200,000 Acres of Oregon Timberland Makes Chinese Billionaire Second Largest Foreign Landowner
The Land Report- a Dallas-based quarterly magazine that lists the top 100 private landowners annually published a report on January 9 revealing that Chinese billionaire Tianqiao Chen, is the owner of swathes of forestland across Oregon- almost 200,000 acres. This has drawn the ire of Oregon Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer.
Chen’s fortune originates from an online gaming company that he founded in 1999- Shanda Interactive Entertainment, and the magazine’s research team found that Chen became the second largest foreign owner of U.S. land after the purchase- through his investment company, of almost 200,000 acres of forestland in Deschutes and Klamath counties about a decade ago.
The Canadian Irving family leads the list as the largest foreign landowner, owning more than 1.2 million acres of forestland in Maine. Sierra Pacific Industries’ acquisition of 175,000 acres of timberland and mills in 2021- a buyout of a family-owned timber company in Douglas County, resulted in the Redding, California-based Emmerson family becoming the largest private landowner in the U.S., with 2.4 million acres of forests logged for timber in Oregon, Washinton, and California by Sierra Pacific.
Chen’s land includes around 33,000 acres of land west of Bend, near the Deschutes National Forest. U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer expressed concern over Chen’s membership of the Chinese Communist Party. Chavez-DeRemer said, “Foreign ownership of United States’ land by our adversaries is a serious problem.” She stated that it sparked uneasiness among foresters, farmers, and ranchers across the country, and is concerned that a member of the Chinese Communist Party owns thousands of forestland- one of the country’s most precious and finite resources in her district. In 2023 she was among several Congress members who proposed legislation to limit the purchase of U.S. land by foreigners, particularly from China.
Chen released a statement with his investment company on Tuesday, indicating that they did not try to conceal the purchase of Oregon land. Communications director, Jason Reindorp, indicated that they had requested the U.S. Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to review the purchase prior to it being made. There were no national security concerns.
Eric O’Keefe, editor-in-chief of The Land Report, revealed that they became aware of Chen’s holdings this year after learning of his 2018 purchase of 500,000 acres in Ontario province, Canada. This prompted the investigation into Chen’s North American Land holdings. The 200,000 acres of Oregon land were purchased in 2015 by an investment firm- Whitefish Cascade Forest Resources, registered by Chrissy Lua- Chen’s wife, as an Oregon business in 2014.
They paid $85 million to purchase the land from Fidelity National Financial Ventures, another investment firm. In 2017 Whitefish was renamed Shanda Asset Management, and Chen is its CEO. As is generally the practice with large portfolios of institutional-grade landholdings in the agricultural sector, Chen has taken a low-key approach to his acquisitions according to O’Keefe.
More than 43 million acres of U.S. agricultural land is owned by foreigners- amounting to around 3,4%, and around 50% of the foreign-owned agricultural land is classified as forest land according to an analysis of USDA data by the American Farm Bureau Federation. The biggest foreign investors in U.S. agricultural land are the Canadians, holding around one-third of the 43 million acres., primarily in Maine.
Chen is 82nd on The Land Report’s top 100 list- which includes all landowners, both US and foreign. However this could change, as around 33,000 of Chen’s timberland west of Bend is on the market with an asking price of $95 million, but it was listed several years ago.