A study released today found that the top land owner in West Virginia is the Heartwood Forestland Fund, which manages more than 500,000 acres across 31 counties. Heartwood replaces energy-based corporations that were the state’s top landowners for most of the 20th century. The report, “Who Owns West Virginia in the 21st Century?” is coauthored by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the American Friends Service Committee. Read PDF of report. Read Executive Summary.
The study, which reexamines the 1970s work of Huntington Herald-Dispatch reporter Tom Miller, also found that not one of the top ten landowners in West Virginia has its headquarters in the state. The most concentrated ownership is found in the southern coalfields. This raises concerns with the report’s authors.
“Absentee land ownership is a major thread that runs through our state’s history. Over the past century, outside control of land and natural resources has resulted in a steady flow of wealth out of West Virginia,” explained Beth Spence, Coalfield Specialist with the American Friends Service Committee. “Like those who studied this issue before us, we believe that knowing who owns West Virginia’s land and mineral resources can help us make good decisions about the state’s economic future and well-being.”
“With only a few large companies owning a big portion of the southern coalfields it could make it incredibly difficult to develop the area as coal continues its decline,” stated Ted Boettner, Executive Director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. “The implications of this research merit further investigation of taxation, mineral ownership and how to incentivize development in the region.”
Key findings of the report include:
Recommendations & Future Research:
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