– by Jasmine Wolf
Few people sell saw timber on a regular basis and few of us know the value of the different species of trees, how many board feet actually come from a tree or which trees will be of best value if they are protected for the future. Because of this general lack of knowledge, some logging companies create logging plans that bring in short term cash without consideration for the future of the forest. Six out of seven logging jobs in Connecticut are performed without a professional forester representing the landowner. This is comparable to a person not being represented by an attorney in a court of law. A management plan helps landowners set and achieve goals for their land, i.e., earn cash from saw timber, firewood, maple syrup, or other products, improve the beauty of their forest and improve habitat for wildlife. With professional planning any combination of these goals may be achieved.
A consulting forester represents the landowner, is paid by the landowner, and chooses which trees to remove to benefit the landowner’s management goals. A consulting forester also determines the volume of timber that will be logged and will solicit sealed competitive bids to get the best value for the timber. Research has shown that the average landowner nets more money in a timber sale by relying on the expertise of a competent private forester than by selling timber directly to a logging company.
Phoebe and Robert White (names fictional, the story is true) were a retired couple who were interested in earning income from selling timber. A timber buyer offered the Whites $15,000 for all the trees on their land that were 16” dbh (diameter at breast height) and larger. Phoebe and Bob were concerned about protecting the health of their forest and hired a private consulting forester. The forester did an inventory and management plan and recommended the sale of 1/3 of the mature trees on the property. The timber sale was put out to competitive bid and five bids were received ranging from $20,000 to $42,000. Not only did the Whites earn significantly more money in this supervised sale, they have also profited from two additional timber sales since the first in 1982. Had they succombed to the timber buyer, they probably couldn’t have had those subsequent sales. In addition to profiting on the timber sales, their forest is also used for recreation and provides wildlife habitat as bonuses to good forestry.
Private Consulting Forester, Jim Gillespie doesn’t think this story is exceptional. He explains that when timber buyers competitively bid on a sale of marked timber the low bid is often half of the high bid.. Gillespie explained that Connecticut’s forest is largely mature saw timber with high quality oaks, maples, birch, ash and black cherry which companies throughout New England and New York State are interested in purchasing. The landowner’s income depends on the number, size, quality and species of trees and the competitive nature of the market. Saw timber companies know that a professional forester knows what their client’s trees are worth and that other companies will offer the landowner a fair price. Companies in a competitive position must offer the landowner a competitive price for the desired trees.
In Connecticut, a logging company is permitted to buy and harvest timber from a landowner without the supervision of a certified forester. However, if a state certified forester is not consulted, the loggers are not permitted to practice or recommend silviculture methods or make any claims that they are protecting or promoting the health of the forest or the trees. (Silviculture is defined as the “ art and science of controlling forest establishment, composition, structure and individual tree growth”.) Douglas Emmerthal, Program Supervisor, State of Connecticut Division of Forestry, suspects many logging companies misrepresent themselves as being qualified to give silvicultural advice. Emmerthal’s department investigates many complaints involving loggers who have misrepresented themselves as foresters. Included with this article is a list of suggestions compiled by Emmerthal to help landowners become educated about the timber sale process and how to protect themselves.
Various Types of Cutting Methods
Two types of cutting practices to be wary of are Diameter Limit Cutting and Selective Cutting. Diameter-limit cutting involves harvesting all saleable trees above a certain diameter. Selective cutting usually involves removing the largest, most valuable trees while leaving large-diameter, poor-quality, low-value trees or trees that will never reach a large diameter. In each case, most of the trees that remain after the harvest may be genetically inferior, physically defective and/or in poor health. Although a buyer may represent this differently, these trees will rarely become valuable trees and genetically inferior trees may become the primary seed source for future trees.
Selective and diameter limit cutting methods may also select trees which are large enough to be acceptable in saw mill but may just be reaching peak growth. For the next several years these trees would increase in diameter (and board foot) adding significant value to a future harvest. Rather than risking the landowner selling these trees to a competitor at a later date, the logging company may choose to buy the trees while they have opportunity, even though this results in the landowner earning less money.
Favorable cutting methods include cleanings (also called weedings), thinnings, improvement cuts, single-tree selection and group selection methods, shelterwood, seed-tree and clear-cut methods.
Cleanings occur early in the life of a forest stand. This method involves removing undesirable trees and shrubs including invasive, non-native species. The products removed may not have any monetary value. The purpose of a cleaning is to encourage the future health and productivity of the forest stand.
Thinnings and improvement cuts control stand density, increase tree vigor and favor the development of desirable species for the future forest. They are conducted in the middle stages of forest growth and frequently yield merchantable wood products. Thinning is a method of removing the trees that are not competing well, so the healthier trees will have more room to grow. Improvement cuts remove both poor growing trees and trees of undesirable species in order to maximize the growth of the best trees of the desired species.
Single-tree selection and group selection methods mimic the natural processes of single trees or small groups of trees dying and falling in wind storms. Both of these methods create openings in the tree canopy so that some extra light, but not full sun reaches the shorter trees and the forest floor. Both these methods favor the regeneration of species that compete best at low to moderate levels of sunlight, such as sugar maple, American Beech and hemlock.
Shelterwood and clear-cut methods mimic nature’s more catastrophic processes such as wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes, which can bring down multiple acres of trees at one time. These methods let in partial to full sun and favor the regeneration of shade-intolerant or moderately tolerant species, such as aspen, oaks, black cherry and white pine.
The shelterwood method leaves a large number of trees standing long enough to establish and protect “advanced regeneration” sites until the new seedlings are well established. At this point the sheltering trees are cut down in a second harvest, permitting the young trees to fully occupy the site.
The clear-cut method in its pure form, removes all the trees 2” dbh and greater in a multi-acre area. In modified clear-cuts, some larger trees may be kept to benefit biodiversity, wildlife habitat, or aesthetics. Although newly clear-cut forests may look ugly for the first year or two, it is the only way to promote early successional forests (forests of young shade-intolerant trees) that are essential for numerous plant and wildlife species. Connecticut currently has a serious shortage of early successional forests, resulting in some native plant and animal species diminishing or disappearing such as white birch, red oak, ruffed grouse and American woodcock. Wildlife can be further encouraged by creating brush piles from the tops of the cut trees.
Who Can Help You Create a Good Management Plan?
Public Service Foresters, Consulting Foresters and Industrial Foresters, must all be certified in Connecticut. Because there are only three public service foresters in Connecticut, some preliminary services may be performed by Coverts Cooperators, landowners who have gone through at least 25 hours of training. Before hiring a forester, make sure s/he is certified by asking to see their certificate or by finding their name on the DEP list of Certified Foresters www.dep.state.ct.us/burnatr/forestry and then click Forest Practitioner Certification where you will find the Directory of Certified Forestry Practitioners.
Coverts Cooperators are trained peer educators and not professionals. As volunteer lay consultants, cooperators may share their experiences and resources with landowners. Cooperators have agreed to develop a professional stewardship plan for their own land, to follow that plan, and to show their plan and their land to interested people. In addition, cooperators will visit landowners and their forests, discuss the individual’s management goals, share their reference library and refer the landowner to appropriate professionals. Cooperators also inform interested individuals of local educational programs in forestry. There is never a fee for a Cooperator’s service, but s/he may refer you to professionals who will charge. It is recommended that landowners make an appointment with their Public Service Forester even if they have consulted a Coverts Cooperator.
Public Service Foresters are state employees who have a college degree in Forestry, have passed an exam and regularly attend continuing education classes. Arrangements can be made for your area forester to walk over your land, discuss your goals and related topics including wildlife ecology, economics, legal issues, and the growing and harvesting of products. This is a tax-paid service for which there is no cost to you. They are not permitted by the state to locate boundaries, select trees or negotiate logging sales on private land. The Public Service Forester for your area may be located by calling DEP at 860-424-3630 or the State Extension Forester at 860-774-9600
Private foresters must be certified by the state and may create a timber harvest plan. Trees to be removed will be marked by the forester before he receives bids from timber buying firms and negotiates a contract between the firm and the landowner. The forester will examine the logged area during and after the cutting to make sure the contract is adhered to and only the correct trees were removed. The contract should include monetary compensation to the landowner if any unmarked trees have been cut. Private foresters may either be Industrial Foresters or Private Consulting Foresters.
Industrial Foresters are employed by a timber buying firm and represent the company’s interests. The salary for the industrial forester is usually deducted from the money that the firm pays to the landowner. Private Consulting Foresters are paid directly by the landowner, usually a percentage of the sale, though some landowners prefer to negotiate a per diem fee. The Private Consulting Forester’s financial interest are the same as the landowner’s–s/he works for the landowner. Both types of private foresters assist in assuring the quality of the current harvest and preserving the future health of the forest., although the industrial forester is in the employ of the timber buyer while a private consulting forester is employed by the landowner.
Either an Extension Forester or a Service Forester may give names of private foresters to landowners. By law they are not permitted to recommend one specific forester As in any business, the expertise and ethics of private foresters range from outstanding to something less than that. It is recommended that a landowner contact at least two or three foresters to compare fees and other factors and simply to see who they feel comfortable working with. Landowners are also advised to ask foresters for references (past and present landowner clients) and to contact these references.
A forest will be influenced for many decades by the nature and quality of a logging job. Coverts Cooperators and State Foresters will help the landowner set management goals at no cost to the landowner. A private forester can determine which exact trees should be removed to best meet the landowner’s management goals, get the best price for the timbersold and write a contract with the logging firm that will protect the landowner. An Industrial Forester is paid by the logging firm (the forester’s salary is deducted from the money paid to the landowner) and s/he therefore represents the firm. A Private Consulting Forester is paid by the landowner and represents the landowner. A successful timber harvest operation benefits the landowner, the forest and wildlife, the forester, and also the lumber company.
I am very grateful to Steve Broderick, Extension Forester, Uconn Cooperative Extension System, Robert Rocks, DEP Service Forester, State of Connecticut, Doug Emmerthal, Program Director, Connecticut Forestry Division and James Gillespie, Private Consulting Forester for editing this article many times over and for their encouragement. Please feel free to reprint this article in any way crediting me with authorship. Jasmine Wolf, Coverts Cooperator
This article originally appeared in the September 2003 ECFLA/WDLT Newsletter.
See Letter to the Editor from Mike Bartlett of Hull Forestry in response to this article.
Also see Part II by Doug Emmerthal, Supervisor of Forest Practices Act Program.