Open Journal of Forestry
2012. Vol.2, No.4, 279-285
Published Online October 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 279
Shifting Private Timberland Ownership in South Carolina:
Implications for Management Intensity
John E. Hatcher Jr.1, Thomas J. Straka1, Richard A. Harper2, Tim O. Adams3
1School of Agricultural, Forest, and Envir onmental Sciences, Clemson University, Clemson, USA
2 Forest Inventory and Analysis, USDA Forest Ser v i c e , Southern Research Station, Clemson, USA
3South Carolina Fore st ry Commission, Columbia, USA
Email: tstraka@clemson . edu
Received August 18th, 2012; Revised September 20th, 2012; Accepted October 5th, 2012
Beginning in the late 1970’s forest industry timberland gained the eye of financial investors. Diamond In-
ternational and Crown Zellerbach were early firms that were purchased for the “break-up value” of their
timberland. Timberland was perceived as undervalued by investors and made forest industry firms attrac-
tive takeover targets. This started a process where forest industry divested of its timberland. Some firms
formed separate entities for its timberland base. Acquisitions and mergers became popular in the industry.
Some forest industry companies converted to real estate investment trusts, for tax and defensive reasons.
Large institutional investors became interested in timberland as means to diversify their portfolios and in-
crease financial performance. Timber management investment organizations developed to manage and
procure timberland for these institutional investors. Today little of the forest industry timberland remains
with vertically-integrated forest products companies. South Carolina’s forest industry timberland de-
creased by about 800,000 ha since 1993 (or nearly 90%). This has implications for the state’s timber sup-
ply. Forest industry timberlands were some of the most productive and intensively managed forests in the
state. We address how forest management might change on this timberland and how long-term timber
supply might be impacted in the state.
Keywords: Industrial Timberland; Timber Investment Management Organization; Real Estate Investment
Trust; Timber Supply; Forestry Investment
In 1978 there were 907,000 ha of forest industry land in
South Carolina (Sheffield, 1978); by about 1986 forest industry
timberland peaked out at just over 1 million ha (Tansey, 1986);
and in 1993 there were approximately 930,000 ha of forest
industry land in South Carolina (Conner, 1998). The big forest
industry companies still owned vast areas of timberland. Since
then, that industrial timberland base has decreased by about
800,000 ha or 86%. Westvaco owned 200,000 ha and five
companies owned over roughly 100,000 ha each (Egbert et al.,
1992). Industrial forest lands started a shift in the late 1970s
towards company mergers and acquisitions, institutional inves-
tor ownership, and conversion to real estate investment trusts
The catalyst began when timberland was identified as an un-
dervalued asset that could be split off from the larger company
for a profit (Binkley, 2007). Sir James Goldsmith started the
process with the acquisitions of Diamond International and
Crown Zellerbach. By the early 1980s a climate of hostile ta-
keovers emerged and forest industry companies developed
defensive strategies like limited partnerships holding the tim-
berland assets (Binkley et al., 1996). Table 1 shows the dra-
matic decrease in forest industry timberland from 1991 to 2012.
The rise of timberland investment management organizations
(TIMOs) also started in the 1970s with several pension funds
diversifying into timberland investments (Binkley, 2007). By
the 1980s the transition to TIMO ownership from forest indus-
try land or conversion of forest industry land to REITS was in
full swing. The traditional rationale for holding industrial tim-
berland was future raw material supply (timber supply security),
timberland investment return, tax advantages, and some control
over the timber costs (Yin et al., 1998).
Table 1.
Area of timberland owned or controlled by selected large forest indus-
try companies, South Carolina, 1991 (Egbert et al., 1992, updated).
Company 1991 ha 2007 ha 2012 ha
Westvaco Corp . 202,000 159,000 131, 500
Bowater Corporation 150,000 800 0
Georgia-Pacific Corp. 124,000 0 0
International Paper 115,000 25,000 0
Champion I nt ernati o nal 96,000 0 0
Canal Industries Inc 59,000 0 0
Union Camp Corp 36,000 0 0
Federal Pape r Board. 30,000 0 0
Willamette Ind ustries 28,000 0 0
Sonoco Pro ducts Co. 24,000 23,000 23,000
Changes in tax laws fueled industry divesting of timberland.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ER-
ISA) encouraged pension funds to invest in timberland
(Binkley, 2007) and the 1986 Tax Reform Act removed a capi-
tal gains tax advantage for industrial ownership (Yin et al.,
1998). Irland and Howard (1989) saw the increased activity in
timberland ownership exchange resulting from issues like fiber
supply control, timberland as collateral, timberland for invest-
ment, and timberland as a source of capital. As this transition
played out, several major mergers and acquisitions took place
in the industry (Diamond et al., 1999). Many of these impacted
South Carolina timberland.
The main reasons forest industry sold timberland were 1) the
need to increase shareholder returns; 2) the need to reduce debt,
especially those firms that acquired other firms with debt fi-
nancing; 3) firm restructuring to increase tax efficiency using
REITs and subchapter S corporations; 4) tax strategies that
allowed for reduced capital gains taxes; and 5) recognition that
timber supply security was not as important as assumed in the
past (the market would supply plenty of timber and land could
be sold with timber supply agreements for the mills) (Clutter et
al., 2005).
Investors in these timberlands saw an asset that 1) produced
strong long-term financial returns; 2) had a low correlation with
other asset classes (stocks and bonds) and thus reduced overall
investment risk; 3) provided a good hedge against inflation; and
4) provided tax advantages (Fasano & Straka, 2009). Gunnoe
and Gellert (2011) reported TIMO timberland ownership ap-
proaching 10 million ha and REIT timberland ownership ap-
proaching 6 million ha.
Impact on South Carolina Forests
These trends are pronounced in South Carolina. Forest in-
dustry had a $17 billion economic impact on the state’s econ-
omy in 2006. Forest industry has traditionally maintained a
large timberland base. Table 1 shows the forest industry tim-
berland base in 1991, 2007 and 2012. Major transitions took
place over those 16 years. Mergers and acquisitions combined
many of the companies and eventually the remaining compa-
nies sold off much of that timberland base.
Table 1 identifies the integrated forest products companies
that sold off timberland over the last twenty years. International
Paper Company sold most (85%) of its United States timber-
land in 2006 in the largest private forestland sale in national
history (Reuters, 2006). Smaller transactions, sales of land for
environmental and conservation purposes and higher and best
use transactions accounted for the rest. This transaction in-
volved a huge amount of South Carolina timberland as mergers
and acquisitions greatly expanded International Paper’s timber-
land base in the decade prior to the sale. International Paper
acquired Federal Paper Board in 1996 (Gilpin, 2005), Union
Camp Corporation in 1999 (Wayne, 1998), and Champion In-
ternational Corporation in 2000 (Deutsch, 2000). Georgia-Pa-
cific Corporation separated its paper and timber businesses in
1997 forming The Timber Group with separate shareholders to
manage the timberland investment (Associated Press, 1997).
Plum Creek, a REIT, eventually acquired the assets of The
Timber Group in 2000 (Georgia-Pacific Corporation, 2000).
Bowater sold off most of its South Carolina timberlands in the
late 1990s and early 2000s (Seabrook, 2003).
This transition of industrial timberland to corporate owner-
ship is evident in the USDA Forest Service, Forest Inventory
and Analysis (FIA) data estimates (USDA, 2012). Figure 1
shows the decrease in industry timberland and increase in cor-
porate timberland since 1993 for the state. Figures 2-4 show
the same pattern for the southern coastal plain, northern coastal
plain, and Piedmont inventory units of the state, respectively.
While industry land is clearly defined on FIA plots, the corpo-
rate ownerships include TIMOs, REITSs, and other corporate
ownerships such as Limited Liability Company (LLC), part-
nerships, associations, and clubs. The data were filtered to ex-
clude the obvious unincorporated local partnerships, associa-
tions, clubs and Native American ownership, but included all
other corporate ownerships as noted in the South Carolina pub-
lic records, including TIMOs and REITs. Of course, not all land
was sold to corporations—some was purchased by individuals
Figure 1.
South Carolina forest industry and corporate
timberland in 1993 and 2011 (USDA Forest
Service, 2012).
Figure 2.
South Carolina FIA Unit 1 (Southern Coastal
Plain) forest industry and corporate timber-
land in 1993 and 2011(USDA Forest Service,
Figure 3.
South Carolina FIA Unit 2 (Northern Coastal
Plain) forest industry and corporate timber-
land in 1993 and 2011(USDA Forest Service,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 281
Coastal Plain with only 50,000 ha of industry land. In the
Piedmont, there is a small amount of forest industry land re-
maining and about 450,000 ha in corporate ownership.
The pattern of forest industry land in South Carolina was
centered on the coastal plain and the upper Piedmont. As would
be expected, that same pattern exists now for corporate owner-
ship in South Carolina, showing that much of the forest indus-
try land ended up in institutional investor and REIT ownership.
Figure 5 illustrates this pattern.
Forest Management Implications
The new managers of the majority of corporate timberland
are the TIMOs and REITs. TIMOs do not own the timberland,
but manage it for the institutional investors and REITs are or-
ganized to allow timberland owners to avoid “double taxation”
(paying taxes on both earnings and dividends). Most institu-
tional timberland owners are tax exempt entities, so tax issues
are not relevant to them. Also, they usually do not own proc-
essing facilities, so supply issues are of less concern. A big
difference between institutional timberland owners and tradi-
tional forest industry is that institutional owners can value tim-
berland using “mark to market;” that means they value timber
at market value (not book value like forest industry). They use
financial models to manage their timber and usually manage on
a 10 - 15 year planning horizon. They are most concerned with
investor returns. REITs are publicly-traded, so generating earn-
ings to pay dividends to shareholders is essential. Thus, harvest
levels (cash flows) are the focus (Browne, 2001).
Figure 4.
South Carolina FIA Unit 3 (Upcountry or
Piedmont) forest industry and corporate tim-
berland in 1993 and 2011(USDA Forest Ser-
vice, 2012).
or other industry, and property transfers occurred between cor-
porate and individual ownerships. However, Figures 1-4 illus-
trate the dramatic divestitures that occurred by the forest indus-
try since 1993.
Across South Carolina, the forest industry divested almost
800,000 ha over the last 15 years and currently is holding less
than 200,000 ha (Figure 1). Certainly, the majority of industry
land was transferred to corporate ownership, which increased
almost 800,000 ha and has more than doubled in area since
1993. About half of the corporate gain (roughly 400,000 ha)
occurred in the Northern Coastal Plain which totals almost
650,000 ha. More than 60% of the remaining industry timber-
land remains in this area with a total of around 80,000 ha. There
are almost 400,000 ha of corporate timberland in the Southern
Browne (2001) contrasted TIMOs, REITs, and traditional
forest industry in terms of key characteristics. How will own-
ership change affect long-term management, management in-
tensity, and management objectives?
Figure 5.
Forest industry timberland ownerships in 1986 and corporate timberland ownership in 2011 in South Carolina showing geo-
graphical overlap.
Timber rotation. Forest industry manages on rotations that
produce the products its mills need. Typically, pulpwood is
grown on short rotations and sawtimber rotations are longer.
Timber supply pressures can shorten or lengthen rotations to
accommodate immediate mill demands. Industry does use sus-
tainable forest management to protect its wood supply. TIMOs
and REITs will manage on rotations that maximize financial
return, as they are evaluated on financial performance. Sus-
tainability makes financial sense, so it is the norm for both in-
dustry and corporate ownerships.
Silvicultural intensity. Forest industry uses intensive forest
management to maximize financial return and to produce the
most raw material per ha annually. While intensive forestry is
the norm on industry land, capital constraints sometimes limit
silvicultural options. TIMOs and REITs also manage for maxi-
mum financial returns. REITs must produce cash flows to pay
periodic dividends. Consequently, REITs must consider cost
effectiveness over intensive forest management options and
often forego the short-term cost.
Conversion of forestland. Forest industry often looks at its
timberland as a crucial timber supply source. However, if the
company’s accountant, not the forester, is the decision maker,
raw material supply often becomes less important. Some firms
actively develop the land base for highest and best use and
properties are often converted to non-forest uses. Both TIMOs
and REITS are profit-motivated and will not hesitate to convert
property to its highest and best use.
Stability/long-term ownership. Forest industry has histori-
cally taken a long-term view of timberland. Mergers and acqui-
sitions have influenced that view, especially when the debt
structure changes. As discussed above, industry has focused
more toward divesting their timberlands and often rapidly after
acquisition or merger. TIMOs are required to work in 10 - 15
year time frames. When land turns over within a TIMO, it is
often purchased by another TIMO. So there is some stability
within the investment class. REITs are stable land holders with
a long-term perspective. They are under less pressure to sell
land for short-term needs.
Protecting sensitive lands. Forest industry was raw mate-
rial-oriented. That gave them little incentive to divest their land
base. However, they have placed an emphasis on donating en-
vironmentally-critical lands or selling them at bargain prices for
the tax write-off. They also have used conservation easements
to protect sensitive lands. TIMOs and REITs are obligated to
investors or shareholders to maximize financial returns. So they
have little flexibility to donate or sell land for less than fair
value. However, environmentally-sensitive land is often hard to
manage and pose operational problems. So there is an incentive
for them to divest these tracts, but usually if full value can be
Research. Forest industry desires to maximize raw material
production and has an incentive to invest in forestry research. It
has been an active partner in forestry research cooperatives and
its own research programs. TIMOs have a shorter planning
horizon and have less of an inventive than traditional forest
industry to invest in research. Like forest industry, REITs have
a longer planning horizon and can be expected to invest in re-
Landscape planning management plans. Forest industry has
a long history of disciplined management supported by ample
capital and professional staff and can be expected to integrate
productive landscape-level schemes into their efforts. TIMOs
have a shorter planning horizon and do not tend to purchase
lands with environmental issues. So landscape-level planning is
not as likely on their lands. REITs have the ability to choose
lands that do not pose environmental concerns, but they do
long-term planning. Thus, some landscape-level planning is
Clutter et al. (2005) noted that a potential problem resulting
from timberland ownership changes encourages forest frag-
mentation and parcelization as TIMOs and REITs take advan-
tage of income-producing sales of developable real estate. As
land transactions take place, often the highest and best use tim-
berlands are separated out for real estate development. Forest
parcelization can result in smaller tract sizes and increased
forest management costs due to the loss of economies of scale
and reduced long-term timber supply.
Fire suppression is a good example of unintended conse-
quence from timberland ownership changes (Clutter et al.,
2005). Forest industry was very proactive in wildfire suppres-
sion activities, generally investing in wildfire suppression
equipment and trained wildfire suppression crews. TIMOs rely
on forestry consultants for most on-ground forest management
activities and do not invest in equipment or forestry labor crews.
State wildfire control organizations had significant cooperation
in wildfire suppression activities provided by forest industry;
that is not the case today.
TIMO/REIT Ownership in South Carolina
Who are the TIMOs and REITs that own timberland in South
Carolina? Of the ten forest industry companies surveyed in
1991, Sonoco Products Company and MeadWestvaco are cur-
rently the only forest product firms holding significant timber-
land in South Carolina (Table 1). Currently, Sonoco controls
23,000 of the 24,000 ha held in 1991. Sonoco’s dispositions
resulted from economy of scale issues and involved numerous
private entities (personal communication, Ronnie Byrd, 25 June
Table 2 shows the approximate current holdings of the major
TIMOs and REITs. It shows a diverse group of corporate own-
ers with large timberland holdings, very similar in distribution
to forest industry back in 1991. Since 1991, MeadWestvaco has
disposed of approximately 60,000 - 80,000 ha of its 202,000 ha
to numerous individuals and organizations, including the sale of
14,200 ha to Forest Investment Associates (FIA) in 2009 (per-
sonal communication, J. E. Sokol, 26 June 2012). FIA also now
controls approximately 40,500 ha of timberland formerly
owned by International Paper.
The data in Table 2 are our best estimates. Some TIMOs are
hard to track in terms of areas managed. For example, the for-
mer Wachovia Timberland Investment Management became
RMK Timberland Group and is now Regions Timberlands
Group. Some TIMOs are very “tight-lipped” concerning tim-
berland ownership area. Regions is one of those. We know that
in 1999 (Lutz, 1999) and 2001 Regions acquired about 113,300
ha of timberland from Bowater. However, as is the reporting
custom, the combined area was reported as being in South Car-
olina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Based on mill
location, much of this acquisition must have been in South
Carolina. Another complication is that often one purchaser is
purchasing for different investment groups along with itself.
We also know that Regions Timberland likely had no other
timberland transactions in South Carolina from 2000 to
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Table 2.
Estimated timberland area owned in South Carolina by major invest-
ment group, 2012.
Investment Group Area (ha)
Resource Management Service 102,625
Forest Investment Associates 54,750
Plum Creek 42,200
Hancock Timber Resou r ce Group 38,450
Regions Timberland Group 27,000
Timberland Investment Resources 14,750
American Timberlands 8 1 00
Timbervest 4590
The Campbell Group 4330
Crescent Resources 3040
mid-2010 (Harris, Baldwin, & Siry, 2010). Thus, Table 2 data
are based on reasonable assumptions and the best published or
personal data available.
International Paper Company divested itself of most of its
timberland in 2006 in a sale to an investment group led by Re-
source Management Service, with a separate sale to Timberstar.
Typical of large-scale timberland transactions, International
Paper secured a 20-year fiber supply agreement as part of the
transaction (International Paper Company, 2006). Figure 6 uses
International Paper Company to illustrate the merger and ac-
quisition activities of the 1990s and Figure 7 to illustrate the
subsequent disposition of timberland.
Fiber and wood supply agreements developed between cor-
porate ownerships and large wood product manufacturers as
important components of large-scale timberland transactions.
Both the buyer and seller benefit from these arrangements. The
seller secures a guaranteed long-term fiber supply for their mill.
The buyer secures a guaranteed market for the timber from the
purchased timberland. Some large forest consulting firms have
developed wood flow groups to plan and manage these fiber
agreements to ensure proper harvest scheduling (American Forest
Management, 2012). Another transaction with MeadWestvaco
involved a 60-year wood supply agreement (Gerhardt, 2003).
One review of 17 timberland transactions found that 41%
contained long-term fiber or wood supply agreements. Another
common feature for these transactions is the inclusion of con-
servation easements. Nearly 30% of the timberland sales in-
cluded conservation easements designed to protect conservation
and recreation values. These easements can add substantial
value to the sales (Mendell, 2007).
MeadWestvaco took a slightly different approach to divest-
ing itself of timberland. Self-sufficiency, or retaining all com-
pany timberland, was considered one extreme that would be an
internal focus on mill integration and costs. The other extreme
was a 100% timberland divestiture that would be an external
focus on profit and cash flow. MeadWestvaco chose the “mid-
dle ground” and reduced timberland in the Unites States from
1.25 million ha to 850,000 ha (Gerhardt, 2003).
In 2008 MeadWestvaco established a Community Develop-
ment and Land Management Group to “create and manage a
1996 International Paper Company (114,500 ha)
1996 Federal Paper Board (30,400 ha)
1999 Union Camp (36,400 ha)
2000 Chamption Internatonal (96,300 ha)
2006 International Paper Company (277,600 ha)
Figure 6.
International Paper Company merger and acquisi-
tion timber la nd grow th, 1996-2006.
Internatio n al Paper Company (277, 6 00 ha)
American Timberlands (10,200 ha)
Forest Investment Associates (40,500 ha)
Resource Management Services (10 2,600 ha)
Plum Creek (1940 ha)
The Campbell Group (1900 ha)
Timberland Investment Resources (8100 ha)
Other TIMOs
Conservation and Natural Area Sales
Highest and Be st Use Sales
Figure 7.
International Paper Company Timberland dispo-
sition beginning in 2006 (ha to not sum due to
various other transactions).
land portfolio capable of generating sustainable earnings and
cash flow and maximizing shareholder value” (McDermott,
2011). Thus, the goal was timberland divestiture, but to maxi-
mize return from the land over time. In 2009 they sold about
10,100 ha in South Carolina to two investment groups (Parker,
One large MeadWestvaco development, East Edisto, is about
30,000 ha in size and will be developed over decades with a
mix of businesses, schools, and conservation areas (McDermott,
2011). This is a “smart growth” development. Smart growth
developments have been a part of the US planning lexicon for
over a decade, and an ever-increasing range of organizations
have come forward to endorse principles (Ye et al., 2005). Al-
though broadly defined, they encompass six broad areas: com-
prehensive growth planning mixed land use zoning, design and
planning for increased residential density, design for street
connectivity, innovation in water infrastructure provision, and
enhancement of public service facilities, including recreational
areas (Daniels & Lapping, 2005). Moreover, the planning of
such communities is deemed to be “smart” based on its utiliza-
tion of existing infrastructure and potential contributions to
reduce energy consumption; its inclusiveness and inherently
regional logic and character; and integrating housing, economic
development, and transportation elements.
Other significant transactions involving REITs and TIMOs
include Bowater’s sale of 38,500 ha in the Piedmont and
Northern Coastal Plain to Hancock Timber Resources (personal
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 283
communication, B. J. Keefer, 8 June 2012); Plum Creek’s ac-
quisition of 39,300 ha dispersed across the state from Geor-
gia-Pacific (personal communication, C. Hall, 7 June 2012);
and The Campbell Group’s acquisition of approximately 4050
ha of timberland from Georgia-Pacific and International Paper
(personal communication, J. Shore, 7 June 2012).
Numerous small private equity firms have also been involved
in the acquisition of industrial timberlands over the last decade.
Crescent Resources, a real estate development group based out
of Charlotte, NC, acquired 3000 ha in the Piedmont and North-
ern Coastal Plain from Bowater (personal communication, J.
Short, 5 June 2012) and American Timberlands Company ac-
quisition 8100 ha in Horry County from International Paper
(American Timberlands Company, 2012).
Inspection of Tables 1 and 2 reveals that timberlands cur-
rently held by investment groups account for only a portion of
the timberlands once owned by forest industry. This is in part
due to the frequency of transactions that have occurred over the
last few decades between industry, individuals, and other in-
vestment groups. For example, approximately 28,000 of the
69,000 ha held by Plum Creek were once controlled by the
California Public Employees’ Retirement System, who in turn,
initially acquired the majority of the timberland from Interna-
tional Paper Company (Cecil Hall, personal correspondence, 11
June 2012).
Over the last few decades, changes in tax laws and the need
to improve corporate structure forced many forest industry
companies to divest of their timberlands. Investment groups
viewed this as an opportunity to invest in an asset class that
would provide strong long-term financial returns, was less vo-
latile than other investment vehicles, provided a good hedge
against inflation, and provided tax advantages. As a result this
shift in ownership in South Carolina is demonstrated in the
USDA Forest Service, Forest Inventory and Analysis data es-
timates. Estimates from 1993 and 2011 show that corporate
ownerships now control over 1.4 million ha, while forest indus-
try holds less than 200,000 ha (Figure 1). Although these new
owners share many of the same management objectives as for-
est industry companies, the need to satisfy their investor’s
portfolio requirements may result in increased forest fragmen-
tation and parcelization, and fire suppression issues across the
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