PORTLAND, Maine — The private family trust buying up massive tracts of Maine’s North Woods views the acquisitions as long-term investments in the evolution of the state’s forest products industry.
Gary Bahlkow, a forestry consultant managing more than 290,000 acres purchased by the Tall Timber Trust, said the land would largely remain working forest, though the family trust has split off specific parcels in transactions with the Nature Conservancy.
The investors see a bright future for Maine forest products, despite ongoing trouble for the state’s paper industry, he said.
“Although [the industry] may be going through a bit of a bumpy transition from pulp and paper to what comes next, there’s a lot of exciting things in what comes next,” Bahlkow said.
Foremost among those, Bahlkow said, is the market for cross-laminated timber panels, a manufactured wood product he said can replace concrete and steel in some building applications, with carbon emissions benefits.
“They’re being built, mostly in Europe and particularly in the U.K. This is not experimental, and it has a potential to make a big difference in carbon sequestration,” Bahlkow said.
Building standards could help that along, he said, if government agencies developed favorable zoning or other policies to encourage construction with emission-reduction benefits, keeping stored carbon in the wood for as long as a building lasts and taking less energy to produce into usable timber.
Specific product lines aside, Bahlkow said the diversity of Maine’s forest also puts it on more stable footing than other timberlands dominated by one species of tree, called monocultures, where infestation or disease can spread rapidly.
With the current troubles in the forest products industry and such products on the horizon, Bahlkow said the family trust — and others — saw opportunity for a long-term play in the land offered up by Canopy Timberlands LLC.
“There were probably 10 or a dozen entities competing for this property through a bidding process, and the family is delighted to have been the winning bidder,” Bahlkow said.
Bahlkow neither confirmed nor denied that the family is that of Subway co-founder and South Portland native Peter Buck, but a Bangor Daily News review of public records indicated a connection.
The trustee of Tall Timber is D. Ben Benoit, who in turn is the executive director of the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, according to Penobscot County property records in the latest transaction. Property and corporate records show the foundation and the trust share a Connecticut address, at the PCW Management Center, 7 Mason’s Island Road, Mystic, Connecticut.
Benoit also is president of the PCW Management Center, according to the company’s website.
The foundation has purchased and conserved land primarily in New York and Connecticut, according to a 2014 story featured in the magazine Inside Philanthropy. The magazine speculated in 2014 that the foundation would set its sights beyond the Hudson Valley, partly under leadership of Peter Buck’s son, Christopher, who serves on the foundation’s board.
Bahlkow said he was unaware of any direct connection between the foundation and the Tall Timber Trust. It appears from public records that each has a connection to the Buck family, however. A representative of the family did not return request for comment.
The deal gives the trust, which already owns hundreds of thousands of acres in the region, ownership of roughly 18 percent of Maine’s 3.5 million-acre North Woods, based on property records and an archive of land sales maintained by the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The latest sale includes land in Penobscot, Piscataquis and Aroostook counties, according to property records and deeds filed the week of Oct. 24 in each county.
Bahlkow said in an earlier interview that more acquisitions are likely on the way.