Thomas Jefferson and Timberland Ownership in the United States

15 03 2013

Through executing the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson proved himself, among other things, the preeminent timberland acquisition professional.  In this bold embrace, he more than doubled the size of the United States by acquiring 820,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi from France for $15 million dollars.  That equals 524.8 million acres at 2.9 cents per acre (or just over 50 cents per acre in today’s dollars).

[Picture an excerpt from Jefferson’s resume:  Experienced negotiator and real estate professional.  Acquired over half a billion acres of fertile soil and natural resources. Includes land in 14 states such as Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Texas, the Dakotas (both) and Wyoming.  Creator of the swivel chair.]

The Louisiana Purchase was opportunistic.  U.S. negotiators wanted to buy New Orleans, but Napoleon needed financing to wage war on England.  So he rejected the New Orleans proposal and countered with a deal to sell all of France’s North American land holdings.  The U.S. team, led by Secretary of State James Madison, took the offer and closed the transaction.  Bada bing, bada boom.

Forisk’s ongoing research of timberland investment vehicles highlights how private timberland owners and ownership have changed over time since the days of powdered wigs.  Today, timberland investment professionals scour the landscape and courthouse documents for the next purchase in Louisiana or in Arkansas or in Texas.  As of 2013, Forisk counts 217 owners that each own and manage 25,000 acres or more for a total of ~91 million acres of private timberlands.  Of these acres, 18% are owned by the four public timber REITs (Plum Creek, Potlatch, Rayonier and Weyerhaeuser).

For detailed data on US timberland ownership and more information on Forisk’s 2013 US Timberland Owner List, click here.

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