When a deal falls through in a forest, does it make a sound? Yes, it sounds like whew!
N.C. State's misguided effort to sell Hofmann Forest, a 79,000- acre research forest in Onslow and Jones counties near Jacksonville, collapsed last week after buyers couldn't find financing for the $131 million deal. With that, the university gained a second chance to do the right thing. It should retain the land for research and logging that generates revenue for the university.
The board of the Endowment Fund of N.C. State moved to sell the forest in two pieces to separate buyers. The board concluded that revenue from the sale would do more to support university research than maintaining the forest and receiving a few million dollars annually from timber sales.
But university leaders did a poor job of selling that idea to faculty, students and foresters. By the time the deal neared completion, it seemed the university was losing not only an irreplaceable asset in land but also a great deal of goodwill. Opponents of the sale filed suit to block it.
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Now university leaders have an opportunity to gracefully reconsider. One compromise option might be to gain revenue but ensure that the forest remains undeveloped by selling the land to the U.S. Forest Service to link up with the nearby Croatan National Forest.
Ron Sutherland, a conservation scientist in the Wildlands Network and a leading opponent to the sale, said in a statement, "University leaders now have a window of opportunity to step back to the drawing board and do the right thing. They can use an open process that works with the professors, students and locals who oppose a sale without proper protections on the forest's use."
N.C. State leaders have a second chance to either keep the forest or convert its ownership in a way that will be broadly supported. They should take it.