PORTLAND, Maine — The trust that bought 300,000 acres of Maine’s North Woods has ties to a nonprofit started by the family of Subway co-founder Peter Buck, a longtime philanthropist and South Portland native.
Tall Timber bought two major blocks of forestland from Canopy Timberlands LLC, in a deal that closed Sept. 30, forestry consultant Gary Bahlkow confirmed. Bahlkow said the land would continue to operate as a working forest and characterized the sale as a “routine timberland investment transaction.”
The deal gives the trust, which already owns hundreds of thousands of acres in the region, ownership of roughly 18 percent of Maine’s 3.5 million-acre North Woods, based on property records and an archive of land sales maintained by the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Bahlkow declined to share more information on Tall Timber Trust’s ownership or the extent of its land holdings in Maine, but research into property and corporate records reveal ties to the Subway co-founder and his family foundation.
The trustee of Tall Timbers is D. Ben Benoit, who in turn is the executive director of the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, according to Penobscot County property records in the latest transaction. Property and corporate records show the foundation and the trust share a Connecticut address, at the PCW Management Center, 7 Mason’s Island Road, Mystic, Connecticut.
Benoit is also president of the PCW Management Center, according to the company’s website.
The Buck Foundation, started in 1999, indicates on its website that land conservation is one of seven focus areas that also include public education, quality-of-life issues in Danbury, Connecticut, science education, Scouting, medical services and journalism.
“In particular, PCLB seeks to support organizations that have the expertise and capacity to work collaboratively with partners to preserve, connect, and develop open space for meaningful outdoor experiences; to protect productive farmland; and to advance land conservation through advocacy and training,” the website states. “Specifically in Connecticut, PCLB encourages consolidation among the many small land trusts in the state so that they may benefit from greater efficiencies and better carry out their mission.”
The foundation has purchased and conserved land primarily in New York and Connecticut, according to a 2014 story featured in the magazine Inside Philanthropy. The magazine speculated in 2014 that the foundation would set its sights beyond the Hudson Valley, partly under leadership of Peter Buck’s son, Christopher, who serves on the foundation’s board.
The foundation, according to 2015 nonprofit financial disclosures, had about $404 million in investments and an average monthly cash balance of $22.8 million for the year.
Neither Benoit nor Christopher Buck was available Thursday morning at their respective offices to speak about the sale.
Peter Buck, who is 290th on the Forbes 400 list, with a net worth of $2.4 billion, has strong ties to Maine and some history of philanthropy here.
Buck was born in South Portland and got an undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College in 1952, going on to pursue a career as a nuclear physicist, according to notes from Bowdoin’s 2008 commencement, when Buck received an honorary doctorate from the college. He founded Subway Sandwiches and Salads Shop in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1965 with business partner Fred DeLuca.
His philanthropy has included buying rare objects to donate to the Smithsonian museum and donating to Bowdoin to allow construction of a health center in his name, opened in 2009.
All of the newly purchased forestland is within the Unorganized Territory and the North Maine Woods, a vast swath of commercial forestland that is privately owned and publicly accessible.
The company that was managing the land for Canopy, Orion Timberlands, was recently harvesting on sections of it. The new management company hired by Tall Timber, LandVest, will continue harvests soon, Bahlkow said. He added that many of the forestry employees and logging contractors who were working for Orion will be brought on by LandVest.
The latest sale includes land in Penobscot, Piscataquis and Aroostook counties, according to property records and deeds filed the week of Oct. 24 in each county. The trust’s earliest acquisitions in Penobscot county appear in 2007, as with Piscataquis County.
In southern Aroostook County, the trust logged its first acquisition from Clayton Lake Woodlands in 2008, with multiple acquisitions to follow in 2015. In the northern part of The County, the earliest transaction was in 2015, with multiple filings entered Oct. 27 for the larger deal with Canopy that Bahlkow said closed on Sept. 30.
According to an archive of land sales maintained by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Tall Timber Trust purchased 240,000 acres in the St. John River and Allagash River watershed in 2008. A 2012 presentation by the Plum Creek land company indicated that Tall Timber paid $79.8 million for that amount of land in that year.
Tall Timber acquired another 110,000 acres in the St. John headwaters in 2009, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine archive. Some of that land in the St. John watershed was later acquired by the Nature Conservancy, though Bahlkow did not say how much and the Nature Conservancy has not responded to an inquiry about the purchase.
BDN writer Anthony Brino contributed to this report.