Southern Pines Plantations to continue block management of former Plum Creek land after sale

| April 3, 2020 8:26 AM

The company that purchased 630,000 acres of Weyerhaeuser timberlands in Montana said it fully intends to keep the property in the state’s block management program, which allows hunting and other access to the public.

Weyerhaeuser announced late Thursday it had closed the sale of 630,000 acres of Montana timberlands to Southern Pines Plantations for approximately $145 million in cash.

“We’re going to continue block management,” said Eric Moody of Southern Pines Plantations in a telephone interview last week. “We’ve said it out loud before and we’ll say it again.”

He said the company was surprised at a story that ran a few weeks ago stating they hadn’t enrolled in the state program, when in fact, they had.

Moody also spoke to the woods itself. Sources have said that the forest has been overharvested over the years and while the land is green with trees, there’s few saw logs left.

Moody acknowledged that as well.

“It’s a young forest,” Moody said. “It’s a fact.”

Southern Pines Plantations has hired American Forest Management to manage the property. It has bought Weyerhaeuser’s office in Libby and Kalispell. Former foresters for Weyerhaeuser were offered positions with the company, Moody said.

“It was a way to maintain those employees,” Moody said.

American Forest Management not only manages timber, it also sells real estate.

But Moody also said the company would continue to pursue conservation easements that were in the works prior to the sale.

Plum Creek was negotiating with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks on easements near the Lost Trail Wildlife Refuge. It merged with Weyerhaeuser in 2016 and Weyerhaeuser absorbed Plum Creek’s timber and Montana land holdings. Another fee purchase deal that would transfer land ownership to the Lolo National Forest was also in the works.

Moody said Southern Pines continues to move forward on both of those projects and is interested in others.

“We’re all ears to manage this forest,” Moody said.

Dick Dolan, state director of the Trust for Public Lands, which is working on the easements as well, confirmed both projects are moving forward.

“We’re buckling down and expect to get them completed,” he said Monday.

He concurred that Southern Pines has shown interest in other projects as well.

“We’ll work with the new owner and do the conservation work as best as we can,” he said.

The Trust, a non-profit land conservation organization, has brokered huge land conservation easements in the past, including work on the Montana Legacy Project, which conserved 310,000 acres of Plum Creek Lands in the Swan Valley. The Swan deal was done through the Nature Conservancy, the state and the federal government.

Closer to home The Trust helped conserve about 10,000 acres of F.H. Stoltze land and Lumber lands just north of Columbia Falls.

Moody also noted that outfitting and grazing permits that were held were also renewed.

The Block Management deal with Weyerhaueser waived the fee the state usually pays landowners in exchange for having game wardens patrol the lands. That deal comes up for renewal on May 31.

About 140,000 acres of the former Weyerhaueser lands in the sale are already under conservation easement in the Thompson and Fisher River drainages.

“The sale of our Montana timberlands is part of our ongoing effort to strategically optimize our timberland portfolio,” said Devin W. Stockfish, president and chief executive officer of Weyerhaeuser. “I want to thank the employees of the Montana timberlands team for continuing to operate safely throughout this process, and for their contributions to Weyerhaeuser over the years.”

The transaction was announced in December 2019, and the company’s three manufacturing facilities in Montana are not affected by the sale, the company claimed.

“We’re proud to continue supporting Montana communities through our mills and other local operations,” said Stockfish.

But the sale means that Weyerhaeuser no longer owns timber in Montana, lands that presumably would have provided supply for those very mills.