Encroachment currently threatens agriculture and defense, the two largest sectors of North Carolina’s economy.
Sentinel Landscapes, a project for the creation of a mutually beneficial partnership between agriculture and the military, aims to avoid intrusion on military training fields while preserving working farmland. Donald R. Belk is currently managing the project, and spoke on its behalf Monday in Biltmore Hall.
Belk outlined the history of North Carolina as a rich agricultural state with strong military roots. Mediating between the two would be beneficial not only to those sectors, but all North Carolinians, he said.
Agriculture is the largest sector in North Carolina’s economy, contributing approximately $70 billion annually and employing thousands in the state. Military activities, on the other hand, contributed 8 percent of North Carolina’s gross domestic product in the past year, Belk said.
The economic impact of agriculture and defense are indisputable, yet the challenges they face are increasing, Belk said.
Population growth and land development expand on land that could be used for military training fields or farmland, and without military installations, national defense could be compromised, Belk said.
“Sentinel Landscapes is a solution,” said Belk. “It was created to guard our military, rural communities and natural resources by maintaining and encouraging compatible uses of private land.”
Belk said he has a multi-faceted approach to overcoming encroachment through Sentinel.
A “Market-Based Conservation” initiative provides landowners with an opportunity to protect their land, and according to Belk, landowners can enter into agreements that protect their working lands from incompatible uses such as residential neighborhoods.
The “Food and Fuel for the Forces” initiative aims to increase the amount of food locally produced, fueling local farms to table movement and strengthening the rural economy.
N.C. State was directly contacted about the assessment of woody biomass, an element of the University extension forestry branch project that calculates availability and price of biomass to conserve resources, Belk said.
Conservation of the expansive forestland in North Carolina is a top priority to Sentinel Landscapes as well, providing a partnership between the North Carolina Forestry Association and the United States military to maintain forests, Belk said.
In addition to the University, the U.S. Marine Corps Installations East, N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, N.C. Farm Bureau and N.C. Forestry Association sponsor the project.
Belk’s project has many goals for the year ahead. Sentinel Landscapes’ project is in the pilot stage and project benefactors hope to move it to the established and continuing stage in the next year, he said.
As N.C. State’s College of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture and ROTC programs make up a sizeable portion of the student population, Belk said. “We very much see N.C. State’s role [with Sentinel Landscaping] as expanding.”