The shrinking supply of trees available for harvest in North America has prompted Weyerhaeuser Co. to look abroad.
The Federal Way-based timber giant is considering making its first overseas investment in a decade, negotiating with the New Zealand government for cutting rights to nearly half a million acres of cultivated forest land.
Weyerhaeuser submitted its application last week. It will learn later this month if it has been selected by New Zealand’s state-owned Forestry Corp. to make an offer.
The 464,500 acres are valued at roughly $1.2 billion.
Weyerhaeuser would process the trees in New Zealand for export to Japan - its largest foreign customer - and other Pacific Rim nations, said company spokesman Jim Bradbury.
Weyerhaeuser owns 5.3 million acres of private timberland in the United States.
Environmental restrictions have limited the number of trees available for harvest in North America, and the shrinking supply has made wood more expensive, said Greg Schellberg, president of the Evergreen Partnership.
Many small forest-products companies in the Northwest have gone out of business because of the supply crunch, and now even large companies are looking elsewhere for new tree supplies, Schellberg said.
Weyerhaeuser formed a consortium last year to finance international forestry investments, Bradbury said.
Some of Weyerhaeuser’s competitors already have a foothold in New Zealand.
ITT Rayonier holds harvesting rights to 253,000 acres in that country.International Paper last year bought a majority share in Carter Holt Harvey, New Zealand’s largest owner of merchantable timber last year.
Winning the bid would make Weyerhaeuser a major player in the New Zealand market, said Bruce Lippke, director of the University of Washington’s Center for International Trade in Forest Products.
“They’re getting in a little late. But this is an opportunity for a company that knows how to export,” Lippke said.
The Forestry Corp. wants a buyer that is willing to invest in New Zealand, rather than simply export its lumber.
New Zealand will require the successful bidder to process the logs locally and reseed the forest after harvesting, said Jim Howell of the New Zealand Consulate in Los Angeles.