Thursday, February 29, 2024

Access no more: Hunters restricted from lands once owned by Weyerhaeuser

The Western News | December 18, 2020 7:00 AM

With the local real estate market booming, Southern Pine Plantations, the company that purchased 630,000 acres of Weyerhaeuser timberlands in Montana, has begun selling off parcels.

While the company pledged to maintain public access after acquiring the land in March, not all of the new owners in Lincoln County appear to be following their lead.

Eric Moody, a land specialist with Southern Pine Plantation, said the company encourages buyers who purchase large tracts, comprising thousands of acres, to keep the land in the state’s block management program. This program ensures the land remains open to hunting and other public access.

So far, the company has not conducted such an expansive sale in Lincoln County. Locally, Moody said buyers have been interested in smaller tracts of land.

“I don’t think anyone buying a quarter of a parcel is going to continue block management,” he said. “They’re more likely to put up a house.”

Since April, the company has filed twelve grant deeds with the Lincoln County clerk and recorder’s office. According to the deeds, two of the parcels are in the Libby area, three are near McGinnis Meadows and seven are in the Thompson Chain of Lakes area.

Five of the properties were purchased by limited liability companies. Individuals bought the rest.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials were unable to confirm recent land sales but said they would ask new property owners to consider the state block management program during the reapplication period this spring.

Local recreationists have reported that at least one of the property owners is restricting public access to their new holdings.

Midway through this year’s hunting season, Brent Orr said he planned a trip to timberland property near Houghton Creek Road in the McGinnis Meadows area that had previously belonged to Southern Pine Plantations. Arriving at the access point he had used for years, Orr said his headlights passed over a sign that said public access was restricted.

“I just kind of rode off in disgust,” he recalled.

Chuck Resch, another lifelong Lincoln County resident, said he saw a sign in the area that said recreationists were required to get written permission before hunting on the land. Noting that his grandfather had homesteaded in McGinnis Meadows, Resch said he was disappointed to have lost access.

In August and November, Jackson Property Group LLC filed two grant deeds recording purchases in the McGinnis Meadows area. Together, the holdings totaled approximately 550 acres according to Clyde Ross, Lincoln County deputy clerk and lead recorder and county registrar.

The company address for Jackson Property Group LLC matches that of McGinnis Meadows Ranch. Shayne Jackson, owner of the ranch has not returned multiple phone requests for comment.

While the signs might have appeared overnight, fears over property restrictions are not new.

“This is all something we’ve been dreading,” said George Clough, a Libby resident who has hunted on the property in the McGinnis Meadows area since he was a child.

Before Weyerhaeuser acquired the holdings — later sold to Southern Pine Plantations — the land belonged to Plum Creek. While the companies have worked with conservation organizations, and state and federal agencies to secure easements on hundreds of thousands of acres, residents have long worried that new access restrictions may be put in place as the properties continue to change hands.

“As the years go by, there are going to be fewer places to hunt,” Orr said.