The New Land Barons
The country’s largest private property owners stake a claim in Maine.
With trees covering 90 percent of the state, Maine is the most heavily forested state in the nation. Most of those 17.7 million acres of woods are privately owned, and increasingly their owners are counted among the biggest land barons in the country.
This year, six Maine landowners made the list of America’s largest one hundred private proprietors published by The Land Report magazine. Collectively “the Maine six” own 17 percent of the entire state.
The man at the top of the national list: Media mogul and Colorado billionaire John Malone, whose purchase of nearly one million acres of timberland in eastern and western Maine two years ago almost doubled his total U.S. landholdings.
Maine’s largest private landowner, however, is the Irving family at number five with 1.2 million acres, mostly in Aroostook County.
Maine is home to the largest land conservation easement in the country, thanks to number eight on The Land Report list — the heirs of nineteenth-century shipping magnate David Pingree (no relation to U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree of North Haven). Of the Pingree descendents’ 830,000 acres of working forest in northeastern Maine, 762,000 acres are protected from development by a conservation easement forged with the New England Forestry Foundation in 2001.
At number forty-four are the heirs of John Cassidy, who immigrated to Bangor from Nova Scotia in 1859 and over time amassed 212,985 acres in northern Maine.
New to The Land Report list this year is the Milliken family at number eighty-five, with 119,500 acres under the ownership of Baskahegan Company, a timber firm. The Millikens are heirs of Seth Milliken, whose modest Portland textile company, launched in 1865, grew to become Milliken & Company, an international manufacturer of specialty fabrics, interior furnishings, floor coverings, and other products.
Also new is number eighty-six, Roxanne Quimby, arguably Maine’s best-known landowner. Quimby, who made her millions when she sold her natural personal care products company Burt’s Bees to the Clorox Company in 2007, owns 119,000 of North Woods acreage near Baxter State Park. A committed conservationist, she has cut a controversial figure in Maine for her efforts to create a seventy thousand-acre national park.
All in all, The Land Report list offers a fascinating and complex glimpse into Maine’s forest, one that raises questions about economics, conservation, and public access. But chances are good that if you’re asking Robert Frost’s famous question, “Whose woods these are?”, the answer, more often than not, will be “a multi-millionaire’s.”
— Virginia M. Wright
Photographed by ©Istockphoto.com/AVTG