May 19, 2022

Timber firm guards privacy of investors

MILLSFIELD, N.H. – Bayroot LLC became one of the largest private timberland owners in New England in December 2003 when it bought 129,000 acres in New Hampshire and more than 500,000 acres in Maine from paper company MeadWestvaco. But who is Bayroot?

Bayroot’s incorporation papers in Delaware, as well as corporate filings in Maine and New Hampshire, all refer back to Wagner Forest Management Ltd. of Lyme, which runs forestry operations for Bayroot and half a dozen other limited liability companies.

Wagner does not disclose the identity of its investors, who own 2.5 million acres of timberland in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Canada.

“We never discuss our clients,” says president and chief executive Tom Colgan.

Jym St. Pierre, a Maine environmental activist, says the public has a right to know who’s benefiting from tax dollars spent on conservation easements.

“Irrespective of what the law says and what they can get away with, there’s enormous reason to be transparent and it creates terrible suspicion and distrust if you don’t,” says St. Pierre, of RESTORE: The North Woods.

That was demonstrated several years ago when Maine was negotiating to pay millions of dollars to another Wagner-affiliated company, Yankee Forest LLC, for a conservation easement on 280,000 acres around the west branch of the Penobscot River. Using tax returns, two newspapers revealed that Yankee Forest was Yale University’s endowment.

That caused a controversy on campus, where critics said Yale wasn’t living up to the standards it teaches at its respected forestry school.

The conservation easement went through, but the land was promptly transferred to another owner.

Many north country residents want to know who Bayroot’s owners are and consider Yale the prime suspect.

Yale did not return messages seeking comment. Its fiscal 2003 tax return, the latest available, does not cover the period when Bayroot was formed.

Wagner Chairman Henry Swan, who also heads the New Hampshire chapter of The Nature Conservancy, says it is Wagner that should be – and is – accountable for its forestry practices. The company adheres to the industry’s Sustainable Forestry Initiative and prides itself on working with government agencies and nonprofits to protect sensitive lands.

The company also welcomes reporters on its land. On Bayroot’s land in Millsfield, the logging trails are 60 to 70 feet apart and cutting between them appears to be selective. Critical habitats for deer and pine marten are flagged so contractors won’t cut there.

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