Roughly 300,000 acres of Maine timberland – including a large swath of working forest bordering Baxter State Park – could soon be on the market.

Acadian Timber Corp. announced Thursday that the company’s board of directors had launched a “review of strategic alternatives” that will examine a possible sale, merger or other options for the company’s assets. Acadian Timber is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, but bills itself as “the second-largest timberland operator in New Brunswick and Maine,” with roughly 2.4 million acres owned or managed by the company.

The company operates as Katahdin Forest Management in Maine and owns approximately 300,000 acres of forests in the state, stretching from south of Millinocket to the west side of Baxter State Park and north into the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

Roughly two-thirds of the land was included in the landmark 2002 Katahdin Forest Project conservation deal negotiated between The Nature Conservancy and the former landowners, Great Northern Paper. Under the terms of the $50 million deal, 195,000 acres of forests in the Millinocket area were protected from development under a conservation easement that kept the land in sustainable forestry while guaranteeing public access for recreation. The terms of the easements would transfer with the land.

“That is the beauty of these easements: they do travel with the land and stay with the land, if it sells,” said Alan Hutchinson, executive director of the Forest Society of Maine, the nonprofit that monitors compliance on the Katahdin Forest easements for the state of Maine. “There have been a growing number of sales of land under easement in Maine, so there is a track record. It works well.”

Representatives from Acadian Timber and Katahdin Forest Management did not return phone calls seeking comment on Friday. In a press release Thursday, the company did not specify any reasons for the “review of strategic alternatives” but said it was not in response to any proposals.

“The company does not intend to provide further updates on its strategic review until such time as the Board of Directors determines is appropriate,” the company said. “There can be no guarantee that this review will result in a transaction, or if a transaction is undertaken, as to the terms or timing.”

Maine’s forestlands have undergone dramatic ownership changes during the past 15 years as the giant forest products industry companies of generations past, such as Great Northern Paper, sold their land, often to private investment firms. More recently, paper mills throughout the state have closed down – including the facilities in Millinocket and East Millinocket – or scaled back their workforce in the face of global competition in the paper market.

Conservation groups have stepped into that mix by purchasing, or helping to finance, conservation easements on hundreds of thousands of acres of forestland across Maine. Those easements typically keep the land in sustainable, commercial forestry but prohibit most development while ensuring public access on the land. Yet tensions have increased in the Katahdin region as Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby has purchased large swaths of lands, primarily on the eastern side of Baxter State Park, and stopped most timber harvesting.

Today, much of that land has been re-dubbed Katahdin Woods & Waters Recreation Area and is overseen by Quimby’s foundation, Elliotsville Plantation. But the Quimby family is pushing to turn 75,000 of those acres into either a North Woods national park or national monument – proposals that have sharply divided local communities in desperate need of economic development after the shuttering of the two local mills but distrustful of both environmental groups and the federal government.

Acadian owns much of the lands surrounding Pemadumcook Lake as well as North Twin and South Twin lakes immediately to the west of Millinocket. The company’s holdings also include land along the West Branch of the Penobscot River south of Baxter State Park as well as forests bordering parts of Chesuncook Lake and Chamberlain Lake to the west of the wilderness park.

Tom Abello, a senior policy adviser at the Maine chapter of The Nature Conservancy, which negotiated the 2002 Katahdin Forest conservation deal that covers 195,000 of Acadian Timber’s 300,000 acres, described Acadian as “good managers of the land” and said he hoped the company retains ownership of the tracts. Regardless of who owns the land, however, it will continue to be off-limits to most development and must be managed with sustainable forestry techniques if it remains a working forest, he said.

“Over time, we’ve seen a lot of land changing hands in Maine and many times when the lands have changed hands, we have been lucky that it remained as working forests, providing jobs and paper to the mills,” Abello said. “Clearly some of those mills are struggling now, but we are hopeful that they will bounce back and some other markets may open up” for Maine wood.

Acadian Timber Corp. owns 1.1 million acres in Maine and New Brunswick and manages approximately 1.3 million acres of “Crown land” in the province. The company says it has approximately 90 regional customers for its softwood and hardwood logs, pulpwood and biomass byproducts.

The price of Acadian Timber’s stock declined 1.7 percent on Friday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.


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