(12/14/2002)
By Bob Weaver

One of the areas largest land and timber owners, Mead-Westvaco has been sold to the Forestland Group LLC, with long-term contracts to supply Mead-Westvaco's timber needs. Mead-Westvaco owns about one-third of Wirt County land, and smaller percentages in other regional counties.

The sale was for $22.5 million in Wirt County alone, 44,000 acres under 316 parcels.

Wirt County officials are unclear what the sale might mean to the county, other than a transfer tax charge. Westvaco, the original holder of the land, was often reported to be paying less than $1 per acre on some parcels. The assessed amount is controlled by taxation regulations in Charleston.

"I would hope it somehow improves our situation, but it too early to tell," said Wirt Commissioner Robert Lowe. Lowe told The Herald he would like to learn all the facts about the transaction.

The Managed Timberlands Bill, sold to the West Virginia Legislature as a way to help small wood lot owners improve their timber stand, turned out to be a tax break for large timber corporations, taking tax money from rural, forested counties. Few individual landowners have applied for the 66% tax break issued during the Underwood administration.

The new owners have also purchased Mead-Westvaco's holdings in Calhoun, Roane, Jackson, Ritchie, Pleasants, Tyler and Wood. The total deal appears to involve the sale of 95,000 acres, with a pre-tax profit of $38 million for Mead-Westvaco.

Wood County is reporting a sale of 9,862 acres for $5 million in the Forest Land Group transaction.The deal appears to involve a company called Heartwood Timber.

It is unclear what will happen to the Hughes Fork Public Hunting area, about 11,000 acres leased to the State of West Virginia for $1 a year. The public hunting area, the 12th largest in the state, has been maintained for 35 years, and is one of few not owned by the state.

Individual hunting permits will not be honored by the new owner, except for lands still owned by Mead-Westvaco.

Small counties do not receive severance taxes on timber products, like oil, gas and coal.

Beyond a taxation problem for small counties, the ownership of large parcels of large by outside corporations has seriously restricted single property ownership and economic development which could lead to jobs.

In a press release, the new company says "It acquires and manages timberland investments for institutions, families, and individuals. TFG emphasizes naturally regenerating hardwood and pine forests in the eastern U.S. The firm currently manages approximately 600,000 acres in nine states."

"The Forestland Group, LLC (TFG) was formed in 1995 to pursue investments primarily in naturally regenerating hardwood and pine forests for institutional investors. TFG currently manages approximately 600,000 acres in Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas."

TFG targets timberland with the following characteristics:

Natural stands of upland hardwoods, bottomland hardwoods, southern pines and pine hardwoods.

Growing within the Eastern United States.

Generally, tracts of 2,000 acres and larger.

Located in areas with currently active or growing timber markets.

Well-stocked stands on productive sites with reasonable operating conditions

. "TFG believes in being a responsible steward of the land and follows the principles of sustainable forestry. Forestland management plans are designed on a tract-by-tract basis, paying careful attention to each property's unique biological habitat and diversity. The firm's goal is to seek competitive returns while maintaining the productive capacity of the forest," says the release.

The firm's management practices encourage the natural regeneration of the forest, a fact some environmentailists contest, while they " maintain soil productivity, water quality, species diversity, wildlife habitat, and sites with significant biological, historical or archaeological value. The goal is to employ forest stand improvement techniques increasing the viability of the residual forest and to maintain the ecological integrity of the forest ecosystem."

Regional Counties


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