Logging giant auctions forest land
October 28, 2007
Thousands of acres of forest throughout the Sierra Nevada will go to the highest bidder next month in an auction that has become a regular occurrence for Sierra Pacific Industries, California’s largest private landowner.
Among the nearly 5,000 acres the logging company has put up for sale this year is a 338-acre tract of Nevada County land along the upper reaches of the South Yuba River west of Truckee. Other parcels include properties near the Feather River north of Sierra Valley.
The properties represent a minute fraction of the timber company’s 1.7 million acres of ownership in the state. The company said it chose the parcels because they don’t fit into the logging giant’s future plans.
“We have a series of these properties that are isolated,” said company spokesman Mark Pawlicki. “They don’t sit near where our mills are.”
The Nevada County property is close to recreation and far removed from other timber land, said Pawlicki, making it a natural candidate for the auction block. And, despite a variable California real estate market, auctioneers say demand for the fairly remote, wild and undeveloped land is still high.
John Rosenthal, the president of Realty Marketing Northwest, a Portland, Oregon-based company that has handled property auctions for Sierra Pacific Industries over the last 16 years, said he expects multiple bids to come in by the Nov. 14 deadline, promising a competitive price for the land.
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“There’s still a strong demand for rural properties,” Rosenthal said.
The collection of 18 California properties for sale run up and down the spine of the Sierra Nevada mountain range as well as on the North Coast ” from Tuolomne County in the south to Trinity County in the north.
“This is probably one of the larger [auctions] we’ve offered in terms of number of tracts,” Rosenthal said.
All but one of the properties are designated as “Timber Production Zone” ” a zoning that exempts timber harvesters from paying taxes on the property’s real estate potential while it is used for logging. It typically takes 10 years to convert a property from “Timber Production Zone” to another zoning, without paying back taxes ” a conversion that a county’s board of supervisors must approve.
Rosenthal said the properties generate interest from people who want to extract the timber, and also from “someone who has made money in the stock market and wants to put it into some dirt.”
The San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land has been working with Sierra Pacific Industries for several years trying to stitch together land that was fragmented into a scatter-shot pattern of public and private ownership in the 1860s. The public-private mix of parcels is dubbed “checkerboard” because of the way they appear on maps.
During the Lincoln administration, the federal government attempted to spur the trans-continental railroad construction by offering the railroad companies every other square mile of land along the route, said David Sutton, who runs the Sierra Nevada program for the Trust for Public Land.
In the Sierra Nevada, the checkerboard expanded, since in the mountainous terrain the railroad and the government could not determine which land was valuable, Sutton said. The blocks of private ownership grew to up to 24 square miles.
Years after the rail barons completed the railroad, the industry began selling off much of their government-granted land. More times than not, they found a willing buyer in Sierra Pacific Industries, a growing logging company.
Sutton said he has worked with Sierra Pacific Industries to buy back some of the parcels that have biological and conservation importance. The land trust’s working relationship with the landowner is very positive, he said.
But Sutton said after reviewing some of the 18 parcels up for auction next month, he’s not sure of the conservation value of each parcel.
“There’s a lot of things that are going to change, and you just work as hard as you can to protect [the properties] that you think are the most important,” Sutton said.
While Sierra Pacific Industries is known primarily as a logging operation, the company is no stranger to the world of real estate. Under its land development division, the company has proposed to convert its old mill sites and surplus properties into business parks and/or started the subdivision process.
On the slopes that border the northern edge of the Martis Valley, the company has proposed turning a large section of forest into a ski resort and subdivision.
Those plans, however, are currently are on the back burner Pawlicki said.
“We still own the property and we’ve been logging in the area and thinning,” he said.