AR-News: (NC) Farm to transform into wildlife refuge
Animalara2003 at aol.com
Animalara2003 at aol.com
Sat Nov 8 09:35:20 EST 2003
By Nomee Landis
Privateer Farms once produced a million turkeys a year, making it one of the
largest turkey farms in North Carolina.
A thousand Boer goats once romped in the pastures at the 5,895-acre farm,
which straddles the Cumberland-Bladen county line off N.C. 53. And 2,000 acres of
corn, soybeans and other crops once waved in the fields.
Now the turkeys are gone. The goat herd is smaller. The farm's owners, Steve
Quinn and Sharon Valentine, will not plant crops in the spring.
They say it is time to retire and hand the farm back to nature.
Staff photo by Tracy Wilcox
Steve Quinn and Sharon Valentine, who own Privateer Farms off N.C. 53, plan
to return the 5,895 acres to its natural state.
For the past three years, the husband-wife team has been looking for ways to
make the transformation happen. Over the next several years, they will work
with state and federal agencies, engineers, scientists, foresters and
conservationists to convert the land from a working farm into protected habitat for wild
animals and plants.
The couple will be compensated for the land, and they will continue to live
on the property in a log cabin tucked among pine trees, down several miles of
rutted dirt roads from anyone else. But the land will never again support a
working farm. Most of the land will be placed under permanent conservation
easements, which will prohibit development.
Valentine said she and Quinn want to give something back, permanently, to
''Man is now, but the land is forever," Valentine said, quoting an old
Spanish saying. ''There has got to be some refuge. This will be our legacy back to
Before the land was ditched, drained and planted in crops in the early 1980s,
much of it lay under water. Most of the low-lying areas were wetlands.
Sharon Valentine grew up in Helena, the capital of Montana. Her first husband
was a military pilot whose job brought them to Fayetteville in the mid-1970s.
In North Carolina, Valentine worked several jobs and started her own
business, arranging travel for the Department of Defense. Valentine said her first
love is entrepreneurship. In the past several years, she said, that interest has
shifted toward green entrepreneurship.
Valentine met Steve Quinn in the mid-1980s. An Australian friend of hers had
told her about a system in place in Australia that was turning poultry manure
into fertilizer, and she wanted to find out whether the same system would work
in North Carolina.
When Valentine met Quinn, he was a vice president for Nash-Johnson, the
parent company of the House of Raeford poultry processing operation.
''I called him up to see his turkey litter," Valentine said.
They married in 1988. At the same time, the owner of the 6,000-acre farm on
the Cumberland-Bladen line had declared bankruptcy after disease wiped out the
turkeys. Quinn saw the farm and knew he wanted it, Valentine said. A bidding
war ensued, a war that Quinn and Valentine won.
They signed the paperwork June 28, 1988. The farm cost $3 million.
They have lived on the farm ever since, in the cabin that was built as a
hunting lodge. Valentine's Montana roots show in the cabin's decor. A buffalo
skull, with a turkey feather hanging from each horn, hangs on one of the interior
walls, which are paneled in rough cedar planks from the farm. Several cowboy
paintings hang in the living room, along with an Indian dream catcher.
In Montana, it is common for wheat fields and pastures to stretch for miles.
Such long, unbroken fields are rare in the Cape Fear region, where farms are
carved from longleaf pine forests or nestled between subdivisions. But one
field at Privateer Farms runs for 6 miles.
Dirt roads encircle and crisscross the property. Valentine estimates that
there are close to 20 miles of dirt roads on the farm.
Valentine and Quinn love the farm, she said. ''I have seen this farm when the
rye is coming up. It is so beautiful, it physically hurts."
Animals are plentiful. Valentine said bobcats, turkeys and deer are common,
and the ''snakes are legendary." She and Quinn have bears on the property and
have seen cranes, storks and trumpeter swans. And, they say, an Eastern
When the restoration work is completed in several years, Valentine said,
there will be a 200-acre pond for migratory birds.
Phases of work
The work will be done in phases and by different agencies and private
Some work has already begun. Timber trucks have recently carved a new system
of roads on the northern edge of the farm, where they are cutting some trees.
Those upland acres will be replanted in native longleaf pine, hickory and oaks.
Jim Buck of Buck Engineering in Cary did some initial surveys of the
property. One day, Valentine said, Buck asked her and Quinn whether they had ever
thought about managing the restoration they were contemplating themselves. They
decided they would.
Buck Engineering will complete the first stage of the wetland restoration, on
430 acres, for the N.C. Department of Transportation. When the property was
being cleared and drained for farmland almost 25 years ago, a straight ditch
was dug through the center of the property. Harrison Creek, which had meandered
through what is now a miles-long field known as ''the big island," was
rerouted into the ditch.
Returning that creek to its former twisting path will be Buck Engineering's
first step. It will involve restoring about 6 miles of stream bed. When the
creek is restored, it will once again flood the fields. The wetland soils that
have served as rich cropland will return to their swampy origins. After the
stream is restored, Buck said, workers will replant native wetland tree species,
including Atlantic white cedar, green ash and sycamore.
''We have aerial photos to 1938 to show us what the area used to look like,"
Buck said. ''It was a wetland. All the farm fields are prior converted
The state transportation department will pay Buck Engineering $11.5 million
for the work. Buck Engineering, in turn, will pay Valentine and Quinn for the
purchase of a permanent conservation easement on those 430 acres.
The Department of Transportation this year began an initiative called the
Ecosystem Enhancement Program in which it buys large tracts of land in advance of
road projects that destroy wetlands or endangered species habitat. The
Privateer Farms project will provide the state with credits for wetlands lost to
The arrangement is a win-win-win situation, Buck said. The state gets
mitigation credits. The environment is restored and protected. And Valentine and
Quinn are compensated for their land.
Valentine said she does not yet know how much she and Quinn will be paid for
their land. Much of the land must still be appraised.
Similar arrangements are being negotiated for the remaining farmland and will
be completed in the next few years. John Ray, the director of the Cumberland
Soil and Water Conservation District, said the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's Wetland Reserve Program may purchase conservation easements from landowners
and restore them to their former wetland condition. Ray said at least 2,700
acres of Privateer Farms will be restored through this program.
''They actually sign a deed over to us," Ray said. ''The beauty of this to me
is they can occupy the land. We leave the house out of the easement, and they
can still use the land for hunting. Put it back like it was, that is Sharon's
The USDA will spend about $5 million on the Privateer Farms project, said
Matt Flint, a biologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the
USDA. He leads the wetlands program in North Carolina.
The USDA offers such a program to help remove flood- prone land from
agricultural production, Flint said. Privateer Farms has a history of flood damage,
beginning with Hurricane Fran in 1996, Flint said.
The program is an alternative to building dikes that keep farms from flooding
or digging channels deeper to keep water away, Flint said.
Flint said the USDA is spending less on the project than the Department of
Transportation because there is less engineering work involved with the USDA
tract, even though it is larger.
The USDA's part of the restoration plan should begin in about a year, Flint
said. It will take about five years to complete.
The work will complement Buck Engineering's project and other conservation
areas nearby, including Suggs Millpond and Horseshoe Lake in Bladen County.
''We're helping to build corridors on the landscape that support animals that
require large blocks of habitat," Flint said. Such animals include bears and
Staff photo by Tracy Wilcox
Sharon Valentine shows part of Privateer Farms to Jim Buck, left, of Buck
Engineering, and lawyer Robin Merritt.
John Anne Shearer is the coordinator of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's
Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in North Carolina. She is providing
technical assistance to Flint and Ray and their colleagues.
The wildlife service helps write the restoration plans and ensure that
migratory birds and rare or endangered plants and animals are included in the plan,
Shearer said a botanical survey of Privateer Farms did not turn up any rare
plants, but some, such as the federally endangered rough-leaf loosestrife,
could be introduced into the upland pine forests of the farm during restoration.
The project will help dozens of bird species, including bald eagles,
prothonotary warblers, wood ducks and scarlet tanagers. Upland forest areas will
provide habitat for other species, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and
Restoring the farm in the manner they have chosen was not the only way
Valentine and Quinn could have retired.
Mitigation banks wanted the farm, Valentine said. Those are people or
companies that buy such properties, hold them and sell them to state agencies and
other organizations that need mitigation credits to compensate for lands that are
destroyed during road construction and other development. Valentine and Quinn
turned down the offers.
''They would have come in and done a bit of restoration and sold it off,"
Valentine said. ''If we're going to talk about restoration, let's talk about
Staff writer Nomee Landis can be reached at landisn at fayettevillenc.com or
"I would not enter on my list of friends the man who needlessly sets foot
upon a worm." - Cowper
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