EDITORIAL: Waiting and watching on Weyerhaeuser

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Last week’s announcement that timber giant Weyerhaeuser Co. is buying Plum Creek Timber Co. for $8.44 billion was one of those breaking news stories that no doubt elicited a collective “wow” from most of us here in the Flathead Valley.

Industry analysts were quick to point out it’s an epic consolidation that positions Weyerhaeuser as a “Goliath” in the private timber industry.

We don’t know how the merger will affect Plum Creek’s manufacturing facilities here, and it’s only natural to have some fear of the unknown. Locally, Plum Creek employs about 750 workers in the Flathead Valley, of which 623 work in manufacturing. That’s a big piece of the Flathead economy, so let’s hope it will be “business as usual” even after the merger is completed. Plum Creek’s payroll this year will top $60 million.

Both Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek are organized as real estate investment companies, and a University of Montana economist speculated that Weyerhaeuser will follow Plum Creek’s lead of selling land for higher and better use.

Many are worried about land access in Montana. Plum Creek generously has allowed free use of its lands, with some limitations. With 770,000 acres of land in Montana, much of that land in Northwest Montana, Plum Creek has supplied free hunting and camping for thousands of outdoors enthusiasts through the years.

Weyerhaeuser often leases its lands or charges a permit fee to use its lands for recreation. We hope Weyerhaeuser will be as benevolent as Plum Creek has been toward land access in Montana.

Plum Creek has been a good neighbor in the Flathead. The company consistently has given back to local communities. The Daily Inter Lake’s archives are filled with stories and photos detailing Plum Creek’s generosity. The Plum Creek Foundation has given out hundreds of thousands of dollars for grants to help museums, nonprofit charitable organizations such as food banks, and schools.

An Inter Lake story from 2011 noted that in 2010 Plum Creek provided $664,438 in financial support to community organizations and scholarship recipients in Montana.

Loads of lumber have been dropped off by Plum Creek at Habitat for Humanity building sites and other building projects with a mission of making life a little better.

Weyerhaeuser, in all of its bigness — it employs 12,800 and had revenues of $7.4 billion last year — is certainly capable of continuing Plum Creek’s legacy of being a good employer and a good neighbor. We’ll be waiting and watching to see what happens.

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