Thoughts on Timbering Your Land

Time and again we receive inquiries which are variations on the  theme – “I had my property logged and now it’s a complete mess”.  When we receive the phone call it is already too late.  Due diligence on behalf of the property owner is never more valuable than prior to entering into a timber buying contract with a logging company.  There are many different scenarios, so I am going to address a few to give you a place to start your research.

Some of the worst devastation wreaked on property results from hiring independent logging outfits who make their own contracts (if they have one at all), and are not overseen by a licensed forester.  Their sole interest is rapid profit resulting in extraction of only the highest value and/or easiest-to-reach trees.  The cost of cleanup after the loggers leave increases according to the amount of material left on site, and the manner in which it is left.  A crew that leaves large quantities of crown material, stumps, poor quality trunks etc. is leaving you with an expensive cleanup operation.  This type of unsupervised logging usually takes poor account of the weather and Best Management Practices (BMP’s), resulting in additional devastation.

There are often good reasons to timber some or all of your property, including tax incentives, forest management and, of course, income.  However, it should always be remembered that if you make less money than it takes to make the property usable again then you have made no money at all.  Putting the same level of care and diligence into the negotiations as you would into any other financial transaction will pay you huge dividends in the long run.

What are your Eventual Goals for your Property?

A good question to ask is “What are my long term plans for this particular acreage?”  If the answer is to keep it as woodland then timbering becomes a more viable possibility for you.  With the guidance of a licensed forester there are a number of options, from selective cuts that leave crop tree release specimens to re-populate the woodland, to small clear cuts that allow fresh re-growth and ideal edge habitat.  When the timber slash and debris can be left on the ground to rot as new seedlings take hold and grow into fresh forest, there is no associated cost for the cleanup.  (This assumes that all roads created during the logging process were correctly planned and built – see below).

However, if the plan is to harvest the trees in order to clear land for other uses e.g. pasture, building etc., then the cost of cleanup needs to be considered.  Options for the clearing of timber slash depend upon whether stumps can be left in the ground, as is sometimes the case with pastureland or recreational areas.  If the plan is to build infrastructure then stump removal adds an extra step or two, and therefore adds cost.

Timber Harvesting Requires Careful Planning

Any timber extraction protocol will include the planning and grading of access roads.  A thorough plan will incorporate the landowner’s long-term goals such that roads can be utilized for multiple purposes.  For example, the road to the dreamed-of barn should be part of the timber harvest master plan.

Be aware that agricultural and forestry practices are excluded from the Clean Water Act, and therefore do not have to conform to standards applied to other industries.  This is no reason to allow your logging crew to put in shoddy access roads.  In the event that silt or run-off from poorly graded roads or timber staging areas (decks) makes it’s way to the creek, and a downstream neighbor calls the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to complain, you could find yourself, as landowner, looking at a hefty fine plus the cost of correction.  You should make sure your timber contract contains precise language regarding road building specifications, not just layout and site planning but even down to the number of culverts, width of graveled driving path, and so on.  BMP’s are guidelines, not requirements, so your diligent oversight or that of your forester are imperative.

The Possibility of Introducing Unwanted Plant Species

Another unwanted consequence of timber extraction is the introduction of invasive vegetation.  Opening the forest canopy can result in areas previously uninhabitable except to shade-loving natives to become accommodating to new plants, which, combined with heavy equipment tracks laden with seeds and shoots from the last project, creates an ideal method of spreading unwanted flora.  It may not seem like a big deal, but take our word for it – the cost and energy in removing invasive vegetation is immense, much better to not allow it to gain a foothold in the first place.

Forestry Mulching as a Tool to Clear Timber Slash

When appropriate, we use our forestry mulching equipment to grind debris such as tree crowns, limbs and stumps into wood mulch, allowing the recovery of cleared land for other purposes.  This is an amazing process, protecting the precious topsoil layer and leaving no unsightly piles, but it is also a service with a price.  A ballpark figure for forestry mulching an acre post-timber harvest is anywhere from $1000- $8000 depending on the material logged, volume left on site, the manner in which debris is left, how the stumps were cut, the terrain and grade of the land, presence of water etc. etc.  Our experience of the last decade has taught us that a minimum of 200hp is required for a forestry mulcher to be effective in grinding timber slash, that anything less usually leads to a poor product, an unfinished job and a great deal of frustration.  Our dedicated forestry mulchers are the ideal machines for these projects.

Integrated Land Management (ILM) is a valuable principle that is never more appropriate than when applied to timber harvests.  EDUCATE, PLAN, CONSOLIDATE.  Do your homework before the machines arrive.  Mistakes are costly, and will haunt you for a long, long time.