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Deal preserves public use of Mich. forest land

An undated photo released by The Nature Conservancy shows the Two Hearted River Michigan's Upper Peninsula in Luce County in the area affected by the deal to be announced Thursday.The Nature Conservancy via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A deal has been reached to protect more than 270,000 acres of private, forested land in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for public use, two years after conservationists lost the land in a bidding war with a timber investment company, officials said Wednesday.

Several charitable and conservation groups have agreed to pay $57.9 million to the timber company, The Forestland Group LLC, to ensure limited development on the land and timber harvesting under sustainable forestry guidelines.

The Forestland Group, based in Chapel Hill, N.C., will continue to own all but 23,000 acres of the land, which will be purchased by The Nature Conservancy.

The land owned by the timber company will be governed by a conservation easement that allows sustainable timber harvesting, limited development and other restrictions to protect waterways.

The deal was reached last month and was expected to be announced Thursday, said Chris Zinkhan, managing director for The Forestland Group.

The company bought the land from a private trust in Hawaii for an undisclosed amount in 2002 after outbidding a coalition of state and conservationist groups. Tax breaks guaranteed public access to the land, but in recent years, timber companies have sold off some acreage for residential development.

Helen Taylor, state director of The Nature Conservancy, said the deal helps link the private land with more than 2.5 million acres of protected forest and natural areas in the Upper Peninsula.

“It really cements a very large portion of the U.P. for future generations, and we were particularly overjoyed that recreational access was a prime consideration,” added Sam Washington, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs.