The owners of Hofmann Forest announced Friday morning that the $130 million contract for the sale of the forest to an Illinois agri-businessman has been dropped.

“The purchase agreement for Hofmann Forest has terminated with the buyers unable to finalize the financial contingencies of the contract,” a news release, sent on behalf of the Board of Trustees for the Endowment Fund of N.C. State University, stated. “As a result, the sale to Resource Management Service LLC and Hofmann Forest LLC will not proceed to closing.”

The release says Hofmann Forest will continue to be owned by the Board of Trustees for the Endowment Fund and managed by the Natural Resources “for the benefit of academic programs within the College of Natural Resources.”

N.C. State communications director Fred Hartmann said the Endowment board “will continue to consider the best interests of the college and its students going forward, which could include a future sale.”

The announcement follows a year-long legal battle, after a coalition of professors, foresters, landowners and wildlife conservationists brought a lawsuit against the forest’s owners to stop the sale. The suit is currently being considered by the state Supreme Court.

Ron Sutherland, a conservationist for the Wildlands Network and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the announcement came as a pleasant surprise.

“We had no idea this was coming,” Sutherland said. “We are excited we are through with this buyer and it gives everyone the opportunity to work together towards a path to a better decision-making process that ends in a result that is good for the forest and good for N.C. State.”

Sutherland says there are many different options to open Hofmann Forest back up for academic research and public use, including selling a conservation easement on the forest, or selling the land to the state or the U.S. Forestry Service.

“We hope [College of Natural Resources dean Mary Watzin] takes this as an opportunity to be more inclusive and try to conduct a more open, democratic process to decide the future of the forest,” said Sutherland. He added that he doesn’t think this announcement makes the lawsuit moot.

“Our lawsuit stays in effect until the Supreme Court issues a decision,” Sutherland said. “We’d urge the Supreme Court to move forward.”