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As a long-standing member of the community and large landowner, Plum Creek Timber Co. has come to value the important relationships we have established with our communities and governmental agencies throughout the state. We understand the importance of engaging cooperatively to address the challenges we collectively face, and recognize the reciprocal nature of these relationships.

For years, Plum Creek has worked cooperatively with representatives of federal, state and local government to address shared road issues. Several months ago, we approached the U.S. Forest Service to seek clarification of the language in our cost-share road agreements to confirm what we have long understood to be our right to full use access over existing cost share roads. We sought clarification as a result of some inconsistent interpretation of the easements at the local USFS level.

As part of those discussions, the Forest Service asked us to help them identify ways to ease government burdens with respect to maintaining USFS roads and preventing and controlling fires on private lands near these roads.

In the spirit of cooperation, as part of the amendment to the existing agreement, Plum Creek committed to promote public safety by imposing firewise covenants on lands we sell that are accessed over these federal cost-share roads. The company also agreed to facilitate the creation of road user associations to capture future road-maintenance costs on lands we sell that are accessed from federal cost share roads.

While these commitments require compromise on our part, and likely higher costs, we are willing to agree to them. We view this as an opportunity to be responsive both to the USFS and to others in the state who had expressed similar concerns.

As news surfaced about our discussions with the USFS, some county commissioners voiced concerns about not being included in these discussions, suggesting these meetings took place "behind closed doors." This was disconcerting to us, in part because we have a decades-long operating relationship with the Forest Service that has involved ongoing discussions on a multitude of matters between two large landowners and neighbors.

While Plum Creek believes it was legal and ethical to negotiate the amendment to our federal cost-share agreements without broader public participation beyond the two signatories to the original agreements, we would like to acknowledge that it was discourteous of us to negotiate the amendment without informing and informally consulting with representatives from the counties that could be affected by the amendment n and for that we apologize.

We now recognize that while some counties may find the amendment attractive due to our commitments to future road maintenance and firewise covenants, others may not wish the Forest Service and Plum Creek to execute the amendment in their county, so we have decided to revise our approach. Plum Creek will not implement the amendment in any affected county before engaging with representatives of that county to address any concerns they may have about the amendment.

This approach is consistent with the cooperative and thoughtful relationship that Plum Creek wishes to have with its neighbors. We believe our conservation history demonstrates such thoughtfulness, as does the recently announced project we are pursuing with the Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Lands to conserve approximately 300,000 acres of our land for recreation, wildlife habitat protection and working forests. As announced last month, this land will sell for approximately $500 million, a price that will not change as a result of the proposed amendment.

How much land Plum Creek ultimately sells, develops or conserves in Montana is hard to predict and will depend on, among other things, market conditions and in some cases, local approvals. Over the past five years, the company has sold approximately 210,000 acres of its land in the state, 85 percent of which has been conserved or remained as working forests. Only 3,000 acres of our Montana property have been subdivided by the company for development. We expect that our land sales over the next five years, aside from the large conservation transaction referenced above, will be far less than the amount we have sold over the past five years.

In the future, Plum Creek will continue to focus on issues related to access. We recognize that access is a subject of importance not only to Plum Creek, other landowners and the Forest Service, but also to the citizens of and visitors to Montana. So, going forward, we plan to continue to accommodate the public interest in accessing our private land for year-round recreation and enjoyment.

Going forward, we will also continue to work in the spirit of cooperation on all matters with agencies, commissioners and communities in the state. While we do not expect to achieve full support from all constituents for each of our proposed activities in Montana, we do expect them to respect our private property rights, rights that all Montanans have worked hard to protect.

Rick Holley is president and chief executive officer of Plum Creek Timber Co. Inc., which is headquartered in Seattle, Wash.

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