By Seaborn Larson - December 17, 2019 - Originally published in the Missoulian
U.S. timber giant Weyerhaeuser Company on Tuesday announced it has agreed to sell its Montana timberland to a private timberland investment company.
Weyerhauser has agreed to sell 630,000 acres of Montana timberland to the company for $145 million in cash. The deal puts 110,000 acres into a conservation easement, according to the announcement. The company did not name the prospective buyer.
A longtime agreement with the state had opened that acreage to public use, a tradition since the land was owned by Plum Creek and earlier Champion International. A media contact for Weyerhaeuser declined Tuesday to comment on details of the deal; the public access status of the land outside the 110,000 acres in conservation easement was not clear.
According to the news release from Weyerhaeuser, the company's three manufacturing facilities in Montana will "not be affected by the announcement."
"Our manufacturing operations in Montana continue to deliver strong results," said Weyerhaeuser President and Chief Executive Officer Devin Stockfish. "Our people have done an outstanding job driving improvement in safety and operational excellence over the past several years, and they also do terrific work to support the communities where we operate.
"The sale of our Montana acreage is part of our ongoing effort to strategically optimize our timberland portfolio," Stockfish said. "The transaction includes a diverse mix of softwood species and an existing 110,000-acre conservation easement which preserves public access in perpetuity."
The transaction is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2020, according to the release.
Nancy Thompson, a media contact for Weyerhaeuser, declined to comment on the private investment company or questions about whether the Montana facilities will be affected beyond the announcement of the sale.
Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek, the timber company that previously owned the land, had welcomed use of its timberland for recreation, hunting, fishing, camping and trapping, in an agreement with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Weyerhaeuser's agreement with FWP opened 591,358 acres to public use. The company's announcement Tuesday did not describe the prospective buyer's plans for future use of the land.
John Sullivan, chairman of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, on Tuesday voiced his concerns about the loss of public access, and he said the conservation group remains "strongly invested in maintaining existing access opportunities to these valuable areas."
"Montana's timberlands have traditionally served as a great resource for hunters, anglers and other recreationists seeking public access," Sullivan said in an email. "This is a prime example of why groups like BHA have been pressing for full, dedicated funding for public access programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Full funding of LWCF would help ensure that transactions like these could result in an overall increase in public access."
Weyerhauser owns or controls approximately 12 million acres of timberlands in the United States.
In 2016, the company purchased Plum Creek timber company, which included 880,000 acres and a handful of facilities in Montana, for $8.4 billion. When the land changed hands then, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and State Auditor Monica Lindeen, both Democrats, among others, warned Weyerhaeuser that ending the open lands tradition on the timber company's reach would "not be well-received in Montana."
Tuesday's announcement follows Weyerhaeuser's Nov. 30 sale of 550,000 acres in Michigan to The Lyme Timber Company LP for $300 million, as reported by the Detroit Free Press.