Weyerhaeuser Pulling Out of Central Oregon

By Craig F. Eisenbeis, The Nugget Newspaper (Sisters, Oregon), October 14, 2002

More than 40,000 acres of Sisters area forestland is up for sale; and, for the present, no one is saying who the new owners might be.

Last month, Weyerhaeuser accepted bids for three blocks of land they termed "Central Oregon's premier timberland and development properties."

Steve Ketz of Weyerhaeuser's Federal Way office is handling the sale for the company. Bids were due last month, but he says that nothing has been finalized yet.

"The interest level was so high that we're still evaluating the offers," Ketz said.

When asked about a target date for a final decision, Ketz laughed and said, "Soon, I hope."

Although he acknowledged that the bidders represent varying potential land uses, he declined to offer any specific information on potential buyers until a final decision is made.

Weyerhaeuser's sales prospectus emphasizes timber as a principal "resource opportunity" and lists approximately 84 million board feet of timber. About 60 percent of that is "immature" ponderosa pine.

Mature ponderosa is listed as about 22 percent of the total, and the remainder consists of other species -- predominantly Douglas-fir and white fir.

Another resource opportunity listing is for sand and gravel. The prospectus points out an existing quarry operation near Trout Creek and indicates that portions of the proposed sale are zoned for surface mining.

Of particular interest, Weyerhaeuser is touting the "development and recreational opportunities" of a 4,319 acre block adjacent to the Trout Creek Swamp area.

Weyerhaeuser states that "Development in the Sisters area is rapidly expanding westward toward the Trout Creek block, which is especially suited for development due to its wealth of outdoor activities."

The prospectus also advertises that, "Nearby Sisters is tremendously popular with tourists."

Company spokesman Mike Moskovitz said, "The property could be used for several purposes. A lot of people are interested in the property. I can't say who specifically until negotiations are complete, but there's been a lot of interest."

He pointed out that, "Once it's sold, Weyerhaeuser will no longer be present in Central Oregon."

He added that the company still has 1.2 million acres and 5,000 employees elsewhere in Oregon. Their focus, however, is predominantly in the Willamette Valley and the Coos Bay area.

The property now on the auction block is part of the former holdings of Willamette Industries, a competitor that was recently acquired by Weyerhaeuser.

Moskovitz explained that the sale is not part of a plan to capitalize Willamette assets. Rather, the goal is to make the total company as effective as possible.

"It's so far from our other timber operations," he said, "that it's not cost efficient for us to keep this location. Since the mid-'90s our focus has been on the west side forests in Oregon and Washington."

Ketz also observed that, "The property's location in Central Oregon just isn't a strategic fit with our customers...or any of our mills."

The largest land parcel for sale is the Squawback block of 29,101 mostly contiguous acres northeast of Black Butte. The Santiam block is a checkerboard of 7,294 acres scattered along the west side of Black Butte.

Portions of the Santiam block were affected by the Cache Mountain Fire that burned 4,000 acres and two Black Butte Ranch homes.

Weyerhaeuser contributed firefighting resources on that blaze, including three helicopters.

Weyerhaeuser's withdrawal from the area could, therefore, also have an impact on future firefighting resources available in Central Oregon.

The acreage excludes a 1,240 acre parcel along Lake Creek committed to the Deschutes Basin Land Trust by Willamette Industries.

All the property in question is surrounded by and within the Deschutes National Forest boundary.

Jeff Sims, special uses coordinator for the Sisters Ranger District, admitted that the Forest Service would like to have acquired the holdings.

"We did look at it," Sims said, "but the proposed terms precluded any attempt by the Forest Service to acquire the land. We can't buy land that fast. Also, we're restricted to fair market value, we're not allowed to bid."

At this point, Sims conceded, the only way the Forest Service could become involved would be if Weyerhaeuser fails to sell some of the land or if one of the new owners is interested in a land exchange.

Sims described the sale properties as very diverse.

"All of it has been extensively managed for timber," he said, "everything from large trees to plantations of seedlings."

Ketz promised to make further information available when the sales are final.

Prospective buyers were allowed to bid on each of the three blocks separately, which could result in multiple new owners -- each with different plans for the land.