ELLSWORTH, Maine — A person whose name is familiar to many Mainers has joined the ranks of the top 100 largest private landowners in the country, according to a national publication that focuses on land uses and transactions.
Roxanne Quimby, who co-founded Burt’s Bees natural cosmetics firm and has purchased thousands of acres of forest land in Maine in hopes of establishing a national park in the Millinocket area, is ranked 86th on the list for 2012. The annual list, compiled by the Birmingham, Ala.-based quarterly magazine The Land Report, was released at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Quimby owns 119,000 acres of land, most of it through Elliotsville Plantation Inc., a nonprofit land conservation foundation. According to the Land Report list, Quimby’s goal is to donate 70,000 acres to the creation of a North Woods national park and 30,000 acres to the state which, unlike the national park land, would be open to hunting, logging, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.
Attempts Wednesday to contact Quimby were unsuccessful. Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son and spokesman for Quimby’s Elliotsville Plantation Inc., said she was out of the country on Wednesday and that he would not be able to get in touch with her until Thursday at the earliest.
Eric O’Keefe, editor of the magazine, said Wednesday in a phone interview that new people get added to the list by buying more land or because other large landowners sell their property, sometimes after dividing it up into smaller parcels, or both.
He said that the average amount of land owned by each person or entity on the top 100 list is 500 square miles. The total amount of land represented on the top 100 list, he added, is 50,000 square miles — an area roughly the size of Nicaragua or Greece.
Maine, he added, is a “natural” location to appear on the annual list because of the large tracts of undeveloped land in the state.
“The amount of wilderness and privately held acreage there is staggering,” O’Keefe said.
This may be the first year Quimby has appeared on the list, he said, but she has been on the magazine’s radar for some time. Her efforts to buy land in Maine and to establish a national park stand out from others on the list who view their holdings as financial investments and want to manage them privately.
“She obviously has been a force, an economic force, and a well-known voice in Maine,” O’Keefe said.
Ranked at the very top of the list for the second year in a row is John Malone, who last year purchased more than 1 million acres of timberland in Maine and New Hampshire. Malone, chairman of Liberty Media Corp., lives in Colorado.
Also still high on the list are two families who have owned land in Maine for generations, the Irvings and the Pingrees. Chellie Pingree, Maine’s First District congresswoman, is not related to the Pingrees on The Land Report list.
The Irvings, based across the border in neighboring New Brunswick, rank fifth on the list with 1.2 million acres, of which more than 1 million are in Maine. The heirs of 19th century land investor David Pingree, who rank eighth on the list, own 830,000 acres in Maine through their Seven Islands Land Company.
Ranked just ahead of Quimby in 85th place is the Milliken family, which owns 119,500 acres. The family’s Baskahegan Company owns more than 100,000 acres of Maine woodlands. Roger Milliken Jr., who lives in Cumberland and is president of Baskahegan Co., also is chairman of The Nature Conservancy. Aside from owning large tracts of Maine forest, the Millikens have been longtime seasonal residents of Mount Desert Island.
Lloyd Irland, a forest resource and industry consultant in Wayne who has served in the Maine Department of Conservation and as state economist, said Wednesday that the growing prominence of private landowners such as Malone and Quimby among the largest landowners in the country is a relatively new trend.
Maine, he said, has large tracts of land that, contrary to similar-sized parcels in the West that tend to be used for ranching or agriculture, are covered with trees. As the number of large, publicly held paper and timber companies decrease, he said, wealthy individuals with an interest in owning forest land are coming to the fore, even though their management goals may differ.
“The paper plantation is gone,” Irland said. “High net worth individuals are investing in timberland and are going to keep it and operate it as forest land.”
Land broker Greg Fay, whose company Fay Ranches sponsors the annual list, said in a prepared statement that modern investors understand that agriculture, healthy ecosystems, and recreation all interconnect when it comes to a property’s value.
O’Keefe said in the same statement that land and land-based assets have been significant components of improving sectors of the national economy.
“Look at farmland prices. Look at energy assets. Look at the rise in minerals and commodity prices,” O’Keefe said. “Each of these elements is tied to the land, which is why so many savvy investors are anchoring their portfolios with this asset.”
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.