Rayonier takes the reins from Pope Resources in Kitsap County

Rayonier’s acquisition of Pope Resources earlier this month marked the end of the latter’s 167-year history in North Kitsap, but officials said in a conference call late last week that despite the merger, there should not be much of a change in day-to-day operations.

The Florida-based timber company officially bought the historic company on May 8 along with all of its timberlands and real estate development ventures in Port Gamble, Kingston, Bainbridge Island and Gig Harbor. Rayonier already owns or leases 2.6 million acres of timberlands across the world, including other places in the Pacific Northwest.

But residents should not expect to see different faces in charge of the privately-owned land. Jon Rose, the President of Olympic Property Group, which was Pope’s real estate arm, said a majority of Pope employees have continued on with the new company; and David L. Nunes, former president and CEO of Pope Resources has held the same role at Rayonier since 2014.

“It’s the beginning of a great story as two companies that share the same culture, same type of people and the integration has gone very, very smoothly,” said Alejandro Barbero, director of strategic planning and communications at Rayonier.

For much of its history, Pope Resources has owned the most land in Kitsap County as well as nearby Jefferson and Mason Counties. Pope Resources’ predecessor, Pope and Talbot, started the Port Gamble Mill in 1853 and it continued on until 1995 when the mill was shut down.

The state of other Port Gamble operations will remain unchanged. For example, the Port Gamble Wedding and Event Center will continue on, owned and operated by Rayonier and the entire staff has remained as well.

Pope Resources had planned a slow exit from North Kitsap over time as it developed its real estate projects — the big developments in Port Gamble and Kingston (Arborwood), but that plan continues on with Rayonier.

Rose said that after 24 years he would not be interested in “trying to hit the restart button” on a brand new plan if a big developer from, say, Seattle were to express interest in the land.

“It took too long to get here,” Rose said. “We have a really good plan.”

Rayonier also plans to continue work with the residents of North Kitsap regarding the use of herbicides on its property. Pope Resources had backed off using a specific herbicide known as glyphosate on more than 400 acres of the group’s holdings in Hansville after residents formed the Kitsap Environment Coalition.

Pope Resources switched to using manual application of weedkillers rather than spraying aerially.

“There is no one in the industry who is wedded to herbicides because they love them,” Rose said.

Herbicides are used industry-wide, he noted, and are necessary to keep thick Scotch Broom at bay. Spraying is done because otherwise the land will end up with thousands of acres of Scotch Broom, which Rose regarded as irresponsible stewardship of the land.

Barbero said Rayonier has no current plans for herbicide spraying, but is aware of how sensitive the topic is for North Kitsap residents and pledged to communicate appropriately if and when the time comes.

“We make site-specific decisions,” Barbero said. “What works in Oregon may not work in North Kitsap. And what works in North Kitsap may not work in Florida.”

In looking back on the end of Pope Resources’s long run as a landowner in North Kitsap, Rose said he was thankful that the company had granted so much freedom to try new creative ideas in land management, such as the Kitsap Forest and Bay Project, in which Forterra acquired from Pope Resources over 1,500 acres of the Port Gamble Forest to complete a decade-long project that ultimately conserved over 4,000 acres for recreation, restoration, cultural heritage and habitat.

“I’m hoping that people will, first of all, remember them fondly, because I think the company deserves it,” Rose said. “And, number two, I hope people open their minds and give Rayonier the chance to do their own good work and prove themselves as their own good community stewards. I’m very excited about the new company.”