A Georgia-based timber and real estate company is confirming it’s the buyer of 630,000 acres of Montana timberlands from Weyerhaeuser. There was widespread speculation that the deal announced last week could cut off public access to some of that land, but Southern Pine Plantations said it will maintain that access.
In a press release initially announcing the $145-million deal, Weyerhaeuser said it would provide productive timberlands from Kalisepll to Libby for the undisclosed buyer and maintain a 110,000-acre conservation easement that has provided public access for years.
But there was widespread speculation from state and local elected officials in both Flathead and Lincoln counties that the buyer was Southern Pine Plantations, a company known to buy large tracts of land and sell pieces to private investors, potentially cutting off public access to hunting and fishing grounds.
In a press release Saturday, a lawyer representing Southern Pine Plantations confirmed the company was the buyer and said long-standing access agreements would remain in place. Weyerhaeuser isn’t confirming that information on its end and maintains that the deal won’t impact its three mills in the Flathead Valley.
Flathead County Commissioner Philip Mitchel said the announcement addressed most of his concerns, but said the county is still keeping tabs on the land sale.
“We can’t overstep our boundary with what they’re allowed to do by law, but I just would have a concern about how we’re going to keep the mills open and keep people employed here,” he explained.
But not everyone is appeased. State House Rep. Steve Gunderson of Libby responded to the claim that public access would continue under Southern Pine on social media saying, “Let’s see that in writing!!!” Lincoln County Commissioner Mark Peck said he wants Weyerhaeuser to consider selling some or all of the land to private timber companies already operating in the area.
“Without more details, I just don’t believe it” Peck said. “I know at some point, they have to sell that land in order to get their return on investment.”
Peck said the potential piecemealing of the land to private owners would not just impact public access, but also the local timber economy and even fire management.
Weyerhaeuser expects to close the deal next spring.