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Today we had the opportunity to interview Dewitt Hardee, the Farmland Preservation Director for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services overseeing the NC Agricultural Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund. Dewitt spoke to us about North Carolina Sentinel Landscapes, a land preservation program focused on conservation of working and rural lands, as well as promoting national defense. Dewitt was able to answer some questions about the challenges and benefits of working as part of a large collaborative effort to build capacity within the state of North Carolina. 


Background: Sentinel Landscapes are places where preserving the working and rural character of our private lands is important for both national defense and conservation priorities. Rural working forest, agriculture, and other land uses can provide many important public benefits: watershed protection; habitat for species of conservation concern; opportunities for outdoor recreation; open space and wildland preservation; biodiversity protection; commodity production; and the maintenance of a rural way of life. In addition to those benefits, certain working and natural lands are also situated geographically to protect the military mission from incompatible development. Through the Sentinel Landscapes partnership, the Parties will work together in overlapping priority areas near military installations to help landowners make improvements to the land that benefit their operations, enhance wildlife habitat, and enable the Department of Defense training missions to continue.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself, how long you’ve been involved with the project, and anything else you’d like to share.

I have been involved with conservation easements and the NCDA&CS Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund since 2005.  Building the relationship with the military services in NC has been ongoing for approximately 10 years.  North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler has been the instrumental in these efforts to establish the North Carolina Sentinel Landscapes. The Eastern North Carolina Sentinel Landscape designation has been an ongoing objective since its conception in 2013.  See attached federal MOU between USDA, DOD REPI, and Interior.  The North Carolina effort is rooted back to 2009 based upon a Working Lands MOU for North Carolina.  See attached  Final Working Lands Partnership Agreement for details.

2. Can you provide a brief overview of the mission of NC Sentinel Landscapes?

“Sentinel Landscapes are working or natural lands important to the Nation’s defense mission – places where preserving the working and rural character of key landscapes strengthens the economies of farms, ranches, and forests; conserves habitat and natural resources; and protects vital test and training missions conducted on those military installations that anchor such landscapes.” 

3.  There are many stakeholders in this project, what are the biggest challenges of collaborating with so many organizations?

The most difficult issues are communication to all partners and keeping all partners in focus with objective or mission due to the diversity of partners.  See below chart of the many partners involved with ENCSL. 

There is a continuous change in partners due to needs and resources to address the objectives set forth by the partnership.  The partnership is in the process of another change with the recent passage of NC Senate Bill 131 which established in state law the “North Carolina Sentinel Landscapes Committee”. See below legislation.


SECTION 3.19.(a) Committee Established. – There is established the North Carolina Sentinel Landscape Committee (Committee).

SECTION 3.19.(b) Findings and Purpose. – The General Assembly finds that sentinel landscapes are places where preserving the working and rural character of the State’s private lands is important for both national defense and conservation priorities. It is the intent of the General Assembly to direct the Committee to coordinate the overlapping priority areas in the vicinity of and where testing and training occur near or adjacent to major military installations, as that term is defined in G.S. 143-215.115, or other areas of strategic benefit to national defense. Further, the Committee shall assist landowners in improving their land to benefit their operations and enhance wildlife habitats while furthering the State’s vested economic interest in preserving, maintaining, and sustaining land uses that are compatible with military activities at major military installations and National Guard facilities. In its work, the Committee shall develop and implement programs and strategies that (i) protect working lands in the vicinity of and where testing and training occur near or adjacent to major military installations or other areas of strategic benefit to national defense, (ii) address restrictions that inhibit military testing and training, and (iii) forestall incompatible development in the vicinity of and where testing and training occur near or adjacent to military installations or other areas of strategic benefit to national defense.

SECTION 3.19.(c) Powers and Duties. – The Committee shall:

  • Recognize all lands in the State as sentinel landscapes areas that are so designated by the United States Department of Defense.
  • Identify and designate certain additional lands to be contained in the sentinel landscapes of this State that are of particular import to the nation’s defense and in the vicinity of and where testing and training occur on, near, or adjacent to major military installations or are of other strategic benefit to the nation’s defense. In this work, the Committee may seek advice and recommendations from stakeholders who have experience in this sort of identification and designation.
  • In designating sentinel lands as directed by subdivision (1) of this subsection, the Committee shall evaluate all working or natural lands that the Committee identifies as contributing to the long-term sustainability of the military missions conducted in this State. In its evaluation of which lands to designate as sentinel lands, the Committee shall consult with and seek input from:
  1. The United States Department of Defense.
  2. The North Carolina Commander’s Council.
  3. The United States Department of Agriculture.
  4. The United States Department of the Interior.
  5. Elected officials from units of local government located in the vicinity of and where testing and training occur on the proposed sentinel lands.
  6. Any other stakeholders that the Committee deems appropriate.
  • Develop recommendations to encourage landowners located within the sentinel landscape designated pursuant to subdivision (1) of this subsection to voluntarily participate in and begin or continue land uses compatible with the United States Department of Defense operations in this State.
  • Provide technical support services and assistance to landowners who voluntarily participate in the sentinel landscape program.

SECTION 3.19.(d) Membership. – The Committee shall consist of at least the five following members:

  • The Commissioner of Agriculture, or the Commissioner’s designee.
  • The Secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, or the Secretary’s designee.
  • The Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources, or the Secretary’s designee.
  • The Executive Director of the Wildlife Resources Commission, or the Executive Director’s designee.
  • The Dean of the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University, or the Dean’s designee.

The Commissioner of Agriculture or the Commissioner’s designee shall serve as Committee chair for an initial two-year term. Thereafter, the Committee chair shall be one of the five listed members above. The Committee chair may appoint members representing other State agencies, local government officials, and nongovernmental organizations that are experienced in land management activities within sentinel lands.

SECTION 3.19.(e) Transaction of Business. – The Committee shall meet, at a minimum, at least once during each calendar quarter and at other times at the call of the chair. A majority of members of the Committee shall constitute a quorum. The first Committee meeting shall take place within 30 days of the effective date of this act.

SECTION 3.19.(f) Reports. – The Committee shall report on its activities conducted to implement this section, including any findings, recommendations, and legislative proposals, to the North Carolina Military Affairs Commission and the Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission beginning September 1, 2017, and annually thereafter, until such time as the Committee completes its work.

SECTION 3.19.(g) Administrative Assistance. – All clerical and other services required by the Committee shall be supplied by the membership and shall be provided with funds available.

4. What are some of the benefits of working with the military installations in NC?

The largest benefit is the collaborative teamwork and use of resources from North Carolina’s 2 largest industries and employers.

From the 2016 announcement of the Sentinel Landscape designation. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler announces the designation of 33 counties as the North Carolina Sentinel Landscape. The announcement took place at Cherry Research Farm in Goldsboro.

“Agriculture and the military are the top two economic sectors in North Carolina. According to Dr. Mike Walden, Reynolds Distinguished Professor and Extension Economist at NC State University, agriculture and agribusiness is the number one industry sector in North Carolina. The total economic impact of agriculture and agribusiness is $84 billion, or more than 17 percent of

Col. Michael Scalise, deputy commander of Marine Corps Installations East, talks about the military’s partnership with North Carolina as Commissioner Troxler looks on.

the gross state product. The North Carolina Department of Commerce produced a comprehensive study on the $66 billion economic impact of the military on the state’s economy, and in a report to the General Assembly in 2016, then-Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs Cornell Wilson presented this information, stating that the military is the “second largest sector of the economy” in North Carolina, and the state has the fourth largest military presence in the United States.  These economic statistics underscore the need for partnerships between military installations, federal departments, state agencies, local governments and non-profit partners that support North Carolina’s top two industry sectors.”

5. What do you see as the most impactful accomplishments of this designation to date?

The recognition by both the public and private entities the importance and compatibility of military training and agriculture / forestry on the same land parcels.  This recognition allowed the many partnerships to work collectively for a common good that supports North Carolina’s two top industries.

6.  North Carolina Sentinel Landscapes has many initiatives, can you share one or two success stories?

  • Collaboration and development of a working relationship among a multitude of partners that had previously considered each other adversaries i.e. EDF and production agriculture / forestry.
  • The creation of The “ NORTH CAROLINA SENTINEL LANDSCAPES COMMITTEE” into state law by the passage of NC Senate Bill 131
  • The rewarding of the 2017 REPI Challenge grant of $9.2 million to Eastern North Carolina Sentinel Landscapes.  See attached document from REPI.

7. How does the NC Sentinel Landscapes utilize the resources of the land grant system: North Carolina State University and North Carolina State Extension?

North Carolina State University and the Extension Service are partners.  Their resources and personnel are used as other partnership resources  for the collective purpose of the Sentinel Landscapes.  All partners are expected to participate and provide their respective strengths to further the mission.

8.  Is there any advice you would give to other organizations looking to take on a project of this size?

Be patient, listen to your partners, and draw upon the strengths of each partner.  No one partner can accomplish the mission on its own.  But collectively, the mission can be accomplished with a greater and more positive end result.  Be willing to compromise and share in credit or failure.


We’d like to thank Hardee Dewitt and the North Carolina Sentinel Landscapes team for taking the time to answer our questions and share their experience with us. For more information about this designation, visit the links below:

Other Resources


*All images present in this article were used with the permission of the North Carolina Sentinel Landscapes team.