by Jay Field
MPBN radio news story
One of the largest private landowners in the nation is set to make a huge addition to his holdings in Maine. Billionaire John Malone, who runs Colorado-based Liberty Media, is planning to purchase nearly a million acres of working forestland.
The deal, thought to be the largest in Maine in six years, includes a tract in northern Hancock and Washington Counties and another north of Rangeley, along the border with New Hampshire and Quebec.
“It’s good for the workers in the mills, it’s good for the contractors in the woods and it’s good for the people that like recreational access,” says John Cashwell, a consultant to BBC Land LLC. That’s the private company, founded by John Malone, that’s making the purchase.
Cashman says his client will continue the sustainable management practices used by the land’s current owner, GMO renewable Resources. “It’s a working forest that has wood supply contracts with the Verso Mills, Jay and Bucksport. We’re committed to those contracts and it will continue to be working forest and open access into the future,” he says.
It’s the same basic approach that John Malone has adhered to over and over, as he’s pursued land conservation deals with the same zeal as the media transactions that have landed him properties such as the cable channel QVC, the travel website Expedia.com and Sirius XM satellite radio.
A former member of the national board of the Nature Conservancy, Malone has purchased huge swaths of ranch land in his home state of Colorado. Here in Maine, he helped fund the protection of the St. John’s River drainage and bought up previous tracts of forestland in and around Spencer Lake.
“He does seem to have an OK track record,” says Cathy Johnson, the North Woods Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “I’m not sort of specifically aware of how he’s managing the land, but I haven’t heard any complaints. So that’s a good sign.”
Still, Johnson says there are always environmental questions when such a large amount of forestland changes hands all at once. “There’s always the possibility that portions of it would get siphoned off for development and that would be a real concern for us,” she says.
Johnson says it’s precisely why the Maine Legislature should resist any attempts to abolish the Land Use Regulatory Commission, which oversees development in the North Woods.
But a land trust that says it’s dedicated to protecting the ecological, economic and recreational interests in the forest says it’s comfortable with the deal. Alan Hutchinson runs the Forest Society of Maine. “I think it’s a good sign that large tracts of forestlands are viewed as good solid investments,” he says. “That’s what delivers everything from wildlife habitat, to recreational opportunites to a strong forest products industry for Maine.”
John Malone’s conservation company is scheduled to finalize it’s latest purchase on February 1st.