting Visitors". The Fayetteville Observer.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Bullock, Ryan., & Hanna, Kevin. (2012). Community Forestry: Local Values, Conflict, and Forest Governance. Saskatchewan, Canada: Cambridge University Press. pp. 82–99. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511978678.005.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

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