Proper Forestry Management for the Private Landowner
Last year, the Missouri Department of Conservation held a Timber Stand Improvement Workshop that sparked a lot of interest in Jefferson County. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to inform forest landowners of the advantages of actively managing forested land, and what resources are available to assist them. Since harvesting timber is such an important decision with long lasting effects (positive or negative), much of this publication is about the importance of seeking professional harvest planning and implementation advice.
Landowners are encouraged to think about what their goals and objectives are for their forested land. Sometimes landowners have a very clear vision of what they want to do--plant trees, harvest trees or reduce losses to insects, disease and fire. Sometimes they have a notion that is not so easily articulated, such as improve overall forest health, improve forest amenities like wildlife, water or make the land more productive.
Ideally, a landowner will develop a management plan with the Missouri Department of Conservation that identifies the landowner's long and short-term objectives and prescribes a "path" of activities to get to those objectives. A forest management plan should involve an inventory of the timber, as well as other resources on the property like soils, oil and gas, recreation opportunities and wildlife practices. Landowners are encouraged to take an active role in preparing this plan and in learning about the practices involved in managing their woodlot.
In the past few years, many landowners have been contacted by local loggers or timber buyers, wanting to purchase timber. There are several reasons for this interest: storms, reduced availability of timber on federal and state lands, high prices for lumber, and the perceived lack of knowledge on the part of the landowner where their forests are concerned.
Education is the key in managing a woodlot. Would you sell your car without first knowing what it is worth? What about your home? Would you sell either one to the first person who came to your door with an offer in hand? How would you know whether the offer was valid or not? For starters, you would look up the value of your car or have your home appraised. There are many reputable companies in the private sector, but how can you tell the good from the bad?
How do you know what trees need to be cut from your woodlot? Many unsuspecting landowners fall for the diameter-limit cut. A diameter-limit cut removes all trees over a certain diameter (usually 12-18 inches) within the stand it is often explained as cutting the "older" trees so the "younger" trees have room to grow. Some trees just grow faster than others and genetics also determines how fast a tree will grow. By removing the largest trees you are leaving the genetically inferior "runts" to grow. Many of these "runts" are lower valued species and lower quality stems with multiple defects. These lower quality trees are not the ones you want left in your stand, they are the ones you want to remove. This gives more growing space to the higher quality trees remaining.
Finally, the best test of value is to expose your commodity to as many potential buyers as possible. This is done with timber by advertising the estimated volume and location of the timber to as many potential buyers as possible. Typically, your advertisement will describe the location, access, total volume and volume per acre. A "show-me" trip is scheduled for potential buyers and competitive bids are accepted by a specified date.
A written contract or agreement is of paramount importance. A contract will protect both the buyer and the seller and have clauses describing deposits in advance of cutting, performance bonds, measurement method details, audit rights to finances related to the sale, utilization standards, slash and stump treatment, payment schedule, and start and stop dates for the sale.
A professional forester can help you with all of the above. For more information on timber sales and professional forestry services, call the Missouri Department of Conservation's Resource Forester.