Natural and Cultural Resources


Duke Forest contains many areas with significant ecological or cultural value. These areas are protected from management activities or uses that would threaten their continued existence. Most of these areas also receive special consideration as ‘High Conservation Value Forest’ areas under our forest management certification.

Significant Cultural Areas

Old Oxford Rd. cobblestone path in the Durham Division

Duke Forest contains many remnants of the past. Stone chimneys and foundations of homes, wells and cemeteries dot the forest. Special care is taken when conducting management activities in the vicinity of these sites so as to not harm their integrity.

One such historical site is the Alexander Hogan Plantation, which is located in the Blackwood Division. The plantation site was formally listed in the National Register of Historic Places in March 1996. During the Civil War period, the plantation, which covered approximately 12 acres, was owned and operated by Mr. Alexander Hogan. He and his family farmed the land with 8 working slaves. Duke acquired the tract in several parcels from 1944 to 1945. At the time of sale, no records of standing structural remains were present. Today the site is primarily marked by foundation remains of at least 4-5 structures and a cemetery marked by a low stone wall enclosure. The site has received some preliminary archaeological work, such as general surveys, mapping and auguring.The site has the potential to address several anthropological questions regarding plantation life in Orange County and slavery social structure.

Significant Natural Areas

In the fall of 2004, twelve separate sites on the Duke Forest totaling 1,220 acres were included in the North Carolina Registry of Natural Heritage Areas.  The registry agreement between Duke University and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources states that it is the intention of Duke University to maintain the land for the perpetuation of natural communities and rare species populations.

Registration of these areas is consistent with the Forest’s comprehensive management plan, which aims to provide research and teaching areas where human disturbance is minimized. However, selective forest thinning and prescribed burning may be needed in some of the registered areas to perpetuate populations of certain rare plant species.

Couch Mountain, Bald Mountain, Meadow Flats and areas along New Hope Creek and the Eno River are among the locations enrolled in the program. While these sites have been managed for many years to preserve their significant natural values, the Natural Heritage Registry offers a formal recognition of the University’s commitment to good stewardship of its most significant natural lands.

High Conservation Value Forests

In the past decade, the Duke Forest has considered only Registered Natural Heritage Areas in its assessment of High Conservation Value Forests (HCVFs).  During the Forest’s 2011 reassessment audit; however, findings associated with Principle 9 of the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) guidelines revealed that a new analysis using current data and in consultation with a variety of internal and external stakeholders was necessary. To do so, the Duke Forest established an analysis process based off of the requirements for Principle 9 and using the FSC-US Draft High Conservation Value Forest Assessment Framework, Revised July 7, 2010. The table below shows the total area identified for each high conservation value as a result of the analysis.

CriteriaValueData Selected/
Data Subset
# Areas# Acres
HCV 1:Forest areas that contain globally, regionally, or nationally significant concentrations of biodiversity values; including: protected areas, rare or threatened species, endemic species, and seasonal concentrations of species.NC Natural Heritage Program data and Local experts231267
HCV 2:Forest areas that contain globally, regionally, or nationally significant large landscape-level forests contained within, or containing the management unit, where viable populations of most if not all naturally occurring species exist in natural patterns of distribution and abundance. See guidance on definitions of landscape-level and significant.NC Natural Heritage Program data and Local experts5235
HCV 3:Forest areas that are in or contain rare, threatened, or endangered ecosystemsNC Natural Heritage Program data, Local experts, Duke Forest Cover Types2400
HCV 4:Forest areas that provide basic services of nature in critical situations (e.g. watershed protection, erosion control). County-level Water Supply Watersheds; NC Division of Water Quality (DWQ) Stream Classifications; FEMA 100-year floodplains; SSURGO Soils;Duke Forest Cover Types; Duke Forest Harvest Constraints; Local experts2264
HCV 5:Forest areas fundamental to meeting basic needs of local communities (e.g., subsistence, health).Communication with local tribes and local historians00
HCV 6:Forest areas critical to local communities’ traditional cultural identity (areas of cultural, ecological, economic or religious significance identified in cooperation with such local communities).Communication with local tribes and local historians; Duke Forest Historical and Cultural Data; Duke Forest Harvest Constraints28652

The overall holistic and sustainable management approach used by the Duke Forest and demonstrated by its certification under FSC® guidelines ensures that the Duke Forest contributes to the preservation of biodiversity across the larger landscape and protects it from land-use conversions that would destroy these values. The suite of monitoring efforts undertaken by the Duke Forest also helps ensure the overall viability and long-term maintenance of the high conservation values within and across its boundaries. Specific management strategies that protect high conservation values on the Duke Forest include:

  • Registered Natural Heritage Areas (RNHAs) are excluded from any timber management operations. During field visits for harvest site planning, additional buffer area around RNHAs may be identified and harvesting in that area restricted.
  • Duke Forest also conducts a dedicated monitoring program for its RNHAs with the goal of documenting conditions within each natural heritage area and assessing whether the sites are maintaining the ecological integrity and natural assets for which they were deemed significant. As a result, management activities for forest health issues such as pest infestations or for human disturbances such as off road vehicle use may take place but only on an as needed basis and if necessary, after consultation with local experts.
  • Both of the important stream habitats found within the Duke Forest are buffered by riparian areas that occur within RNHAs so these habitats are protected from disturbances in the adjacent riparian areas and are at least superficially assessed during the monitoring site visits.
  • During harvest sale preparations, all element occurrences outside of RNHAs are investigated on the ground, often with the assistance of local experts. The area in which the element is located on the ground, or the area in which habitat conditions suggest a high probability of the element’s occurrence, is buffered and removed from the harvest sale area.
  • Areas with potential old growth characteristics indicated by the Duke Forest cover type information are investigated on the ground prior to the inclusion of that area in a harvest sale. If such characteristics exist, single tree selections or patch cuts may be allowed in the area.
  • Following state mandated Forest Practice Guidelines through implementation of best management practices are standard operating procedures for the Duke Forest when conducting timber management activities and help protect against negative water quality and soil impacts.
  • Soil and slope characteristics, which are important determinants of erosion, are noted on site attribute sheets during harvest sale preparations, and areas with high erosion potential are either avoided or effectively dealt with by following best management practices.
  • Areas indicated as possessing historical value on the ground are investigated prior to establishing a harvest sale and buffered.

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