Insurance group sells timberland in Northeast Kingdom

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(Host) A big chunk of Vermont timberland is up for sale. The Hancock Timber Resource Group wants to sell 10,400 acres of forest in Essex and Caledonia counties. But the company says it’s not getting out of the land management business.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) If you’ve got $4.5 million, you could pick up some great land in the Northeast Kingdom. The property, known as the Bull Mountain tract, straddles Essex and Caledonia counties. It’s a mix of hardwoods and softwoods and it doesn’t have any development restrictions.

The Hancock Timber Resource Group is part of the John Hancock insurance company. Company forester Henry Whittemore says the property is being sold at the direction of its investment clients:

(Whittemore) “We’re selling the timberlands to accommodate the expectations of the clients that we represent in owning those lands. It certainly doesn’t represent a shift in our strategy in the Northeast. We still very much believe in timberland investment fundamentals for this region. We both intend to stay here and in fact would like to try to grow in this region.”

(Dillon) Insurance companies like Hancock often buy timberland as a stable, long-term growth investment.

Hancock has a reputation as a careful steward of the northern forest. In 1996, it protected 31,000 other acres in Vermont with conservation easements that restrict development. At the time, it was the largest conserved tract of private land east of the Mississippi.

Whittemore says the company offered the Bull Mountain property to the state of Vermont. But the state faces a budget crisis and couldn’t afford to buy conservation easements. He says he’s also talked to conservation organizations:

(Whittemore) “We met with Governor Dean and the Vermont Land Trust and tried to follow up on a strategy where we could duplicate the conservation easement that we did back in 1996. The terms of conservation easement never really came together on this parcel. So we’ve been in touch with the Trust for Public Land and might try to put a deal together with them.”

(Dillon) But in the meantime, the property is listed for sale with LandVest, a major real estate company. A LandVest broker says the property would be attractive to other investors.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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