Read the report.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Absentee corporations still control much of West Virginia's land, according to an updated examination of landownership released Monday by two public interest groups.
Twenty-five companies own nearly 18 percent of the state's roughly 13 million private acres, according to the report produced by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the American Friends Service Committee.
In six counties, the top 10 landowners hold more than half of the private land. Five of those six -- Wyoming, McDowell, Logan, Mingo and Boone -- are in the state's southern coalfields.
Wyoming County had the highest concentration of landownership, with more than three-quarters of the private acres controlled by its top 10 owners. The top 10 landowners controlled 63 percent of the land in McDowell County, 61 percent in both Logan and Webster counties, 59 percent in Boone County and 54 percent in Mingo County.
None of the state's top 10 private landowners is headquartered in West Virginia.
"Absentee land ownership is a major thread that runs through our state's history," said report co-author 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."
Spence and other researchers reviewed property records from around the state to revisit the landmark 1974 series by then-Huntington Herald-Dispatch reporter Tom Miller, "Who Owns West Virginia?"
Miller confirmed that vast acreage was controlled by a handful of mostly out-of-state energy and land companies. Miller started his series by stating he had found that, "Absentee landlords own or control at least two-thirds of the privately held land in West Virginia." A later report by the Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force generally confirmed those findings.
The new report concluded that West Virginia is at least partly "a state in transition." Land ownership appears at least somewhat less concentrated than it was four decades ago.
Miller found that just two dozen corporations -- all directly or indirectly tied to mineral industries -- owned one-third of the state's private acreage. The new report said that the top 25 private owners controlled 17.6 percent of the state's private land.
Authors of the new report said that they weren't sure how to explain that difference, but said it was likely a combination of actual decline in concentrated ownership and some differences between the methods used in the different investigations.
The new report also explained, "While much of the state's private land is still owned by large, mainly absentee corporations, the list of top ten owners -- once dominated by energy, land-holding and paper companies -- now includes major timber management concerns, which are in essence money-managers for investors."
North Carolina-based Heartwood Forestland Fund, a timberland investment company that owns more than 500,000 acres in 31 counties, is West Virginia's largest landowner.