January 30, 2011

Latest land purchases may make him largest U.S. private landowner

Adding 1 million acres of Maine and New Hampshire timberlands to his holdings

By Beth Quimby
Staff Writer

When media mogul John Malone adds 1 million acres of Maine and New Hampshire timberlands to his holdings next week, he might become the largest private landowner in the United States.

Malone is already number five on The Land Report magazine's list of top 100 private landowners, with 1.2 million acres that include working ranch lands in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, and about 70,000 acres near Jackman in Somerset County. Number one on the magazine's list is Malone's fellow media kingpin and friend, Ted Turner, who owns more than 2 million acres.

"I think part of him is trying to be the biggest," Jym St. Pierre, executive director of RESTORE the North Woods, a forest conservation group, said of Malone.

St. Pierre is among a number of Mainers wondering what Malone's intentions are.

News reports last week that Malone's company was about to buy 1,004,346 acres of the Maine woods raised concerns among environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts about his plans for the land, which has long served as working forest and recreational and hunting grounds.

Questions about Malone's intentions are surfacing partly because he has kept a low profile in Maine, where he has owned a home since at least 1985. He is largely unknown by the state's environmental community and is rarely spotted in the Maine towns where he already owns property.

At one point, Malone was a member of The Nature Conservancy's national board of directors, but he no longer serves on the board and he has no dealings with the organization's Maine chapter, said Mike Tetreault, state director.

Malone did not respond to phone calls and e-mails requesting an interview.

Malone formed a company, BBC LLC, to buy up the holdings of GMO Renewable Resources, a forest investment management company.

The acquisition will give Malone ownership of more than 5 percent of Maine's total land mass of 22 million acres. All but about 30,000 acres of his purchase is in Maine, with the remainder in New Hampshire.

In the past, Malone has said he is interested in conservation, and he has a history of saving land from development in Colorado. But so far, Mainers have had to rely on Malone's representatives for information about his long-term plans for his Maine land.

The people who speak for Malone insist Mainers have nothing to worry about.

"John holds a lot of land and he likes to see it remain as it has historically been used," said Thad York, general manager of Malone's Silver Spur Ranches in Wyoming, the ninth largest cattle operation in the country.

Malone is famous in the world of business, where he is known for aggressive and clever deal-making. He is chairman of Liberty Media Corp., an Englewood, Colo., company with diverse operations that include travel website, the cable channel QVC, the Atlanta Braves Major League Baseball team and Sirius XM satellite radio. He regularly makes Forbes magazine's list of wealthiest Americans, which calculated his net worth at $3 billion last year.

As a businessman, Malone has been the subject of numerous articles and at least one book. He is on the board of the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Malone's history in Maine has been to buy up large tracts of land and continue the existing management practices.

He owns 220 acres of land in Boothbay on the site of a former summer camp. The property includes a meticulously restored, 100-year-old house that overlooks the Back River, far from the town's more fashionable oceanfront neighborhoods.

An avid sailor, Malone owns the Boothbay Region Boatyard in Southport, a year-round business where he keeps his own sailing yachts. Employees there declined to comment.

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