Advice for the Novice Timber Harvester

Advice for the Novice Timber Harvester

Advice for the Novice Timber Harvester by: Scott Reaver

It is one of the most common catch phrases in real estate. Trees add a tremendous amount of value to your property. Location, road frontage, highway access, water, and surrounding areas are all important, but they are also very difficult to change. If you do not believe me, attend a few zoning meetings or petition your county to force the cleanup of a neighborhood eyesore. But you can definitely control your trees. Logging is used to make payments on property, pay overdue taxes, provide an extra cash crop for struggling family farms, and even as a retirement nest egg with reliable withdrawals of regular cuttings and continual reinvesting with prudent replantings. However, the decision has far reaching consequences beyond the immediate cash profit. You can end up paying for and living with a bad harvest job for years to come. The ramifications include detrimental impact on wildlife and fish impact, shade reduction, and fire risk. Simply put, if your timber is cut correctly, each of these potential hazards can be nullified or even turned into an asset. You would not go charging through your woods for threat of a sprained ankle or worse, right? Then you should not rush into a timber deal in the same haphazard fashion.

DETERMINE YOUR GOALS
Foresters adhere to three basic harvesting methods. Selective cutting is ideal in areas with unevenly aged or unevenly sized timber. Areas with an “over story’ of older, towering hardwoods and pines keep the sur stunted to sapling proportions. Hilly terrain may have a thriving stand of pulpwood size pines, with established roads from previous harvesting, with big hardwoods down in the steep hollow just a few feet away. With the shelterwood method, trees of the same basic size range are harvested in two or more cuttings. Typically, half of the timber is cut. The remaining half protects the seedling growth against the weather and erosion. The second half is cut after the young growth attains sufficient size. Clear cutting removes all trees in a designated area, providing equal sunlight penetration for regeneration of volunteer or replanted trees. It’s the best-known method, the simplest, and also look the worst. But it is also the most controversial as environmentalists cite topsoil erosion and the impact on wildlife and fish due to food and habitat loss and stream sedimentation, respectively. Monte Seehorn of Gainesville, GA was the U.S. Forest Service’s first southeastern field wildlife biologist. A native of western North Carolina, he began his career in 1958 and cross-trained extensively in fisheries and forestry. Despite its appearance, he is a strong advocate of clear cutting. “You should be able to justify it from the benefit to wildlife alone,” he says, noting that the resulting new growth in a cleared forest means soft mast food sources for the animals of wild fruit and nutritious new greenery. “And even in terms of erosion, clear cutting is much better.” Seehorn points out that taking all the timber at once, requires just one entry into the wooded area as opposed to repeated, invasive truck traffic required with almost all other cutting methods. “But a small landowner can do this select cutting much easier than someone trying to manage a million acres,” says Seehorn. “It also depends on what type of trees you have and what you want cut.” Bluntly put, there is no one-size-fits all answer. Further, mountain woodland has species that will be absent down in the Piedmont “lowlands” just a few miles away. Your state government’s forestry division can develop a land management plan, according to both your economic and financial goals, complete with tree seedlings offered to market or bargain prices. Taking this route is particularly good idea for absentee landowners who perhaps use the land for seasonal hunting, camping or as future building site. With an actual plan on paper, you will likely accomplish much more during your limited time at the property. You will also have some excellent documentation if someone illegally cuts timber, or otherwise defaces the property, and you opt for legal action.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT FORESTER
Odd as it may sound, the business end of timber cutting may be best compared to using a general contractor for residential construction or remodeling. And ask anyone who has ever built a new home or added a room, and they will usually speak very specifically on how they would do it differently next time. “Mistakes in selling timber can cost dearly,” says Stephen Nix, an independent professional forester based in the Southeast and editor of the online Forestry with Steve Nix. “For many timber growers, timber sales are made only two or three times in their entire life...it may take 20 or 30 years grooming a crop only to lose much of its value because of one or two mistakes at the time of sale.” “If you are going to sell your timber, I recommend getting a forester who is registered with the state,” said Scott Jones, the forestry programs coordinator of the Georgia Forester Association, a non profit organization comprised of loggers, landowners, forestry consultants and wood product producers. “He is going to have ethics training every year and will be registered with the secretary of state’s professional licensing board.”

THE CONTRACT
The Georgia Forestry Association recommends that you obtain at least three bids before deciding with whom to do business. “One bid is just ridiculous,” says Jones. “And you need a contract even though you are not required to by law. We have seen people get their timber cut and never received any money for it.” Once a price is agreed upon, Nix offers the following recommendations: describe the exact geographical area of the sale. Use flags or pain and describe the area of the sale exactly within the body of the contract, for smaller sales designate specific the trees to be sold. Set conditions based upon your individual goals and priorities. Do not go into an open-ended deal. Often, your biggest bargaining tool is your check. Full payment should hinge upon completion of harvesting within a specific time frame. Finally, include a solid waiver of liability to protect against bodily injury and damage to equipment. Yes, Nix recommends consulting an attorney though contracts are available to be used verbatim or as a template. Even if you draw up your own documents, consider paying an attorney to review the material before you commit with signatures. The small landowner may want to implement the old strategy for reining in the utility or driveway contractor. Nail scrap wood together and place around the trunks of trees to be spared (careful not to nail into the tree). Paint with brightly colored paint, take photos, or “roll tape” with your camcorder. Have patience. Just as with buying the land that the timber sits upon, timing is often key. At presstime, timber prices were depressed, according to Timber-Mart South which surveys and reports on both pine and hardwood prices by fiscal quarter for all 11 Southeastern states. The general trend over the last year or more indicates hardwood product steadily outpacing pine. The Georgia Forestry Association attributes this decline in part to the 1996 U.S. Canadian Softwood Lumber Agreement. This deal, which included tariffs on the Canadian product, expires on March 31, 2001. Jones expects that the already strong flow of northland pine will accelerate to flood proportions, squeezing the southern pine grower even further. If you are a rural landowner and selling is even a small part of your financial future, contact your legislators. Your assets, whether setting in the bank or “setting on the stump,” deserve protection.

Additional Resources

Alabama Forestry Commission, www.forestry.state.al.us/

Georgia Forestry Association, www.gfc.state.ga.us

North Carolina Division of Forest Resources, www.dfr.state.nc.us

Tennessee Department of Agriculture-Tennessee Division of Forestry, www.state.tn.us/agriculture/forestry

Timber-Mart South, www.forestry.uga.edu/warnell/tmart

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