Sandhills Burn Boss Mike Norris is branching out – thanks to a grant for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. Norris is burning on private land. He has led four burns on the privately owned 4,000 acre Walthour Moss Foundation near Southern Pines. “The foundation is one of the largest private landowners in the Sandhills and they are geared toward public access and public use,” he says. “We’ve definitely seen really positive change there since we began burning.”
Robert Abernethy, who is president of the Longleaf Alliance Abernethy says restoring longleaf on private property is crucial to range-wide survival of longleaf. “Ninety percent of the south is private land. If we don’t get longleaf growing on private land, we’re not going to restore it.”
Julian Johnson is one of those private landowners. In 2004, The Nature Conservancy purchased a conservation easement on his 543-acre farm in Hoke County. The easement restricts future use of the property, preventing development that would have destroyed the longleaf forest.
“I’m the fourth generation to live here,” says Johnson. “Numbers five and six are already here. I had lots of offers to sell this property. Since I’m not Warren Buffet and independently wealthy, they were tempting.”
Johnson says that at first he was wary of the idea. Some of his own family members advised against it, but in the end it was the only way he could ensure that the property that had been in his family since the late 1800s would remain undeveloped.
Johnson’s land borders the Conservancy’s Calloway preserve and Fort Bragg. During a recent visit, he explained that the easement has worked out well for his family, the military and nature. His grand children are playing in the same woods that he played in years ago. The Army can continue its valuable national security mission without incompatible growth threatening that work. And, red-cockaded woodpeckers have a home. “From a conservation, military and economic point of view, we’re all after the same thing,” says Johnson.