View Full Version : Companies put acres of timberland on market

08-07-2003, 12:32 AM
Companies put acres of timberland on market


By CHARLES SEABROOK, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A gravel road winds through a 50-acre tract for sale in Morgan County,east of Atlanta.

MADISON -- Dan Bowling is showing off a rolling 70-acre tract of pines and hardwoods bisected by a gurgling stream.

"This spot would make a nice pond," he says as he drives his truck over the little creek shaded by tall oaks.

Bowling is head of the Georgia office of the Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Development Co., a division of the giant timber corporation. It is selling off some 30,000 acres of Weyerhauser's timberlands in Morgan, Putnam and Oconee counties east of Atlanta.

Most of the land is going for more than $3,000 per acre.

Bowling expects most of the buyers will be from metro Atlanta, and that they will develop the wooded tracts into home sites, horse farms and hunting retreats.

Weyerhauser's land sale is one of the biggest real estate offerings ever in Georgia, but it is only a part of a modern land rush occurring across the South.

Faced with soaring property taxes and high debt, giant timber firms are unloading millions of acres of their forests. Never has so much Southern forest land been available for sale at one time, insiders say.

"It seems like the whole South is for sale," says Ken Driggers of the Palmetto Conservation Foundation in Columbia, S.C.

More than 1.2 million other acres of timberland were sold for nearly $1 billion across the South last year alone, according to industry tallies. Driggers' group bought 310 of those acres to preserve the site of a Revolutionary War battle near Camden.

Among the big land sales so far this year, Bowater Inc., the second-biggest producer of newsprint in North America, has sold 82,000 acres in northeast Georgia to an investment subsidiary of Wachovia, the North Carolina-based bank. The timber company is selling another 264,000 acres in the Carolinas.

Weyerhauser also has announced plans to sell 174,000 acres in Tennessee and 170,000 acres in the Carolinas. Texas-based Temple-Inland says it intends to place 160,000 acres of its land in Georgia in a "high-value" category -- too valuable simply for timber production -- and has hired an Atlanta real estate group to investigate development potential.

Much of the timberland is being snatched up by investors who will continue timber production, at least for now.

But millions of other acres will be developed, forestry experts say.

The U.S. Forest Service estimates that 12 million acres of Southern forest land -- an area equal to about two-thirds of South Carolina -- will be developed during the next 20 years.

Bad news for wildlife

The ownership changes will alter huge swaths of the South's landscape, especially large unfragmented forests that will be divided and subdivided into smaller tracts by developers, the agency's study suggests.

That portends bad news for wildlife and the environment.

"The large forest tracts help protect air and water quality," says Andy Stone, president of the Georgia Forestry Association. "But many of the new buyers are not interested in keeping the large tracts intact."

Officials with Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division fear the state will lose its hold on tens of thousands of acres of forests now leased from timber companies for wildlife management.

International Paper, for instance, already has sold 9,000 of the 21,000 acres it leases to the state for the Ogeechee Wildlife Management Area in Warren and Hancock counties. The new owner has informed the state that it will no longer lease the acreage.

The remaining 12,000 acres also are for sale. "It will be left up to that new owner whether that tract will be leased," said Wildlife Resources spokeswoman Beth Brown.

The timberland sales seem likely to rev up urban sprawl, especially in the rural areas surrounding metro Atlanta.

Prime location

Booming land prices in the region were a major factor in Bowater's sale of land to Wachovia in May. Much of the huge tract, which stretches across 12 counties, borders I-75. It includes the 10,500-acre Coosawattee Wildlife Management area around Carter's Lake, southwest of Ellijay -- prime development property.

Wachovia is mum on specific plans. But analysts say that as demand for more land within commuting distance of Atlanta increases, most of the Wachovia land likely will be developed over the next several years.

South of Atlanta, MeadWestvaco is selling 25,000 acres in Meriwether County, within commuting distance of Atlanta. The acreage represents almost 10 percent of the county's land area.

Chance to protect

On the other hand, conservationists say the land sales offer a chance to acquire thousands of acres of green space for permanent protection in the South.

"It's an unprecedented opportunity," says Tavia McCuean, head of the Nature Conservancy of Georgia. "We've been on the phone a lot these days talking with other groups on how we can protect a lot of this land."

She said partnerships between states and conservation groups could acquire some of the more desirable forest land for sale across the South.

That potential, however, is tempered by the fact that many states are in financial straits and have little money for land acquisition. Funding for Georgia's green space program, for instance, was cut from $30 million per year to $10 million.

Georgia's voters turned down a proposal five years ago to create a permanent land acquisition fund for new parks, wildlife refuges and other protected green spaces. The funds would have come from increases in real estate transfer fees, but the real estate industry argued the program amounted to a new tax and persuaded voters to reject it.

If it had been approved, Georgia would be poised to acquire some of the forest land coming on the market, McCuean said.

Timber giants are selling their forest lands as they seek to cut costs because of mergers, operational changes and other factors.

For instance, the 344,000 acres of timberland Weyerhauser is selling in the Carolinas and Tennessee came with the company's purchase of rival Willamette Industries last year.

Feeling overtaxed

In Georgia, rising land prices and ad valorem taxes also are major forces driving timberland sell-offs in the state. "The ad valorem tax situation in Georgia is discouraging large landowners and corporations from owning timberland," said Bowling.

Under the state's tax structure, owners of fewer than 2,000 acres can get conservation easements and substantial tax breaks for keeping their property out of development.

But larger tracts and corporate lands are taxed at market value.

That means that in areas like North Georgia, where land values are soaring, taxes are making it too expensive for corporations to hold onto land for growing trees, says Tony Bennett, Inland-Temple's vice president for government affairs.

In Gilmer County, the taxable value of some of Inland-Temple's forest land rose 600 percent this year over last year, Bennett said.

"It probably means," he said, "that you will continue seeing more timberland for sale."

Jim Thompson
08-07-2003, 08:15 PM
Lots of big land changes on the horizon:(


08-09-2003, 09:57 AM
Yep, and the "leaseing" hunters will suffer in the long run.

The land my kids bought in Jasper was part of a timber company sell off, and it is a good investment if you can wait long term for all of your profits.

More and more Georgians are buying their own parcels, and if you can swing it, it should pay off not only with hunting land but as an investment .

Good article Jim http://www.jesseshunting.com/forums/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/smiley-biggrin-aqua.gif


Jim Thompson
08-12-2003, 09:47 AM
http://www.jesseshunting.com/forums/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/smiley-good-post-sign.gif Thanks Leo, but it was Jesses, not mine


08-12-2003, 10:10 AM
ALL hunters will loose out,not just the "leasing" ones.

Jim Thompson
08-13-2003, 11:25 AM

You are right. Same happened on my side of GA last year. Temple went on a selling spree and the land prices jumped big time.