The Great Montana Land Swindle of 2008

On June 30 Senator Max Baucus announced the purchase of 320,000 acres of Plum Creek Timber Company-owned land by two conservation groups, The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land. It is the biggest Montana land swindle in many years, perhaps since the days of the 19th Century railroad barons.

The so-called Montana Legacy Project will use $500 million in taxpayer monies to enrich Plum Creek, TNC, and TTPL and will provide no significant change in actual land management or environmental stewardship. In fact, stewardship will diminish.

The funds will come from the U.S. Treasury through a slick earmark Baucus inserted into the recent Farm Bill, passed by Congress over President George W. Bush’s veto. In addition to the $500 million to be given to the above named corporations, the Farm Bill also gave a $182 million tax break to the Weyerhaeuser Corporation.

The Montana land swindle was reported by the Flathead Beacon [here]:

Standing just below the summit of Kalispell’s Lone Pine State Park, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Monday announced the purchase of 320,000 acres of Plum Creek Timber Company-owned land by two conservation groups, calling the deal, “the largest land purchase, for conservation purposes, in American history.”

Dubbed, “The Montana Legacy Project,” The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land are buying the acreage for $510 million, and will finance payments on the land over the next three years through private and public sources, with the federal government paying for about half the cost through a forestry conservation bond mechanism Baucus inserted into the recently passed Farm Bill.

Plum Creek is selling 223,400 acres in Missoula County, and 35,500 acres in the Swan Valley, along with 13,800 acres in Lincoln County. No land close to Kalispell or Whitefish was on the selling block.

Spokesmen for the conservation groups said the deal will preserve the land for wildlife habitat, public recreation and sustainable forestry.

Unfortunately, the land deal will do no such thing. What it will guarantee is catastrophic fire, the destruction of wildlife habitat, the elimination of public recreation, and conversion of forest to brush.

From the Wikipedia [here]:

Plum Creek Timber (NYSE: PCL) is the largest private landowner in the United States. Most of its lands were originally purchased as timberland.[1]

Headquartered in Seattle, Plum Creek was spun off from Burlington Resources as a master limited partnership on June 8, 1989. It converted to a real estate investment trust on July 1, 1999.

Burlington Resources was created from the Burlington Northern railroad’s natural resources holdings in 1988; Plum Creek Timber is therefore heir to the timberland originally granted by the federal government to the Northern Pacific Railway in the 1860s.

Just as Plum Creek’s holdings came from U.S. Government giveaways, so to do those of The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land. Our quasi-socialist system of giving land entitlements to billion-dollar corporations does not lead to stewardship because it removes all private incentive for asset care and improvement. Furthermore, such actions rob the public of funds and of any substantial use what were once public lands.

Goodbye to the old land baron, hello to the new ones, in this case multinational corporations with anti-American as well as anti-human agendas. And hello as well to the (ongoing) economic collapse of rural Montana.

Had Plum Creek sold its land to private individuals, those individuals would have become responsible private stewards and boosted the state’s economy. Indeed, in those cases where Plum Creek has sold land in the free market, the new buyers have invested over a $billion in Montana, building homes, planting trees, and making other economic investments in the land and communities.

That type of free market environmentalism is frowned upon by the big money wheeler dealers as well as the liberal environmental establishment. The latter welcomes rural hellfire holocausts with open arms from their urban penthouse suites. They called burned over wastelands “open space” and “wilderness.” The dearth of living organisms on the scorched earth is never mentioned. Instead we are led to believe that burned over forests are a cornucopia of Nature. Nothing could be further from the truth.

From clearcuts to holocaust wastelands; nothing is gained.

Substantial gains lined the pockets of huge corporations, though, and those of Max Baucus, too, no doubt. Corporate welfare is alive and well in America, and the US Congress is packed with willing robbers of the taxpayers.

For more in-depth analysis of this travesty, we recommend “Weyerhaeuser Redux” by The Timberland Blog [here]:

… Weyerhaeuser was successful at getting a modified version of the Tree Act passed as a part of the mammoth Farm Bill this year. … Among other things in the modified TREE Act are:

Provides a 15% tax rate for corporations on gains from timber that has been held for at least 15 years. (This 15% rate is comparable to that paid by many of Weyerhaeuser’s competitors; C-Corporations like Weyerhaeuser current pay a 35% rate on timber gains.)

We also recommend the comments below a reprint of the Flathead Beacon article at New West [here]:

Oink oink, this little piggy went to buy some more votes, and what is half a billion dollars squeezed out of the American Taxpayers when it comes to insuring reelection? …

A gullible moron, elected by gullible morons. The scary part is that Montanans are supposed to be smarter than the average turnip because it’s such a tough go to make it here. So what’s the rest of the country like? Stupid enough to vote for the rest of the morons who went for this. …

Tester campaigned against all earmarks, he said so in Bozeman. Suddenly, all his supporters are crowing over a whopper of an earmark that doesn’t feed a person, cure a person, house a person, teach a person. …

That thieving no good sob Baucus took over a half billion dollars out of the budget, and that money was not enough. The dickhead gave Weyerhaeuser a tax reduction of $182,000,000 in his Farm Bill insertion. And the Farm Bill is not the only thing that is getting an insertion. I don’t know how many other Timber Barons got tax relief as collateral beneficiaries. So don’t you ever, ever say that sob is against the Timber Barons. He is their lackey, their boot licker. So when this all falls out, the Timber Barons got a billion dollars, and Montana sold their soul to get it. …

The Trust for Public Lands, The Nature Conservancy, are both Weyerhaeuser fops. They are selling a used car in this anti logging deal. They just rewarded ridge top to ridge top clear cutting… to the tune of close to a billion dollars… no money for county government, but lots for the Timber Barons… the little people are getting nothing…

There is NOT supposed to be an open, honest debate about the “legacy program” or the bribe to Weyco, or the rural share money collapse, and ESPECIALLY not about the failure of the esteemed, brilliant United States Congress to suss the implications of their cupidity. That’s why the loot was stashed in the conference committee and rushed to the floor, that’s why the press releases don’t mention anything important except cheesy platitudes. Why, there are political LEGACIES at stake here. So shut up and bend over. …

The only hope I can see is for folks to wake up to the fact that the Dems and their green friends are doing everything in their power to destroy the economy of our country. Exactly where the greens think the donations are going to come from to keep them able to play, I can’t imagine. Interestingly enough, farmers and ranchers are being dissed because of all the money in the farm bill. They will be the ones to take the heat for the half billion ear mark by Baucus that is going to end up going to TNC, who will probably end up selling the whole thing to the taxpayers who are paying to begin with. The politicians who work with them will get nice donations for reelection. …

6 Jul 2008, 5:58pm
by bear bait

You have named it: The Great Montana Land Swindle of 2008.

And all the usual suspects. This deal reads like a S.A.D. Puter book exactly one hundred years later. “Looters of the Public
Domain… revisited”.

Crooked Senators, Big Timber Robber Barons, complicit land use agencies, poorly written US Code and Law, dead of night conference committee deals, railroad lands, successors to the railroads, all the same people just a century down the road. I have to love it. tee hee…

7 Jul 2008, 11:07am
by Forrest Grump

SOS is Number Eleven in web hits on this, good news I guess because that means someone is paying attention.

I am.

Inventory is 114 million feet, forestry people. On 320,000 acres? And what’s stumpage, yay bout 150-175 a thou? Average value, $1,600 per acre. Average value of wood left after the slicking? About $62.50. Oh, but this is about 2×4s and good jobs for Montanans, too, says the TPL guy.

Seven percent net growth on practically a zero base is, you got it, practically zero. And it will be a long time before it improves. This land needs to be rested, even a timber beast like me can respect that.

This smells to me like another Congressional bribe, like that made to Weyco with the $182 mil. Bribe PCL with an outrageously inflated price on trash ground and maybe they’ll hold off being so aggressive with their HBU sales? So then where is the language promising so, and why is the public not able to see it?

Great Montana Land Swindle, indeed.

7 Jul 2008, 11:53am
by Mike

The federal government took the free deeded lands back from the shyster Oregon and California Railroad in Oregon in 1913 after massive fraud convictions. Those O&C lands pay zero property taxes, but the feds promised to pay a percentage of timber receipts in lieu of prop taxes, and so they did up until the 1980’s.

When the cutting dried up, so did the in-lieu tax payments. Then the feds concocted payments to distressed O&C counties in lieu of timber receipts that were in lieu of property taxes. But then those payments dried up, too.

So now O&C counties are bankrupt, can’t afford libraries, schools, sheriffs, etc. The residents have seen their local economies crash and burn, and the forests have burned as well in megafires.

But rather than pay the property taxes they contracted to pay in Oregon, the feds are dipping into the Treasury to buy up more railroad lands in Montana, and thereby inflict all the same hardships there that they have inflicted on Oregon.

And while similar massive fraud and dirty dealing occurs, the residents of Montana sit dumbfounded without a clue as to the knife in their backs and the twisting going on. Their livelihoods, landscapes, and pocket books are being incinerated while fat cats get fatter in 19th Century style land swindles.

The citizens of MT should revolt against their revolting representatives. Baucus and Tester should be put on trial for fraud and bribery. The Montana Legacy Project should be overturned and consigned to the dustbin of history.

Unless and until the people rise up, they will be screwed royally again and again. Oregonians know. Montanans should learn from our history.

28 Feb 2010, 6:02am
by jim

That type of free market environmentalism is frowned upon by the big money wheeler dealers as well as the liberal environmental establishment. I really liked the article and really understood it until I got to this stuff:

The latter welcomes rural hellfire holocausts with open arms from their urban penthouse suites. They called burned over wastelands “open space” and “wilderness.” The dearth of living organisms on the scorched earth is never mentioned. Instead we are led to believe that burned over forests are a cornucopia of Nature. Nothing could be further from the truth.

From clearcuts to holocaust wastelands; nothing is gained.

You lost me and I really wanted to understand this.

28 Feb 2010, 10:06am
by Mike


Plum Creek has been selling small parcels of land for years to individuals. Those individuals build homes on the parcels. Many of those individuals come from out-of-state. They bring in huge piles of money to do their “developments.”

Those so-called “developments” are not shopping malls or copper mines; they are single family homes. The new residents care deeply about the land, as evidenced by the piles of money they spend to live upon it.

Many critics decry such parcelization and residency. They would rather see the land owned by mega consortium, corporations, or governments. They abjure human residency and say it is bad for nature.

But the corporate/government de-humanized landscape is really the one where tragedy strikes nature, in the form of industrial tree harvest and/or catastrophic fire.

Homeowners who have invested their life savings in property tend to care for that property, They do not wish to see it destroyed by clearcut or fire.

Resident individual owners make the best stewards of the land. They are connected. The land itself is the best teacher, and people learn from experience.

In the Great Swindle discussed above, we are trading one mega-owner for another mega-owner. There is no investment, just the transfer of tax dollars into the pockets of power brokers. There is no increased connection with the land. There is no consideration made for reducing the hazards.

I favor putting people back on the land. People have been on the land for thousands of years. It is the traditional way. Only recently have we imposed a system of exclusionary zones, where neo-feudalists control vast tracts and exclude everyone else, what I call de-humanizing the landscape.

That leads to disaster, whereas residency leads to stewardship.

Does that make my statement above a little more understandable?



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