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A Landscape in Transition: Partnering with a New Wave of Owners in the Mahoosucs

Three years ago, residents in New Hampshire’s North Country awoke to headlines heralding an unfamiliar and unsettling development. T.R. Dillon Company, a local logging company, had liquidated some 20,000 acres of forestland near Berlin, New Hampshire.

Liquidation forestry, defined by the New Hampshire legislature as harvesting that removes the full commercial value of timber without regard for future timber supply, had come to Berlin in New Hampshire’s Mahoosuc Mountains. T.R. Dillon Company’s approach to forestry represented a sharp departure from the long term forest management practiced by industrial timber product companies, which had owned the land in the Mahoosucs for as long as two centuries before Dillon arrived.

Dillon was one of the new breed of landowners in the Mahoosucs, a 600,000-acre region tucked away north of the New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. Named after a broad mountain range that straddles the New Hampshire-Maine border, it includes 32 towns impressive mountain peeks and unique habitat.

Mahoosuc Landownership: Transfer of Land from the Forest Products Industry to Timberland Investors

 Ownership Change Mahoosucs Chart

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Between 1980 and 2007, the forest products industry sold off its forestland in the Mahoosuc Region, largely to financial investors and conservation interests.  As timberland has become an increasingly popular investment class due to its low risk and low correlation to the stock market, financial investors have become a major buyer of forestland. Financial investors tend to have a short ownership horizon, ranging from 5 to 15 years, leaving the fate of these lands in question.

Going back to the 1800’s, 75% of the forestland in the region was held by three major wood product companies that provided locals with jobs and access to the beautiful lakes and mountain peaks.

Today the Mahoosucs are in transition. Some of the lands have been posted to trespassers while others have been stripped of their forests or developed, and some look the same but are under new ownership. While some changes are visible on the land, the reason for the change - a complex story of Wall Street investors, a growing outdoor movement and complex tax laws is not visible on the landscape but will have a marked impact on the future of forestry in the region.

Over the past six months, OSI has been working to understand the story of this ownership shift in the Mahoosucs, and what might come next. Our initial research, conducted in partnership with the local Mahoosuc Initiative indicates that between 1980 and 2007 the forest product companies sold off the entirety of their land to a new wave of owners with diverse interests and motivations.

Unlike Dillon, many of the new owners practice exemplary forestry; like Dillon, they’re not in the Mahoosucs for the long haul. Our research predicts that most owners will own their land for between 10 and 15 years before selling and most will subdivide their land before sale, further fragmenting ownership and management of the landscape.

The Open Space Institute will be working with key stakeholders, policymakers and conservation organizations to complete this research in 2008. A key goal of this work is to find ways to partner with these new owners to keep healthy forests part of the region’s future.



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